Gaby Hoffmann: From Hollywood to Bohemia and (Sort of) Back Again

Brent SImon
Gaby Hoffmann, right, and Michael Cera in 'Crystal Fairy'
Gaby Hoffmann, right, and Michael Cera in 'Crystal Fairy'

She was a child star in "Field of Dreams,” "Uncle Buck," "This Is My Life," "Now and Then" and “Sleepless in Seattle,” as well as in TV series and a small screen version of “Freaky Friday."

But the Hollywood rat race wasn’t for Gaby Hoffmann. She went to college, became a doula (a person who helps home-birthing women when they’re in labor) and otherwise indulged her intellectual curiosity (“I spent most of the last 10 years doing very little,” she jokes).

This summer she’s back on screen, in the first of a quartet of indie films, playing the free-spirited title character opposite Michael Cera in Sebastián Silva’s Chilean travelogue “Crystal Fairy,” which opens wide in July after receiving a World Cinema Directing Award following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Yahoo! Movies recently spoke with Hoffmann one-on-one about the movie, the hallucinogenic effects of the San Pedro cactus, and, ahem, pubic wigs.

[Related: ‘Field of Dreams’ girl is all grown up, stars as nude hippy in ‘Crystal Fairy’]

Brent Simon: This movie came about fairly quickly, because of your relationship with Sebastián, right?

Gaby Hoffmann: Michael was down in Chile for three months, learning Spanish and preparing for “Magic Magic” (another film with Silva). But their film kept getting pushed because of the money or whatever. Sebastián and I had worked together before and became good friends. I love him to death and would do anything he asked me to do. He asked if I wanted to come down and spend a couple weeks doing it, so it was a no-brainer. There was no script, only an outline that we improvised from. We spent a week in Santiago doing pre-production, which really just meant hanging out and talking. And then we got in a suburban with another van behind us and drove up to the desert for 14 days — I’d say eight of them driving and stopping, and six of them on the beach in the desert.

BS: In the film Michael’s character accidentally invites along Crystal Fairy on this camping trip, and for a while one thinks the movie is going to be just about her suffocating these guys and them flipping out on her. But it evolves into something else. What was Sebastián's guidance?

GH: He said there was this woman named Crystal Fairy he met, and they went to the beach and took peyote and [that] she was kind of crazy and amazing and they had a weird relationship, and then he never saw her again [even though] she changed his life. In the film Michael’s character thinks it’s all about the drugs, but of course it’s not. But we talked about the drugs, we took the drugs…

BS: What’s the effect it produces?

GH: It’s like being on mushrooms. It’s a very sort of super-soft tweaking of your senses. Everything is a little electric and alive and extra beautiful, and you feel that your skin is the same as the air and your body is the same as the Earth. It’s very pleasant, and a beautiful experience.

Gabby Hoffman at this year's Sundance Film Festival, left, and in 'Field of Dreams'
Gabby Hoffman at this year's Sundance Film Festival, left, and in 'Field of Dreams'

BS: Crystal obviously has a tremendous amount of body comfort — do you have that in real life, or was the movie’s nudity anxiety-provoking?

GH: No, I have that in life. It wasn’t a big deal. That’s just how I am. I’m hairy in all those places, unless I have to remove it for work. I’m about to have to shave my armpits for work, and I’m very disappointed by that. (laughs) I have a full pubic bush — which a lot of folks at Sundance thought was a wig, funnily enough. I don’t think Sebastián ever said one word or another about the hair. I think at first he wanted me to shave my head because Crystal Fairy had a shaved head. And I said, “I’ll do it if you want me to but I’m kind of into my long hair.”

BS: We’re right on the precipice of the 20th anniversary of “Sleepless in Seattle.”

GH: Wow, really? I was only on that set for three days, but I had just made another film with Nora Ephron, which was her directorial debut — a really, really fantastic movie that I just saw again because Lena Dunham screened it again at BAM Fest with Nora just a couple months before Nora died. I had just spent three or four months with Nora, who I adored. I have a lot of memories of working with her — she was full of life and love, and hysterically funny.

BS: In aggregate, do you look back on the body of work from when you were kid with fondness, or is it like looking back at someone else?

GH: I’ve never really thought much about it or looked back on it at all. I’ve recently seen some of the movies I made as a kid because I have a 9-year-old niece and I took her to see “Uncle Buck” at BAM, and “This Is My Life.” I don’t think I’d seen those movies except for blasting through them on TV in 20 years, and they’re great. They were fun to watch, but I don’t feel connected to the work per se, I don’t feel proud of it or anything. I look back and say, “Oh that was fun, oh, I’m pretty funny,” but that’s all. My experience as an actor now has almost nothing to do with my previous life as an actor. At that time I wasn’t making movies because I was interested in acting, I just had fun doing it because it’s a fun job — you travel, you meet people, you play. I had a lot of fun, but I wanted to go to college. I didn’t think (acting) was going to be something that I was going to pursue. Now that I’ve come to the conclusion that I really am very interested and curious (about acting), in some ways I feel like I’ve never done it before because I’m approaching it in such a different way.