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Interview: Michael Cera on Getting High, 'Arrested Development' and Not Calling It a Comeback

Believe it or not at 24 Michael Cera may be in the midst of a comeback… though he won’t admit it. But when talking to our favorite nice guy it’s hard not to come up with that theory.

Having not been a lead in a feature film since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010, Cera came to Sundance with two films, Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic, both directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva.

Both films are extremely different. Crystal Fairy is a fast and loose drug comedy with Cera playing Jamie, an obnoxious American living in Chile who convinces his roommate, the roommate’s brothers (all played by Silva’s real brothers), and a free-wheeling American girl named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) to go on a road trip. Magic Magic is a bigger budget psychological thriller starring Juno Temple as an American tourist who slowly beings to mentally unravel. Cera plays Brink, whose presence hardly has a calming effect on Temple’s character.

Cera chatted with us over the phone about his time in Chile and why currently he’s more focused on working with people that inspire him than anything else.  

Fandango: So it sounds like you made it out of Sundance unscathed.

Michael Cera: Yeah, I made it. Thanks.

Fandango: How did you and Sebastián Silva connect?

Michael Cera: I saw his film The Maid and really loved it. I just reached out to him and he happened to be in L.A. around that time and we got together and we became friends and then looked for something to do together.

Fandango: What did you shoot first out of the two films you guys did?

Michael Cera: We shot Crystal Fairy first. It was never the plan to do two films. We were trying to get Magic Magic financed and while waiting for that to happen I was in Santiago practicing Spanish and it got to the point where we might not be able to make Magic Magic and I was kind of idling there so I decided to leave and go home. Then Sebastián called me a month later and said, “Come back and we’ll make this other movie.” We were going to do it for nothing and have fun. He put his brothers in it and made it for no money and shot for two weeks. It sounded like a real fun way to make a movie.

Fandango: Was it as much fun to shoot as what it looked like on screen?

Michael Cera: It was so much fun. We’d drive around and shot all day and then have dinner and play music. We would drive around and he would see a place that looked good and we’d go and do a scene there.  There was no production schedule at all it was just a lot of people who were on board with the spirit of it.

Fandango: Jame has no backstory, did you create one just to get into the part?

Michael Cera:  It seemed like he was someone who was alone in the world and he’s in this country with these people that he doesn’t know very well. So for me it begged the question of what happened to him back home? Why is he alone? Why has he alienated everyone around to the point where he has to go and be around strangers? So it seemed to me that he was a rich brat. I think he’s this kid that money doesn’t really mean anything to him and he’s just self-absorbed.

Fandango: This is a character we’ve never seen you play. Was it always intended that Jamie be a jerk?

Michael Cera: That’s kind of the driving force of the conflict of the movie, I think. That he’s unfair in his actions. He invites this woman just because she’s kind of this experiment to him. He’s kind of this P.T. Barnum figure in his mind, harnessing her energy. Then he turns on her.

Fandango: It seems his one goal in life is to get really, really high.

Michael Cera: He’s obsessed with it. But I don’t think he’s doing it to party. He doesn’t seem like a party animal to me. There’s a desperation to him. I think he sees the drug as a key to happiness. To free himself in some way.

Fandango: Was there a script?

Michael Cera: We figured out early on that Jamie would be motivating the trip, that this was his idea. He initiated the whole thing and he was the one who was most interested in doing the drug. And then the script was a whole outline of actions. All of the beats of the movie were outlined. There was no dialogue written, but all the actions helped us know who the characters were and where they were going and what they were after.

Fandango: Did it take a while to mesh with Sebastián’s brothers?

Michael Cera: Well, we lived together for three months while waiting for Magic Magic to start, so we got really close. We also went on a trip together, before there was a plan to make Crystal Fairy. It was a lot like the one in Crystal Fairy around the north. Me and Sebastián’s three brothers. We were sleeping on the beach and in tents and traveled for two weeks. By the time we went and did Crystal Fairy they felt like a second family.

Fandango: Did any popular drug movies influence your story?

Michael Cera: No. Sebastián doesn’t really have those kinds of conversations because I think he just knows what feels right and what feels wrong to him. I don’t think he would ever fall into any kind of narrative rhythm he’d seen in other things, he’s not really conditioned by that from other movies, he kind of just follows his own impulses. And that’s what I love about him as a storyteller. He’s really like no one else.

Fandango: Is Magic Magic a little more structured and traditional than Crystal Fairy?

Michael Cera: Absolutely. It’s completely different. It was a completely different process. We had a big crew and a full schedule, it was a real movie.

Fandango: And is Brink completely different than Jamie?

Michael Cera: I think he is. It’s a lot more over the top in a way. Sort of larger than life. I’m also bilingual so I speak Spanish a lot. I’m a big contributor to Juno Temple’s character feeling alone.

Fandango: What did you get out of your time in Chile? Has it changed your perception on your career?

Michael Cera: It’s hard to say. But I have amazing friends there and can’t wait to go back and see them all. It’s a very uniformly friendly country, everyone is really great there. It’s such a small country. We’d drive 15 hours north and the guys would run into people they were in high school with in the middle of nowhere.

Fandango: In some ways do you feel this is a comeback for you?

Michael Cera: I don’t think anyone can think of themselves that way. You can’t control the way you’re perceived in such a specific way. I hope I get to keep working with people that I’m so excited by. That’s a really nice way to be able to work and I don’t think a lot of actors get to do that. So I really appreciate this moment that I’m in right now.

Fandango: And it seems you’re actively seeking out people you want to work with, as you did with Sebastián.

Michael Cera: Yeah, you have to I think. You have to or you’re sitting around waiting for stuff to come along and you don’t have any control really in what it is presented to do. So I think if you care about the stuff you make you have to find people who have the same priorities that you have.

Fandango: With these two films we’re seeing you expand from the nice guy persona you built with the George-Michael character on Arrested Development. Was it still fun to play that part as you recently did with the relaunch of the show?

Michael Cera: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. What was great about that show was the cast. I mean Mitchell Hurwitz is my absolute hero. And doing scenes with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett was so much fun to do growing up. And now doing it again with them at a different point in my life was really interesting and exciting and fun. It’s such a strange feeling to be on a show like that. It’s really cool.

See more of our four-part Sundance Film Festival interview series on The Breakout Star, The Debut, The Returning Champion.

Follow along on Twitter @JasonGuerrasio and @Fandango

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