Elizabeth Olsen isn't necessarily trying to emerge from the shadow of her older sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley -- she's trying to just be as far away from that shadow as possible. Considering Olsen's name is being mentioned along with "Oscar nomination" for her starring role in this weekend's limited release, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' she's doing a pretty good job of making the separation. Not that the 22-year-old is completely embracing the idea of awards; she describes the nomination possibility as "frightening."
In 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' Olsen plays -- well, all of those people. Her birth name is Martha, but after joining a mysterious upstate New York cult, she starts going by the name Marcy May and, at times, Marlene. The film shifts back and forth through time as it intercuts Martha's stay in the cult -- and her relationship with the cult's leader, Patrick (John Hawkes) -- with the tribulations she faces living with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy) once she escapes. Moviefone spoke to Olsen about her much-buzzed about performance, the "baggage" that her last name entails and why an Oscar isn't exactly at the top of her want list.
The title of this movie is terrible for me.
I mean, it's not a terrible title, it's just hard for me to remember.
Yeah, totally. I call it 'Martha.'
OK, that's easier. Though, I feel like I should be professional and say the whole title. But by the fourth name I start questioning myself.
[Laughs] No, I can say it like a thousand times. Once you work on it, there's no other title for the movie. And it's the four names that she goes by. So, it's easier for me.
I wish your sisters weren't famous. I want to ask about tension and disconnect with your own sisters, because that's a theme in the film, but I'm afraid you will think that I'm just trying to get a hot scoop.
Right! [Laughs] Well, I think especially with what [director and writer] Sean [Durkin] wrote, there's such an age difference between the two sisters. And I have a younger sister who is 14 and I have a sort of guilt -- she's in L.A. -- because I can't always be around for her. Especially because this is such a huge point in her life as she's gong into high school. And I think at that point you need your older sister. But she's also in a position where she has both of her parents and people love her – where I think that this character didn't really have all of that. But, with my younger sister, I really feel awful that I'm in New York and she's in L.A. And we miss each other on Skype all of the time. I mean, literally, the only reason I go on Skype is to see if she comes on. So it is a real thing, especially with an age difference.
I feel like at some point in the film Lucy should have just said, "Martha, I don't believe this boyfriend story. Where exactly have you been?" But is that just something you miss with the age difference?
No. I think what Sean is getting at, really, with that being the case is two things. The first thing is that he's interested in families that don't actually talk about the things that need to be talked about. And that's happened in a lot of people's families. I remember there was this really funny lady who was like, [in an accent] "Well, I'm a Jewish mother and we always talk about everything that happens. And if someone is acting weird, we yell at them and tell them when they're acting weird. So I don't get it."
That's a good accent, by the way.
I'm not even trying to. Oh, shit. [Laughs] But I know so many families that don't talk. My family is actually pretty good at communication, but that's something that we had to learn to do and I think that's something you have to practice at. And I think there are moments in this film where she wants to ask, but Martha doesn't think she was in a cult or think she was being abused. And the reason I can say that is I know that one of the women that Sean spoke with who influenced a lot of the story -- she said, to this day, after ten years have passed, and lots of therapy, she knows what happened to her is wrong, logically. But she doesn't feel like she was abused in her heart. So how do you talk about it two weeks after?
I'm just going to say this as a statement: The ending of this movie made me like the rest of the movie better. I wasn't expecting that to be the way it ended.
Cool. And that does make sense. That's exciting to me because my brother is a huge film nerd and he always -- and I feel OK saying this because I always tell him how frustrated I get when he does this -- he always says, "Oh, I knew it was going to go there," after I just saw a movie. I'm like, "How did you know?" And I know he didn't expect that ending, either. So I feel that's awesome because I feel there are so many ways you can satisfy an audience and Sean is just trying to tell a character's story. He's not trying to do any sort of "filmmaker satisfaction" anything.
Do you want an Oscar nomination? Is that something you think about?
[Laughs] It's something I definitely thought about when I was a little girl in front of a mirror.
But now that you do a movie like this, it has to be something on your mind because your name is being mentioned.
It's like [pauses], yeah... that would be amazing. And so crazy because then you're in this community of people you looked up to your whole life and you never thought that you'd be considered to be anywhere in the same grouping or situation as them. So that's really interesting. And exciting and cool. I also think thing that like... if that does happen to you when you're young and it's the beginning of your career, it's like a really high moment. So it's like all downhill from there until you get back up again. You know what I mean? [Laughs]
That's an interesting answer.
[Laughs] That's how I think of it. And, so, to me, I like that people talk about that because they'll see the movie. But it actually being a reality is something that is actually frightening in my mind. Unless you just figure out how to make it work and use it to your advantage about what kind of jobs you want to work on after that.
You were in some of Mary Kate and Ashley's movies.
Yeah, as a little girl.
And then you didn't do any movies for some time. I enjoyed Mary Kate in 'The Wackness'...
...but I don't feel those roles come around often for them because of how they are perceived. But, for you, did taking that break help separate you from how people perceive their empire?
Well, yeah, I mean... just naturally my sisters grew up in the public eye and, so, people have seen them since they were babies. But people have never seen me since I was a baby, so that's what allowed me to be able to do a role like this. Because he literally wanted an actress who didn't have a type of baggage -- but not in a negative way -- but baggage in like other roles that they played. He didn't want anyone to think about this actress as an actress, but as this character. So, yes, I wouldn't have been able to do this role had it been any other situation.
And, to be honest, it's not something I think of immediately when I hear your name.
There have been plenty of casting directors who have just never realized. So it's really funny.
It's a common last name.
Yeah! It's funny, I'm re-reading 'A Doll's House' right now and it's spelled the proper Norwegian way with "O-N." I got really excited. I get really excited when I see that [laughs].
You worked with Jane Fonda on your first film, 'Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.' What was that like?
She has more energy than I do, which makes me feel lazy.
Is she the type to give tips?
She is. I was asking her -- coming from theater to film and this is my first movie -- I was trying to figure out how much got captured on camera. I'm not very aware of it. And she was the first person who actually made me start to realize that you can be having all of these thoughts in your head, but no one can read it just because there's a camera close on your face. There's actually something else you have to do. Or, the opposite, you can't do too much. So, right now, because of what she said 14 months ago, I'm interested in watching the movies that I've done because I'm interested in trying to figure out how much is captured and how much isn't and that's something I've kept with me.
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