Chile may not be the usual hotspot for a young Hollywood star to hang out, but Michael Cera did just that while waiting for financing to come through for a film set there. The actor, known for blockbusters and specialties alike including SuperbadScott Pilgrim vs. The World, Youth in Revolt and Juno, had caught a screening of Sebastián Silva's Golden Globe-nominated The Maid, prompting a coffee meeting, talk of collaboration and a trip to Silva's home country.

Cera spent a few months living with Silva's family in Chile's capital, Santiago, learning Spanish and waiting for the green light for what was initially meant to be their first film together, Magic Magic, a thriller co-starring Juno Temple. “I lived with Sebastian's family and Sebastián wasn't there,” said Cera on Monday evening at one of our free Summer Talks. “But Sebastián called me and said we can make this other movie for almost no money.”

While financing was being worked out for the comparatively higher budget Magic Magic, Silva and Cera began work on Crystal Fairy, the film they were at Film Society to discuss. The story is based on an experience Silva had in his early 20s when he met an American at a party and, under the haze of some party favors, invited her on an upcoming road trip with a friend.

Michael Cera and Sebastián Silva at our free Summer Talk. Photo: Julie Cunnah

“I was really high and I invited her to come along and my friend told me: no way that no Crystal Fairy was going to join us,” said Silva. “But I had already given her the directions, so later we were in this small town and there she was in the square. She had just been mugged by gypsies and was broke and crying. So we had to adopt her and bring her along with us.”

The big screen version isn't an exact parallel, but the major themes and circumstances made their way into the movie. In Crystal Fairy, Cera plays American traveler Jamie, who runs into a new-age free-spirit American at a raucous house party in Santiago. Fascinated by her aura and fueled by a substance-hinged lack of decorum, he invites her along on a road trip north, along with his Chilean friend Champa and two of his younger brothers. Much to his chagrin, she accepts the invitation and, after a ruffle with a local female gang, Crystal Fairy (played by Gaby Hoffman) joins the boys on their adventure to the Atacama Desert. Jamie's self-absorbed personality clashes with Crystal Fairy's free and esoteric nature. Despite the addition to the crew, Jamie is nevertheless focused on his primary purpose: to find and consume the San Pedro cactus, which, when brewed, delivers a mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip.

“Crystal Fairy is not giving it to me as much as I'm battling it out with her,” said Cera at Summer Talks. “She's rolling it off her back, or at least she's pretending she is… He has a problem with her because Jamie is embarrassed for being responsible for being with her.”

Silva and Cera met Gaby Hoffman after the actress reached out to the filmmaker about his HBO project The Boring Life of Jacqueline. Eager to be a part of it, Hoffman trumped up her skill-set hoping to make the cut, but sheer force of will won the day. “We needed someone who spoke French and she lied,” recalled Silva laughing. “She's very charismatic and she's a really amazing person. Her energy is so strong. So strong, in fact, that I didn't like her at first, but then she insisted. So we decided to work together.”

Hoffman also headed down to Chile for the shoot, which only took 12 days. Together with Cera and the three other male characters, all played by Silva's brothers, the shoot was a bare-bones production that relied on spontaneity and collective creativity.

“This was a very different experience because we didn't have a screenplay for it,” said Silva. “We only had a 12-page outline. Michael, my brothers and I would talk in detail about each scene and talk dialog, but the process was very organic and spontaneous. The flow was very different from my two movies most recent movies [The Maid and Old Cats]. There was always some room for improv. We'd be driving around and stop to eat some food and go to the bathroom, and then we'd decide to do a scene. It was that free flowing.”

“Basically we were kind of always working. We'd drive in the car and shoot something as we were getting to where we were going,” offered up Cera. “We shot in two cabins on the beach with about 15 people all sleeping near each other. The bathrooms were disgusting. I think Sebastián was wearing my socks at one point.”

The fun translates on screen. The film gives liberal doses of comedy, though it would be incorrect to label the feature a road trip comedy. In fact, Silva shies away from genre specificity altogether, preferring to let elements pepper his storytelling at will.

“I feel like life is full of mystery, comedy, drama and horror—even science fiction sometimes. So just to make a movie and make it as one thing is such a forced exercise. Hollywood started doing this because they think audiences can only understand one aspect of life. It's artificial to isolate life.”

Michael Cera and Sebastián Silva at our free Summer Talk. Photo: Julie Cunnah

After completing the film, Silva hoped to find the original Crystal Fairy, who had inspired the story and gave him an important lesson.

“I was a fairy myself. It feels great to share this experience finally. What I learned from this experience was the fact that I felt compassion for somebody else's pain for the first time. I was 20 years old and I think compassion comes about at that age.”

Crystal Fairy opens Friday, July 12 in New York and Los Angeles.