The Liberal Arts star explains why academia is so appealing and why she's keen to show off her lighter side.
It's been a mad 18 months for Elizabeth Olsen. Since being catapulted to the top of Hollywood's most wanted list after becoming the darling of last year's Sundance Film Festival with Martha Marcy May Marlene, the 22-year-old has been busy adding to her filmography with thrillers Silent House and Red Lights while studying at Tisch School of the Arts in New York. LWLies caught up with Olsen recently to find out why academia is so appealing and why she's keen to show off her lighter side with her latest role in Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts.
LWLies: What's the hardest part about making movies?
Olsen: I think the waiting, when you're on set and you have to wait around between takes. That's always annoying. Luckily on a movie like this you don't have the luxury of waiting. There actually haven't been too many movies I've made where the waiting has been a major issue, but it's something I've become very aware of. I hate the feeling of sitting in a box waiting to do something.
How did Liberal Arts differ production wise from, say, Silent House, which was done in one take?
Because Josh comes from working in television, as well as his first experience filming Happythankyoumoreplease, he knew that he had to be really focused in getting everything done in a limited amount of time. He ended up having everything he needed in the editing room, but that really came from the fact we were shooting digitally which meant we could keep rolling and didn't really need to cut. We'd just go back and shoot something again. So he and I would do multiple variations of things in one shot, so we could save the time of cutting and re-slating. It was a very quick shoot.
We've seen you in three quite dark thrillers so far, were you specifically looking for something lighter with this?
Yeah, I was. I think it's hard to just be in a dark place, because I'm a very positive person, I just tend to find working on darker material a little bit more interesting for some reason. But I really was so drained of it and I wanted to just do something where I got to play around with dialogue and I really like Josh's style of writing, the words are fun to say. And there are fun little verbal battles, like there are all these little intellectual duels which I find really fun to do.
Compared to Silent House and Martha Marcy May Marlene, your character here is much more detailed. Is it more fun for you to be able to fill in the blanks?
For something like this, where what the character says is what she means, it's definitely a lot more interesting. The characters where you have to figure out their secrets, that's the hard work for me but at the same time I want to exercise the ability to be quicker and sharper with dialogue. I think I should probably do a little bit more of that so I can exercise that part of myself more often.
Josh wrote, directed and stars in Liberal Arts, it must have been a very personal thing for him. Do you know if he had you in mind for the role of Zibby early on?
There was an audition, but we have the same agent and what happened was, without Josh knowing and against his wishes, she snuck me a draft of the script before he was ready to audition people. I really wanted to do it but we couldn't just go set up a meeting with him, we had to play this game where we made him feel like he was in control, like he came to the decision on his own. Finally Josh and I got into a room together and read every single scene between Zibby and Jesse in the script and it was really fun, we just sat on the floor of the taping room at the agent's office and read lines together. But still he wanted to make it fair and try out other actresses, I think to convince himself it was a well-researched, well-thought out decision. But we clicked and it was really comfortable and it made sense because I'm someone who looks young but I tend to sound older when I open my mouth which I think was good for him because he didn't want it to come off as creepy.
And also the character is intelligent, she's not a bimbo.
Right, so I guess that helped a lot.
You're studying at Tisch, right?
Yeah, well it's funny because it's a three-year acting programme and I've been a six-year college student and I'm done with the acting programme and I just have my liberal arts left. I finish in January.
It seems like a lot of young actors study on the side these days. Is that an insurance thing for you or what is it?
Well, I've had almost a whole year off since I broke up last fall, and then I'll go back for winter. But NYU doesn't like me taking the amount of time off that I do. I think they just want me to hurry up and graduate. It's important for me to do both school and acting though, because I'm young still and it's the only time I'm really ever going to be able to do both and put the time and work in. But it's hard, like I knew I didn't do a humanities class because I knew I wasn't going to be able to do all the required reading while I was acting, because in those three years of acting school you're rehearsing non-stop. But I enjoy being a student and I respect teachers too much to blow it off. I just think it's fun, really.
What do you love about movies?
The collaboration. I think when you get to work in film, and creating stories in general regardless of what the medium is, you have to be open to learning about something that isn't inherently you. It's like you're a permanent student of life and you have to constantly figure out how to work with different people.
Liberal Arts hits UK cinemas October 5 and Red Lights is available on Blu-ray and DVD from October 22 courtesy of Momentum Pictures.