by Luke Hickman
I've attended the Sundance Film Festival for the last four consecutive years. As a press member, they have special screenings set up for you and industry folks away from the general Main Street hoopla. While waiting in lines with others donning the press and industry badges, you hear a lot of inside info about films being screened – what's good, what's not so good, and what's terrible. In the last four years, I never heard so much positive buzz about anything than I did this year. In every line I stood in and every theater I sat in, I always heard people buzzing about one breakthrough actress – Elizabeth Olsen.
Olsen actually appeared in two Sundance 2011 films – 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' and 'Silent House.' The buzz heard came from her performances in both films. Who knew the Olsen Twins from 'Full House' had a little sister who could break their mold and hit the ground running with her first professional gig?
Opening stateside on October 21, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' takes you through the life of a young woman who gets sucked into a cult and finally escapes. The film opens with a brainwashed version of that girl fleeing the farm compound and awkwardly returning to life as we know it. As she attempts to return to innocence, her thoughts take her back to her first weeks at the farm.
After finally seeing 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' I can confirm that the Sundance buzz was spot on – Elizabeth Olsen is a keeper. This week she took a few minutes to chat with High-Def Digest about Sundance, her two films shown there and the bright career that lies ahead of her.
High-Def Digest – Luke Hickman: Hello! How are you today?
Elizabeth Olsen: Great! How are you?
HDD: Not bad. Are you tired of doing so much press today? Isn't this the second round for you, considering the film opened at Sundance in January?
Elizabeth Olsen: Yes, but it's our first time getting to do it like this, so it's exciting.
HDD: But you had two films at Sundance, meaning you did double time up there.
Elizabeth Olsen: Yes.
HDD: I missed 'Silent House' up there and I'm dying to see it.
Elizabeth Olsen: Well, we've changed the ending, so if people have seen it, they should go see it anyway.
HDD: How was it doing a single-take movie?
Elizabeth Olsen: It wasn't [filmed] all in one shot. [The filmmakers] feel okay talking about it now because the whole point about the one shot is to create a new experience for a viewer of real time, so they tried to create a performance that takes place over an hour and a half of real time. It was an incredible challenge. We did do really long shots – like 12-minute shots – not consistently, so it was really challenging. The endurance that you had to create was exhausting.
HDD: Do you know if 'Silent House' has distribution? I know it was acquired -
Elizabeth Olsen: It was picked up by Liddell Entertainment and they're pairing up with Open Road for a release in early spring. They don't have a date yet, but early spring.
HDD: Were the reshoots done just for the ending?
Elizabeth Olsen: No, there were a couple things. Since it is real time, you can't edit things and make it a more cohesive story. There are some things that we had to change to make it flow better in real time. All the cuts are still seamless, it's just a really new way of watching … or experiencing a movie.
HDD: Did you film 'Silent House' first or 'Martha Marcy May Marlene?'
Elizabeth Olsen: We filmed 'Silent House' a few weeks after 'Martha.'
HDD: And how was it diving into those role? It's very dark.
Elizabeth Olsen: There were a lot of different things to play around with and explore. It was somehow fun, even though you think it wouldn't have been.
HDD: Was it very difficult? From looking at your IMDb page, you hadn't done anything in a very long time.
Elizabeth Olsen: Those [early] credits are actually – my sisters would film these straight-to-video movies, and because there were four kids in my family at the time, my mother – after would we be picked up from school – would have my brother and I sometimes be in their videos when we were just hanging out. That wasn't an actual attempt at acting. That was kinda like – they would just put gum in my hair and call it a day. I actually started going to acting school when I was eight. I was actually acting my whole life, but not doing anything professionally. I started going to acting conservatories when I was 16 – I've gone to four different acting conservatories – I understudied when I was in college, and then I met an agent … and started auditioning for films about seven months before 'Martha.'
HDD: At Sundance you came out of nowhere. You couldn't stand in line without hearing someone talking about one of your two performances there.
Elizabeth Olsen: That's really cool. It's gonna sound like I come out of nowhere. My dad is so funny. … I remember when he was reading something that was written about Sundance, there was some sort of article about me that said something like, “Coming out of … left field, Elizabeth Olson, sister of blaa-blaa-blaa...” and my dad was like, “But wait. You've been doing this your whole life. Don't they know that?” And I'm like, “No, Dad, they don't because it's not in the public; therefore, it never happened.” Yeah, I've been doing it my whole life, I just haven't been working professionally. I've been training. I just started auditioning last January … and it's been a really exciting time.
HDD: And there are already a couple of big films that you've already filmed, right?
Elizabeth Olsen: I filmed five movies this year.
HDD: Oh, my gosh!
Elizabeth Olsen: Yeah, it was a great learning experience, but then I decided to take a break and go back to school to finish up my BFA at NYU.
HDD: Very cool.
Elizabeth Olsen: Yeah. Education is really important to me, so finishing my college education is a huge priority. I never actually knew how much work you had to do for promoting films and how much time it consumes, so I better finish school now before things get even crazier.
HDD: Do you have any roles lined up for when you're through with school?
Elizabeth Olsen: Yeah, I'm doing a movie called 'Very Good Girls.' Naomi Phoner is directing it. We're going to be filming that later, when I done with school.
HDD: This was a great year for films at Sundance. Being there, on your side, how it?
Elizabeth Olsen: It was my first festival, so everything was so exciting. I was just doe-eyed the whole time everything was going on, just enjoying the experience.
HDD: And I imagine you were twice as busy promoting the two films.
Elizabeth Olsen: I was. I never even got to see the full movie from beginning to end until Cannes.
HDD: 'Martha' has a very ambiguous ending. Do you know what happens after the film cuts to black?
Elizabeth Olsen: No, I don't know. It's not really going to help me tell the story if I know what happens in the future. … I think it's really deliberate when stories are told [this way]. … If back story helps me, then I'll focus on the back story - but I don't even think that back story is necessary most of the time. What happens before or after the movie exists isn't relevant. It isn't what the audience is supposed to be thinking about.
HDD: Well, our time is up and I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Elizabeth Olsen: Thank you, too.