Young star and recent “independent film darling” Elizabeth Olsen burst onto cinema screens – and wowed both critics and audiences – in last year’s haunting MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. Even now in the (still) beginnings of this new year, she is set to take us on yet another harrowing adventure in SILENT HOUSE, the psychological horror film from directing duo Christ Kentis and Laura Lau (OPEN WATER). Olsen was dauntingly tasked with carrying the 88 minute feature – shot in real time and in one continuous take. Yes, dear readers! You read that right.
During the roundtable interviews at the press day for the film, we caught up with the incredibly affable and lovely lady to talk about her college life, the challenges she faced shooting this unique and revolutionary format, and what’s next for this rising star. ****WE’VE INDICATED THE SPOILER QUESTIONS****
Do you think anyone would want to buy a summer home again thanks to this movie?
So what was the motivation when they said to you, ‘Here’s this movie. You get to be the star of it and be running around consecutively for 88 minutes?’
“How it really went was, ‘Hi. I’d only done two movies and I’m auditioning. Please give me a job.”
What were the two movies at that point?
PEACE LOVE MISUNDERSTANDING, which hasn’t come out yet. It was in Toronto. And MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE.
Did you have in your mind the way they were going to film this? The camera follows you the entire time. What was it like for you?
“When I was filming MARTHA was when I got the part and the guys who made that movie saw LA CASA MUDA, the Uruguayan film in Cannes. I’m a big scary movie fan. Not the slice and the dicing, but I really love suspense and things that get your heart racing. They said it was the most terrifying first hour they’ve ever had in the theater. I was like, ‘Wow great! That sounds awesome.’ It also sounded like an amazing challenge to get to do that. It seemed difficult to figure out how to do and there’s still moments where I only knew what I learned in hindsight. It was a very different and difficult to figure out how to do.”
You did a re-shoot after Sundance. Were you reshooting it for technical reasons or was it a new ending?
“We did. It was a new ending and a better ending. So people who saw it at Sundance, I encourage them to see this one. It was the same twist but it was executed differently. We tightened some dialogue. It was hard to go back because your hair is a different length obviously that happens. But in this movie, there can’t be some clever change in one scene. It has to look the same in the same scene. It was hard to do stitching but they figured it out. Going back, it sounded difficult after separating yourself from this movie for awhile. Now I’m happy we did it. It was hard to go back into that house of doom.”
Besides watching the original movie, how do you prepare for the role in emotional and psychological terms?
“Laura – one of the directors – she really researched who this has happened to. The people who deal with trauma and end up having multiple personality disorder, block things out that wind up revealing themselves in very traumatic ways. Some people go through their lives with this huge scar and they never remember what happened to them. The truth is for this movie, the whole thing is supposed to be in the present and whatever you’re dealing with in the present that seems like someone chasing you. You just play with your imagination with that one.”
Have you seen it with an audience?
“Saw it in Sundance but haven’t seen this version with an audience, just my best friend. In Sundance, I went to the press screening and no one knew who I was there. It wasn’t our premiere and I was so low in the chair hoping no one notices me. It was really weird. People laugh because their so uncomfortable. It was the first time seeing me on screen EVER… and with an audience. I was dealing with a lot of firsts at one time. It was very overwhelming.”
Last year must have been a huge whirlwind for you because MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE really brought you out and everybody knows who you are now. How has it been and how are you adjusting?
“I don’t actually get recognized that often. I’m from LA. I never run into people who do that. Maybe because I’m on a side of town where I’m not in the mix of it. I went back to school (at NYU) for Fall semester. I have two classes left to finish my degree so I’m trying to figure out how to do that. I feel very lucky to be working. I’m just enjoying that I have choices now. I’m not interested in anything else besides working.”
Between this and MARTHA MARCY, that’s a lot of torment you put yourself through.
“Back to back it was so much torment. I was happy to have three months. I went back home and I lived with my mother. I did lots of yoga and hung out with my younger siblings. Then we went to Sundance and had an amazing experience.”
When MARTHA MARCY opened, everybody kept saying, “The Oscar race… Olsen’s going to get a nomination for this!” How did that feel pressure-wise to be put on that platform, then not have it, and fear you might be dropping off the hot list?
“It was more like I was so happy people were seeing my first movie. And people especially critics are speaking well of it. That we’re even being recognized by anyone – I’m so thankful to have those guys take a chance on me. Only good came out of it. There were so many amazing female performances this year that you can’t even think about that. I couldn’t imagine being part of an Independent Spirit Award. So even that was so cool to be there.”
Can we talk about the choices that you’re making with films? You’re not taking the easy projects. All the characters you are playing are incredibly complex and layered.
