Most profiles of Elizabeth Olsen can't help but mention her famous twin sisters, but there's a lot more to this up-and-comer than her family name. The 22-year-old actress makes an impressive, intriguing film debut in this weekend's cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, which won her plaudits back at Sundance and catapulted Olsen to the front of every casting director's indie wish list. Now comes the hard part: Picking her next big move while doing a major league press push for the first time. She checked in with Vulture to tell us how it's going, and to sound off on nude scenes and appearing in magazines.
Have you started the talk show circuit yet?
I haven't. I have a morning talk show coming up, and then I do late-night after I come back from the London Film Festival.
Do you feel ready for that?
No! The morning shows, I feel like I can jive with ladies and have a cup of tea and chat in the morning and there's no pressure to be funny — which is very difficult for me because I love it when people are funny on those late-night shows. I expect them to be funny, and I'm sure other people do, too. I rarely even watch late-night shows, but if Emma Stone is on one, I know I want to watch it. I watch every late-night talk show she does because she's so hilarious, but I don't have those skills.
Well, good luck.
What was the trickiest part of this shoot?
Because it was a SAG–modified script, there were contracts that Sean and Antonio and Josh hadn't worked out before so, with something like nudity, you have to fill out a lot of paperwork in order to do those things. That actually created my nerves because, before that, I really didn't have any — I understudied a Broadway play where the girl had to be nude on stage and in her underwear but, then again, I never had to go on. I feel like actors are tools to help the story, and if [nudity is] part of the story in an effective way, then it just is. If it's sensationalized and gratuitous, I don't want to do it. In this film, it has a very clear purpose of someone losing their full sense of self-identity and ownership of herself and her body and her mind. But there are all these things you have to fill out, like it says there's this many seconds on this part of the body, and you can show this part but not that part and for this long.
And then it becomes a really technical thing.
And it was new for me and new for them, so that created some nerves. You know, I remember seeing Holy Smoke, Jane Campion's film with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, where I was like, "Yeah, Kate Winslet." Her nudity made the story so much creepier. So I had to just talk to myself out loud in that type of way, to say to myself, "It's not going to pigeonhole you."
After Jennifer Lawrence broke out in Winter's Bone last year at Sundance, you could see her team make a conscious decision: "Hey, we need to show her off in a bikini in Esquire." You've booked plenty of magazines since then
do you have to fend off people who think you should have a Maxim moment?
I wouldn't want to have that moment, just because I wouldn't be comfortable with it. My publicist thought it was funny that I was okay to just unbutton a couple buttons for GQ, but it was actually a great shoot and I had been very frightened by it.
Frightened of photo shoots?
Of photo shoots, for one, but especially photo shoots where you're required to be sexy. Like, that is so subjective! [Laughs] Someone says, "Be sexy," and you don't know what you're supposed to do. I don't even know what to do to model clothes! It's not something I learned growing up, you know? With photo shoots, I sometimes have stylists do poses for me behind the camera so I can do it too, because I don't know how to make the best angle.
And then it almost becomes like acting and emulating.
When I was shooting GQ, the photographer was like, "Just imagine you're in your apartment and you're comfortable, and your boyfriend's taking pictures of you, and you're a little irritated but it's funny." That was the game, and it makes it a lot simpler, but the other stuff is scary to me. You know, it is interesting, the whole magazine thing. I never understood it, and I was like, "I don't want to put myself out there in all these magazines," but the truth is that you have this independent film to promote, and the people who read these magazines may think, "Oh, I should check out that movie." And that's exactly why you do it. You don't do it all year round and make it about you.
You mentioned earlier that you were an understudy who never got to go on —
On Broadway and off Broadway. I never got to go on for either.
What is that like, to prepare for this performance that you never get to give?
The hard thing was that it was my sophomore year of college, I was going to school full-time, I was in acting conservatory and had to rehearse all these scenes, I was at eight shows a week, I was writing essays I did not have a social life my entire sophomore year, and I've never felt more appreciative of free time, ever. That was harder work than this year has been! I made five movies this year, but my sophomore year was the hardest work I ever had — and it went unheard, you know what I mean? It was frustrating, but at the same time, I still really appreciated the Broadway show I did. Jeremy Irons was in it, and I really enjoyed watching his process of working.
Did you ever get the chance to talk to Felicity Jones and Brit Marling, two other actresses who became big names at Sundance this year?
No, I haven't! I've never met any of them. There are people like hairstylists who'll say, "Oh, you haven't met them yet? You'll love them!" They're actresses I'd love to meet. I did meet Imogen Poots recently in New York, and she is so cool. Just a great person. We never talked about work, though.