Whatever you may already think of Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffmann, it’s safe to say that the new movie Crystal Fairy will upend your expectations. Sebastian Silva’s road-trip movie casts Cera as an obnoxious tourist in Chile searching for a specific cactus-fueled high, and it’s a total 180 from the role he became famous for, Arrested Development’s mild-mannered George Michael, a character he reprised for the show’s new Netflix season. (For more of Cera’s gleefully unsympathetic side, check out his self-satirization as a cokehead in last month’s comedy This Is the End.) Meanwhile, Hoffmann came to fame as a child actress in movies like Now and Then, but as the titular character in Crystal Fairy — a frequently nude hippie who joins Cera’s road trip and clashes with him throughout — she’s finally found the role that can establish her as a grown-up. Vulture met up recently with both Cera and Hoffmann in Los Angeles to discuss drugs, mental breakdowns, and child actors.
Both of you started acting at a young age. How similar were your reasons for getting into the business?
Hoffmann: Not similar at all, I don’t think. I started acting at 5 because we had no money, and my mom was like, “Put her in a commercial!” [Laughs.] I don’t think that was Michael’s situation.
Cera: No, no it wasn’t. It just happened really naturally for me. I guess I had been talking about it since I was 4 years old, when I would say things like, “When I’m an actor …” I don’t even know why! Then when I was 9, I was doing these weekend acting classes with a friend of mine as a recreational thing — both our parents put us in the class just to have fun — and I had this really cool teacher who asked me to stay behind in class one day, and he told me and my mom, “I think you guys should think about getting an agent. You could do a commercial, make some money for school … I think you could get work.” Really nice and encouraging. So my mom looked in the phonebook for Toronto agents, I got an agent, and I started auditioning. That’s how it happened.
Does there come a point as you get older where you question whether you want to continue acting?
Cera: To be here based on a decision I made as a 9-year-old is very weird.
Hoffmann: I had a very difficult time deciding to do it as an adult. I didn’t have reasons for acting as a kid — I didn’t ask to do it, it just happened to me. I liked it, but I just wanted to go to college and do other things. And I spent ten years after college being very confused and very ambivalent about acting. It was about two months before we made Crystal Fairy that I thought, Okay, it’s time to face whether I want to keep doing this, because I’d just been avoiding it.
Cera: Did you have good experiences when you acted as a kid?
Hoffmann: I did! I had great experiences! But I didn’t have a reason to be acting. I never thought about it; I wasn’t particularly interested in filmmaking. And then I went to college to study other things, and I ended up realizing that I loved film, and I made a film and thought, This is really interesting! It was this thing I’d been doing my whole life, but I had to sort of unpack my past and come at it in a new way. Crystal Fairy was one of the first movies I made with that sort of newfound interest and focus in acting.
So how do you unpack your past?
Hoffman: Um, you spend ten years in therapy. [Laughs.] And then you’re slightly depressed and living in the woods.
Cera: The metaphorical woods?
Hoffmann: Nope, I was really living in the woods. Actually, my boyfriend at the time took me out to the cliff behind our house in the woods, because I had another nervous breakdown when an audition came in, where I was like, “Do I really want to drive into the city for this?” And he was like, “This is driving you crazy! You’ve got to fix this.” So I decided to spend a year being serious and focused about acting, and I discovered — as the person I am now, who is not the same person I was when I was 5 — that I love it.
Cera: You’ve taken a new kind of ownership over it.
Gaby, do you think Crystal Fairy is cognizant of how much Michael’s character is making fun of her?
Hoffmann: Oh yeah.
Cera: She’s not stupid. She’s probably used to it.
Hoffmann: I think she’s been living a bit of a lie in this moment in her life, and she has this protective, defensive persona. She doesn’t really process what’s coming at her because she’s not her true self until the end.
Michael, it’s interesting that your character is jonesing the whole movie, yet he seems to resent Crystal Fairy for coming by her high naturally.
Cera: That’s funny. That’s a good interpretation. It’s not really clear why he resents her so much, but I think he sees a lot of himself in her. They’re both these two lost souls wandering through this foreign country for reasons you don’t really know. Why are they both alone? What are they both hiding from?
I feel like between this movie and This Is the End, you’re going to get offered a lot more drugs at parties.
Cera: Maybe! I got offered some molly at a party, and I was like, “That’s my sister’s name. I can’t find that sexy.”
Hoffmann: What is molly?
Cera: I think it’s MDMA or something.
Hoffmann: And in This Is the End, you’re doing a lot of drugs?
Cera: I do blow in that movie, yeah. [Laughs.]
How involved were you in sending up your own image in This Is the End?
Cera: That was the game of that whole movie, where everyone was using their real names. I had a journalist break it down in an interesting way: There’s a built-in framework for jokes before the movie even starts, because I guess people have a certain perception of us, and you can play against that. The first time you see me in that movie, there’s already a built-in joke in what I’m doing before I even start establishing the character. The groundwork was already kind of laid for me there, because it was all in the script. By the time I showed up on set, they’d been shooting the party sequence for a little while, and they had all been doing this running gag where people tell stories about me. Like Aziz Ansari saying, “Michael Cera just offered me blow!” and Jonah Hill saying, “That’s like getting asked to play one-on-one with Kobe Bryant!” [Both laugh.]
Michael, you worked as a writer on this season of Arrested Development, but you’re not specifically credited on any of the episodes. Can you tell me what sorts of things you contributed?
Cera: I don’t know if I can! You just sit around all day like we’re doing now, just talking. It’s kind of like a big soup. I don’t know what I contributed, really. But I’ve seen the whole thing now.
The new season ends on a very ambiguous note …
Hoffmann: Don’t tell me! I just started watching the first season.
Cera: Well, you’ll forget about this conversation by the time you get there. [Laughs.]