Earlier this year at Sundance, Chilean director Sebastian Silva (“The Maid“) made a splash with two very different movies. The first, “The Crystal Fairy,” was a trippy road comedy that starred Michael Cera and Gabby Hoffman and saw a limited theatrical release this summer from IFC Films (read our review here). The other Silva joint was an equally trippy but far darker film that also co-starred Michael Cera called “Magic Magic,” which will be released on DVD this week from Sony. It stars Juno Temple as a young girl who descends into madness while visiting her sister abroad (it involves many sleepless nights, hypnotism, a memorable use of a Knife song and finally some kind of witchcraft). We got to talk to Temple about what it was like working with Silva, what her reference points were for the character, and asked about what she’s got coming next—Robert Rodriguez‘s “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” Alexandre Aja‘s “Horns,” and Disney‘s “Sleeping Beauty” retelling “Maleficent” (where she plays a tiny fairy).
In the Chile-set film, Temple plays Alicia, who comes to visit her sister, who soon leaves her (supposedly to finish some exams at school) with her boyfriend and their bizarre American friend (Cera). From there, the tiny, unsettling moments start to pile up, and they culminate in what is an all-out psychological break, embroidered with culturally specific mysticism. It’s quite a wild ride, captured elegantly by cinematographer Christopher Doyle in a distilled dreaminess that suggests the entire film was shot underwater. Losing your marbles isn’t the easiest thing to play for a young actress, but Temple pulls it off beautifully.
How did you become involve in this project and what made you want to do it?
I got sent the script and I read it and was fascinated by it. It was almost like a bad dream, reading it. And then I met with Sebastian and we talked about going out to Chile and what it was like going to Chile and being out of your comfort zone. Later I found out that he wanted me to be in it and play Alicia. And I absolutely wanted to do it. It made a lot of sense, Sebastian doing it, because he’s got an amazing perception of the world. I wanted to be a part of one of his movies, for sure. I think he’s a genius.
You got to play a role that’s very archetypal in these types of thrillers: the woman who loses her mind. Were you referencing anything specifically in your performance?
Of course! “Repulsion” was definitely a huge inspiration for the film; I think Roman Polanski in general was a big inspiration for the film. I think getting the opportunity to play a character where you so deeply have to dive into somebody, and really figure out what’s going on inside before you understand what’s going on outside, is something that I was really excited about. There were also all these amazing performances of women losing their minds. And I realized it was about finding something small that the audience could relate to. I think the main conversation between me and Sebastian in relation to Alicia was that she was suffering from insomnia and anxiety and on top of that was losing her mind. So I think it was really interesting for me to relate to that. There have been days where I haven’t slept and it’s really annoying and then you have that anxiety of walking into a people you don’t know or whatever it is. But then when you add a psychotic episode into that it’s really frightening. As an audience, the idea of losing your mind is so frightening. We had a lot of fun making this film but it was definitely hard work.
Did Sebastian tell you how he was going to cut it all together?
Well the way that he and Christopher Doyle made the movie look, it’s so beautiful and eerie at the same time. You kind of feel on edge from the beginning, when the movie starts on Michael Cera’s feet. Sebastian definitely kept us in the loop about what he wanted from each moment. Fortunately, for me and him we really had to keep in touch and make sure we knew where Alicia was in each scene, because I felt very strong that her unraveling is a delicate one. She’s a little off at the beginning, but she’s a sweet girl, and you cut to the shower scene and realize something is wrong. I love those moments where she tries to be cool and in it with the boys; it’s such an awkward attempt at being like “Let’s hang!” I can’t speak for everyone else but we were very aware of what was going on in each scene and where Alicia’s head was at.
The other part of it was that we were living together in a house in southern Chile. So you felt very safe. So after you had the madness of the day you could come home and have some more madness – a mad night – or you could have a peaceful family night where you take care of each other and discuss and digest what you just put out into the universe.
Are you a fan of these types of movies? You’re in “Horns” next, which is also a horror type thing.
I think anything psychological is great and what’s so great about them is they make the audience think. Different films serve different purposes for different people but I think that when you go see a psychological thriller or horror movie, you think. It stays with you. There should be a couple of hours when you think, Whew, that was fucking weird. And I like that. I like being left with that weird taste in my mouth.
You were in a bunch of amazing movies last year but you also got to pop into “Dark Knight Rises.” That must have been fun to go from something so small to something so huge.
I felt like Bambi when I walked onto that set. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. My eyes must have tripled in size. But it’s amazing that it doesn’t matter if the movie is big or small, but if you have a visionary director behind it that’s what’s going to make it special. Whether you’re Sebastian Silva or Christopher Nolan, if you’ve got the mind behind it, you’re going to make it extraordinary no matter how much money you have.
Is the director what drives your decision-making?
Yeah. The relationship between the actor and the director is so key. You have to trust that person even though it’s for five minutes or for five months of your life. In that relationship you have to let go and be completely free and be able to spread your wings or your claws, depending on the movie.
Just wanted to get into a couple of your upcoming projects: have you seen “Horns?” What was it like working with Alexandre Aja?
Oh he was so cool. I love a director that just makes you feel safe. He makes you feel like you can go places and you can come back at the end of it. I also like the idea that after the movie is over that you stay friends. And Alex is definitely a dear friend of mine now. I think that, again, it was working with a visionary. I read that script and I thought: What is this? Is it a sci-fi movie? Is it a horror movie? Is it a love story? Is it a mystical fairy tale? And I loved that. I haven’t seen a final cut, of course, but I’m excited to because I have no idea what I’m going to get from it.
Speaking of not knowing what you’re going to get from it, you shot some stuff for “Sin City 2.” Was that you in a green screen room type situation?
Again: how cool that I’m part of a movie that when I get to go see it, I’m going to be just as surprised as the rest of the world. I love that. It’s going to be great. And Robert Rodriguez – what a great director to get to work with. I’ve been very, very lucky.
So you enjoyed that process?
Yeah, I’m up for trying anything. What got me was that I’m very bad with my left and right. And they rotate the sets during the day so your left and right changes, so that was a little like Oh god… But other than that, it was an amazing experience. It was like being taken on a ride.
Do you play a character from the comic book?
I play one of the Sin City girls. I can’t tell anyone who it is it but it’s awesome.
And on the complete opposite side of things, you’re in “Maleficent.”
Yeah I can’t wait for little kids to actually be able to see something I’m in. That was, again, an amazing experience – doing wires and headgear and these big bubbles and stuff. And getting able to work with Leslie Manville and Imelda Staunton, these two British actresses who are absolute geniuses; they have such an amazing ability to tap into their inner 8-year-old and make everything fun.
How was Angelina?
She was lovely but I didn’t get to do any actual filming with her because all my scenes that are with her are with a giant Styrofoam version of her.
“Magic Magic” is out on DVD now.