“In PEACE LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING, I play a very simple college student and that was my first movie. And it’s a family movie. So that was “Thank God you gave me a job, Bruce Beresford!” I did a movie called RED LIGHTS and I was cast in it before I even went to Sundance the first time. The idea of getting to work with an ensemble cast was insane to me. Now I’m in a position where I can decide what character is something that’s new to me, what director I want to work with, and even what DP I want to work with. Now I get to think of things in a very lucky way right now and it’s not going to last – everything’s a roller coaster in life. You can’t always assume something is going to be there, so you have to be thankful for where you are. I love being a working actor so I’m trying to get to do as many cool interesting projects as possible that sound inspiring to me.”
Did you assume growing up with your older sisters being so famous that one day it would happen to you too?
“I don’t think of things in the sense of fame. I think of it as work. And not just because of my sisters, but because I’m a kid in LA who went to a private school that’s kinda what everyone’s parents do somehow. Either they’re a writer, producer, special effect artist, soap opera star. They all work and think of it that way and don’t bring it into their private lives. For me, since I was 7, I was singing and dancing on stage and it’s always what I wanted to do.”
How did Chris and Laura work as a directorial team?
“Since day one when we met and doing rehearsals and just talking about the material. Laura said, ‘I’m going to do hands on onset with more of the content (since she also wrote the script). And Chris is going to handle more of the technical things.’ Obviously Chris had opinions about content and character, but instead of two people talking at you, they’d talk together and Laura would be the one speaking to the actors. Clearly they’ve done it before and know how they like to work.”
Was the camera ever obtrusive? It seemed like it was so in your face. How did you deal with that?
“The funny thing is there’s no crew. It was just you and the camera with the DP behind it operating it, and the boom guy, John. Just the three of us would kind of do it together. Igor Martinovic and I were a team and we danced with each other. He’d be like, “walk faster. Slow down. Light over here.” They obviously went back and changed that in sound. We had this dialogue together. It actually felt like a make believe haunted house thing than a set where there are 30 people around just hanging out. It’s just you and a guy wandering a house. I didn’t once feel it was in my way at all. The directors were in a viewing room that was downstairs and that’s where the producers were, the focus puller was there. There’s a whole satellite system so it could all work at the same time. The lighting guys were in a booth controlling the entire house on a grid. It was technically difficult for every single department.”
Do you get spooked easily?
VeryAware: Did you have to practice the choreography for a long time before you started shooting? And memorize the whole script before you started shooting?
“We did chunks at a time. We did about 12 minute chunks at a time which is a lot. What we’d do is one chunk a day. We’d go through the choreography. Since we aren’t using film, we could do as many takes as you want. We would just record so we could either learn from mistakes. Igor would like to go back and watch it to see what he could do better or what he thinks would look best in frame. We’d just do it over and over and over again. It was usually around midday when it was full blown attacking it. We probably did about 25 plus times. And only one or two were possible to use. It was heart wrenching! Literally 30 seconds left of a take, and someone had to put a prop down and their hand was there. You’re thinking, ‘Everything I did does not matter anymore.’ It was so heart wrenching as an actor to do that when there’s so much material and none of it can be used. It’s very ephemeral and you just move on.”
How did you keep up that level of anxiety to do that?
“I don’t know. It’s exhausting but you do it repetitively – it becomes a muscle eventually. At the same time I would get frustrated because I was thinking we’re a minute twenty three right now and you have a whole journey to go. Sometimes by the end of a day, doing that 23rd minute felt like you were doing the 12th hour, which sometimes you were doing. It was hard to contain a meter for myself. It was a technical struggle. And I learned a lot from trying to execute it.”
You are working with Glenn Close on THERESE RAQUIN – a very famous novel. Are there a couple versions of this already?
“It’s a French film, I think? There might be two, but there isn’t an English version, I don’t think. It’s also a play. The funny thing is I read the script in the Summertime and then I started school in September. I was taking a theater class called ‘Realism and Naturalism.’ The first assignment we had was to read the novel and the play. I was like ‘Oh my God! Are you kidding me?!’ It was haunting me and I was so excited by it and it became this thing I wanted to do. It’s so exciting when a movie actually happens. There are ideas of movies and they don’t happen.
You’re a successful actor now. What’s college like for you? I know New Yorkers are famously blasé.
“I don’t feel like a lot of people would recognize me in general. It doesn’t happen that often. And when it does I get really excited. When someone tells you, ‘Oh I saw your movie. It was awesome.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh my god! Thanks! That’s so cool!’ It’s not like people are whispering in corners who I am. I’m just a student there. I ad to explain to three of my teachers that I was promoting a movie. I would never actually fully tell them what I was doing. The thing is, in college, if you’re missing class, you’re missing class.”
And you are determined to graduate?
“I have two classes left. I get to take two Humanities classes. I get to take anything from art history to literature. So why miss out on that opportunity?! My degree is Theater –acting. At NYU, you have to get a liberal arts degree. So those are my last two requirements. Although I have no intention of going to the graduation ceremony. It’s at Yankee Stadium. How intimate is that?!”
SILENT HOUSE opens March 9.