What’s in a name? In the festival circuit breakout, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, the heroine has four of them. Meanwhile, the actress who plays her has a name you’ve likely never heard before. With five films being released over the next year and mounting awards season buzz for her first though, you will know the name, Elizabeth Olsen, soon enough and you’ll be hearing it for a long time to follow as well.
“I try not to think about things like momentum and trying to act fast while things are hot,” Olsen tells me, over the phone, after I suggest that things are indeed hot for her right now. “I’m just going to try to continue making choices based on script, character, project, who’s involved, rather than try to jump on some sort of momentum.”
|Olsen as Martha, Marcy May or Marlene|
Her choices thus far have been pretty sound or at least have the potential to be. Her upcoming projects include working with filmmakers like Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY), Rodrigo Cortes (BURIED) and Josh Radnor (Ted from How I Met your Mother). It is her breakout in MMMM (cool acronym, huh?), with first time feature filmmaker and now good friend, Sean Durkin though, that will serve as her ultimate unveiling.
“Sean wanted to cast an unknown actress for Martha,” Olsen reveals. “He thought it was really important for the audience to see it without any baggage from someone’s prior work because it is such a specific story.” The story in question centers around Martha’s escape from a cult and her difficult integration back into the family she ran from. Her memories and her nightmares become intertwined, making for a unique and haunting film experience. (Read the 5-star Black Sheep review here.)
|Olsen with Oscar nominee, John Hawkes|
While It is true that people may not know her name, it is a stretch to suggest Olsen comes without baggage. Olsen is the younger sibling of infamous twin sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. And while she may bear a distinct resemblance to them physically, it only takes about five minutes of watching her on screen to realize she is where she is right now based on the sheer magnitude of her talent and not her connections.
This talent is the reason I chose not to discuss her sisters with her during our interview. It is also the reason that the possibility of an Oscar nod is being tossed around for her turn in MMMM. “First off, that’s just like so, it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around it because this is my first movie being released,” Olsen declares, clearly humbled and reluctantly excited by the possibility. “It’s so difficult for me to see that as part of my reality. For me, what I hope comes out of that mere buzz is more people will end up seeing the movie because of that.”
|Olsen with co-star, Sarah Paulson|
A significant audience would certainly vindicate the five week shoot, in which Olsen only had one day off and two weeks to prepare for, not to mention the dark places she had to visit in her mind to make Martha believable. “I have a pretty active imagination,” Olsen explains when I ask how she was so convincingly able to look like a shell of a human being on screen at times. “I just would put myself in situations, not like Martha’s situation, but more like something I could relate to, that would be more like a parallel. It makes the movie harder to watch because you remember the things that you were trying to figure out for yourself when you played those scenes.”
It may be dark but MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is nothing but a bright beginning for an exciting new actress with great promise. “At the end of the movie, I did feel sad to leave her behind but I also felt relieved,” Olsen confides, showing genuine conflict. Now many months later, there is no question of the pride she derived from the experience. “I truly believe it’s an original and different cinematic experience for modern day film. I don’t think a lot of films are made like this anymore and I hope people just come game to have a whole different type of experience watching a movie.”