Eight months after her breakout debut at the Sundance Film Festival — when her two films turned heads, dropped jaws and had the town asking, “Where’d this girl come from?” — Elizabeth Olsen is no more used to the spotlight than before her entrance into the movie world.
But then, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen has spent a lifetime surrounded by the attention (and the aggression) of Hollywood. So if Elizabeth hadn’t already become accustomed to hobnobbing with the celebrity set, hadn’t inured herself to any limelight-induced nerves by last January, the upcoming release of [movie id="469629"]“Martha Marcy May Marlene”[/movie] and the accompanying Oscar buzz for her performance can hardly be expected to change any of that.
She hasn’t upgraded her modest home, hasn’t signed onto a mega-budget franchise flick, hasn’t quite gotten used to the fact that the media doesn’t want to tear her down. And she hasn’t gotten tired of talking about “Martha Marcy,” which Fox Searchlight is releasing on October 21. Olsen stars as Martha, a young woman who escapes a cult, reunites with her family and finds even that though she’s left behind her old life, that life has not left her.
As part of our Fall Movie Preview, Olsen called up MTV News recently to chat about the film. By turns earnest, giggly, awestruck and grateful about the place she finds herself at the age of 22, Olsen spoke passionately about what it was like to work with writer/director Sean Durkin, the media lessons she learned from her sisters, and what it was like to be in the same room as Leonardo DiCaprio.
MTV: The last time we talked was at Sundance, when you made a big splash with “Martha Marcy” and “Silent House.” Has life changed at all since everyone dubbed you a Sundance breakout star?
Elizabeth Olsen: Personally, it’s all the same. I still live in a 300-square-foot apartment. I made some more friends along the way and I’ve been traveling a lot. But professionally, since Sundance, I’ve made two more movies and now I get to keep reading cool scripts that before Sundance I wouldn’t have been even considered for. So that’s cool. It’s not about the size of the movie, it’s just character and story. Even independent films have their fair share of more simplistic stories, and then there are studio films that are more psychologically exciting. For me, it’s just figuring out if I like the character and seeing if I could be considered.
MTV: Along those lines, your character in “Martha Marcy” is not your typical young female Hollywood role. Was that the initial appeal for you?
Olsen: There were two things I immediately responded to in the script. The first was I really like being an audience, and when I finished, it was really thrilling from an audience perspective — the narrative and the way it was told. And from a character point of view, it was someone I could play with and be challenged by. It wasn’t like I was thinking, “No one does characters like this and I want to do that!”
MTV: How do you get to “play” with such a troubled character?
Olsen: For me, the analogy is if a kid gets access to the full playground, rather than just the monkey bars. I had not just the story of this cult, but how to recover from it. Within that, there’s anger, humiliation, embarrassment, inspiration, finding of a place and then being isolated from that place. There are so many things that fit into one person, which is so thrilling, as opposed to taking one part of the story. You get to fully create this circle, this cycle.
MTV: There are a lot of layers there. And the story itself reveals itself in layers.
Olsen: What’s cool is the way Sean edited the past with the present. A lot of times at the beginning of a scene, you don’t know where you are. You have to actively be on your toes. We filmed all of the cult stuff first, just because of location, and then we filmed everything after. That was lucky to have gone though the cult stuff first. Sean and I never talked about how he wanted everything to be perceived, whether things are flashbacks or if it’s all imagined. Everything was real to me. It’s exciting for the audience to have to figure out their own route to the story and how everything happened and where she came from and how she got there. Enough is in the context for them to make their own choices. I like seeing every romantic comedy in theater, but I also love having to be an active audience member. I don’t like things being fed to me. There were some scenes that were cut that actually gave the audience more backstory information. People have been asking, “Where do you think your character was before, blah, blah, blah?” The funny thing is I know, because we actually filmed those scenes, but they didn’t make it into the movie.
MTV: There’s Oscar talk about your performance on this one. Is that any easier to process or handle after the attention at Sundance?
Olsen: That’s really cool, but I can’t take it seriously. That’s where I am right now. I was a little girl speaking to my mirror and accepting awards when I was 8 as a joke. I was doing a movie with Frank Sinatra in my dream world. I can’t even think about any of this being a reality. The Hollywood Foreign Press thing that I got to go to a couple weeks ago was really crazy. That was my first event getting to be around all these people who I look up to and admire. That was a smaller version of all these awards shows. It’s all unreal in my mind.
MTV: Who’d you get to hang out with?
Olsen: I don’t really approach people at all! I don’t know why — I just don’t! I got to sit next to Kevin Bacon. Growing up, one of our family-favorite movies was “Tremors.”
MTV: I thought you were going to say “Footloose” or something.
Olsen: It was “Tremors”! I got so excited that I got to talk to him. He was totally nice. Also, having Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg in the room was pretty cool too.
MTV: Does that sort of stuff make you nervous? The press and the events and the attention?
Olsen: That sort of stuff does make me nervous. I’m very intimidated by that. Growing up, the press and the media to me were unfriendly people. So it’s interesting to be in a place where it’s not so unfriendly.
MTV: Why do you think you’re getting all this great press, but there was such a harsh spotlight on your sisters?
Olsen: The only thing I can think of is everyone thinks they grew up with my sisters. People feel they’re innately part of their business and personal lives, which they’re not. It’s because there’s a more intimate relationship and they can make opinions about everything. I didn’t have that situation.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
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