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Elizabeth Olsen deals a full house of panic in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

It could be argued that having famous siblings can be a crutch to one’s career. And unlike celebrity offspring, the public has a tendency to stack up brothers and sisters – which is most talented, better looking, most likely to shoplift, least prone to rehab, etc. Suffice it to say that NIGHTLIFE.CA won’t stoop to such base comparisons (what do you think this is, US Weekly?), but we will say that 22-year-old Elizabeth Olsen is holding her own and rapidly securing an enviable position in the sought-after, indie ‘It Girl’ ranks.


The sister to former powerhouse, direct-to-video, pre-teen entertainment queens Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (now clothing designers at the very legit age of 25), Lizzie is a theatre major at NYU’s renowned Tisch School of the Arts. Already a hot commodity in the film world, she’s had to take an academic sabbatical to film – count ‘em – five movies (and her first five, at that) over the past year. We’re talking motion pictures in which she plays opposite the likes of Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Zac Efron and Dakota Fanning.

This would all be irrelevant if it weren’t for a simple fact: Olsen is full of talent and promise. The film that’s put her on the map, Sundance winner Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a chilling psychological thriller about a young woman, Martha (Olsen), who escapes an abusive, cult-like farming community, but then can’t shake away the upsetting memories and slow-burning trauma after seeking refuge at her sister’s lakeside cottage. Speaking with director Sean Durkin at the Toronto International Film Festival, the first-time filmmaker was full of praise for his leading lady. “She’s very vibrant and strong, and I thought that if you paired that with the hard, outer shell of Martha, you’d get something interesting. I got a sense that she could act very effortlessly,” he says.

 


Photo: Joe Scarnici, Wireimage/Getty for TIFF
 

WORLDS AWAY FROM VOGUE
Olsen’s performance as the aloof, terror-stricken Martha carries the film – at her most erratic, she sneaks into bed with sister and brother-in-law as they have sex. When we speak with the confident and most elegant Olsen at TIFF about her character, haunted by memories of her Bible-Belting, deceitful cult leader, she acknowledges that playing emotionally distraught took its toll during the shoot. “It got tiring at the lake house,” she says. “I took a lot of naps.”

As for tapping into her own fears to play Martha, the young actress chooses her words carefully. “I have a hard time talking about what I draw upon, because it’s so personal,” she says. “But the first thing I did connect with was her sense of paranoia.”

As we chat, Lizzie’s father sits at the back of the room, smiling and silently vouching for his daughter’s success. As for that matter of friendly sisterly competition... “That would be the unhealthiest thing,” Lizzie fires back, laughing. “Ashley doesn’t even act anymore; they’re both really just focused on fashion right now. Today is their big presentation to Anna Wintour in New York, so they’re doing their own crazy fashion week thing.”

 


 

NOTES ON A FABRICATED SCANDAL
Lizzie isn’t doing too shabby herself in fashion circles (although she considers herself inept at modeling), having just fronted Nylon’s October issue and shot with designer Karl Lagerfeld for an upcoming coffee table book. But chatting with the unassuming beauty, it’s painstakingly clear what she’s most apprehensive about – and charismatic cult leaders it ain’t. Having witnessed firsthand “how rude the tabloids were” to her sisters with reports of alleged drug addictions and eating disorders, Olsen hopes tabloids will forever spare her of their photographic wrath. “The main thing I’m frightened of is how movies bring tabloids, and tabloids create their own stories about people’s lives, which then become part of this fictitious storyboard of characters that we follow. People start to think that their lives are for the public. If that were to happen, I guess I’ll have to figure out how to navigate it.”

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene | In theatres November 4 | foxsearchlight.com/marthamarcymaymarlene | Read our review of Martha Marcy May Marlene here