Before discussing his new microbudgeted film, “Crystal Fairy,” Michael Cera gushes about the films of John Cassavetes. He cites “Opening Night,” starring Gena Rowlands as an unhinged stage actress, as his favorite. But he didn’t come around to “Husbands” — the filmmaker/actor’s seething look at three friends’ joint bender — right away. “The first time I watched it I felt like I was watching an acting class — actors flexing their muscles. But now I really love it.”
That said, if Cera, now 25, wants to be taken more seriously as a thespian — or even shed his nice guy George Michael Bluth image — he’s not being open about it. When asked about hunting for edgier fare — like “Crystal Fairy,” in which he’s an Ugly American on a drug trip — his answer is quiet and modest. “I was just trying to find people to collaborate with who had similar sensibilities,” he says. “It’s one of the great things about being involved in this business, that you can meet people who are so talented, whose stuff you admire, who you can potentially work with.”
After seeing “The Maid,” a hilariously neurotic Argentine dramedy about a grumpy housekeeper, he reached out to its director, Sebastian Silva. The two wound up collaborating on two movies. When the first, “Magic Magic,” about a woman’s (Juno Temple) descent into madness, ran into budget problems, they ran off to make the tiny “Crystal Fairy” in twelve days. There wasn’t a script, but there was a treatment. Everything was planned but the dialogue, which Silva would sometimes feed his actors — also including Gaby Hoffmann, as the titular hippie — before takes.
Cera briefly played an abrasive cokehead version of himself in “This is the End,” but “Crystal Fairy” finds Cera as a jerk at feature length. “He’s pretty self-serving,” he explains. “He’s incapable of putting himself in other people’s shoes. He’s so stuck in his head and his own agenda. In terms of playing him, though, it’s so much fun. You’ll pretend to be nice to someone when you’re just manipulating them, or just be outright rude to them.”
That’s a different persona for him, and a different way of working. “We’d just run the camera and film the scene, so you could really immerse yourself in that feeling,” Cera says.
Director Sebastian Silva on Cera:
“I really like the way Michael looks. I’m really into how people look. His is such a versatile face. I feel it could be anything. I don’t think I could ever work with, like, Ryan Gosling. Not that I don’t like his acting, but I’m not intrigued by his looks. In “Harold and Maude,” you’re never going to forget their faces. There’s something about features I think is really important. Gaby has a very specific face. Natalie Portman looks like — what does she look like? Like nothing. I mean, imagine Michael at 45! It’s so amazing. What is he going to look like?”