Gaby Hoffmann has a fantasy that one day she’ll get to play Wonder Woman.
The 31-year-old actress made the proclamation, prompted by a t-shirt worn by a film publicist accompanying her into a room full of reporters at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills recently to talk about her latest film, Crystal FairyI. In it, she plays the title character, a hippie-ish, lively spirited American on vacation in Chile who meets Michael Cera’s Jamie, who’s preparing for a road trip to find the San Pedro cactus, known for its hallucinogenic capabilities.
Considering her character’s wing-baring name and drug-fueled journey, Hoffmann should consider Crystal her own version of the high-flying superhero with warrior princess origins. Like Wonder Woman, Crystal Fairy has an undeniable presence about her, both alluring and mysterious, and in their arsenal of weapons – physical and mental – is the ability to make people say things they normally wouldn’t. In the case of Wonder Woman, it’s her Lasso of Truth; for Crystal, it’s the innate and unexpected ways she is able to communicate and connect with people.
Hoffmann – a former child star who played Kevin Costner’s daughter in Field of Dreams, Jonah’s friend in Sleepless in Seattle and one of the four girls in the teen coming-of-age story Now and Then, among many other roles – delivers a deeply provocative, quirky, heartfelt and humorous performance in Crystal Fairy. While she says she didn’t try to “figure her out,” Hoffmann instead focused on Crystal’s transformation that takes place over the course of the 98-minute movie from Chilean writer/director Sebastián Silva.
“She’s escaping some past, like we all are usually, but she’s doing it in a pretty extreme way,” Hoffmann told The Seven Sees. ”She’s developed this alter ego, and that’s a defense mechanism as far as I’m concerned. So there’s a lot of conflict in there and a lot of contradiction, and Sebastián finds the funniest ways to plant those seeds. I’m glad she became a mystery because at the end of the film I think she’s finally confronting herself in a way that she’s been running away from.”
Hoffmann herself ran away from Hollywood for a while, turning her attention to her education, studying literature at New York’s Bard College. In the decade after graduation, she interned with a chef in Italy, as she told The New York Times, and trained to be a doula after helping with the birth of her sister’s children, all the while occasionally taking bit parts in TV shows including “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Private Practice.”
“Uncertain and ambivalent about acting,” she couldn’t deny, though, the itch that was still there, buried deep beneath the surface, present and unavoidable.
“Every once in a while I would see a movie that would make my heart stop, and I would think, ‘Shit! I have to keep doing this…if people are making movies like this,” she explains, recalling 2009′s The Maid as one of those movies. ”I think that was at a particularly low-point for me where I had probably seen 50 bad movies and wondered, ‘Why does anybody want to do this?!’ [A friend and I] went to Sundance and saw The Maid and it just reinvigorated my interest in not just acting but filmmaking.”
The writer and director of that movie: Sebastián Silva. He won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic film at Sundance. A year later, Hoffmann says, she got a very unexpected call to work with Silva on an HBO short-form series, “The Boring Life of Jacqueline,” the beginning of a professional relationship that sent them back to Sundance earlier this year with Crystal Fairy, opening in Los Angeles, New York and select cities July 12th.
“I certainly never thought I’d get to make a movie with Sebastián,” Hoffmann muses, “so that was just a gift from the gods. I’m a huge fan of Sebastián’s; all of [his films]. The Maid is just one; they’re spectacular.”
Her role here is based on a woman Silva met years ago who went by the same name. While he has since lost contact with her, Silva had plenty to share about his Crystal Fairy with Hoffmann, though she says she didn’t have to look much further than her own life to craft the character.
“I like to think that I’m a bit of an adventurous spirit [like Crystal Fairy]. I’m playful and a little wild and conflicted and wounded. She’s sort of an exaggerated version parts that we all might have in ourselves,” she admits. ”She certainly wasn’t a stretch for me to play; I’ve known her in myself, within other people. I think she has a good sense of humor and enjoys herself in the world, which on a good day, I might feel about myself. She knows how to live. She knows how to have a good time.”
That is undeniable. Crystal Fairy lives her life for all the world to see. Quite literally, as the guys find out after she takes a shower and, without hesitation, proceeds to dry off in front of them. ”I think taking your clothes off is the easiest part of this job, to be honest,” she matter-of-factly states. ”Finding a way to turn that character into the person I wanted her to be was the thing I wasn’t sure I could do. Standing in a room naked with a bunch of boys is no big deal.”
And it’s just the beginning of her naked escapades.
“The first time she gets naked with the boys, I think she’s trying to be provocative,” Hoffmann explains. ”The second time it’s just her in the middle of nowhere, and I think that’s really symbolic of what’s happening internally. Then I think it becomes her true wardrobe, which is she’s shedding this previous character, a real character, that she’s created and laying herself bare – for herself first and then for the boys.”
“It was an interesting experience because I definitely was high – I took two doses because the first one didn’t seem strong enough – and I could really step in and out of the experience,” she recalls. ”I could have a conversation with Sebastián about what needed to happen and where the camera was going to be and what my action was, and even though he was staring at me going, ‘You’re so high,’ we could have a very lucid exchange. And then I could step into “the highness” – the cameras would retreat and Sebastián would retreat and I could, like a tool, pick it up and put it on and step into it and get lost a little bit in it. But I was still very cognizant of where I was and what I was doing; I was never out of my mind. It was incredibly pleasant. It just made everything really…pretty.”
For reasons just like that – her ability to achieve a captivating portrait of this spirited yet damaged soul, all while under the influence – is just one of many why the humble, unassuming, fearless and irrepressible Hoffmann is very likely to become a sought-after actress. Already, she has shot a guest starring arc on the third season of HBO’s “Girls,” the independent film Obvious Child, a “weird horror web series” called “Lyle,” and she also landed a role in the highly-anticipated Veronica Mars movie.
So maybe Hoffmann’s fantasy isn’t all that far-fetched. Take notice, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment – the actress to lead that Wonder Woman movie in development could be right here.