10 Actors to Watch 2011: Elizabeth Olsen

Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley, chose a different route to a career in acting than her older siblings.

Shunning child roles, the creation of designer backpacks and paparazzi stampedes, Olsen focused on stage work and the academic rigor of attaining a degree from New York U.’s Tisch School of the Arts.

That strategy has already begun to reap rewards. Her performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” has won critical acclaim and awards buzz.

In “Martha,” Olsen plays a troubled woman who recently escaped from a cult. Through flashbacks, an intimate character study unfolds, revealing past emotional trauma and its continued impact.

Olsen says she was not daunted by the role’s complexity.

“I was cast just 2 1/2 weeks before shooting,” she says. “If I had more time to think about it, I might have freaked out.”

She had been auditioning for parts only seven months before she read “Martha.” “It was the only script that required me to do work,” she says. “That really excited me.”

Years earlier, Olsen decided she would study acting before diving into it.

“I knew no matter what I did, whether it was good or bad, I was always going to be compared to my sisters,” she says. “I just wanted to make sure that whenever I put myself out there I would feel as confident as I could.”

Olsen is completing three of the last five classes needed for her degree.

“I’ll finish the other two when the time is right,” she says. “I will finish — that’s very important to me — but I’m not giving myself a deadline so that I can still work in the meantime. But I’m so close.”

Lucky break: “‘Martha Marcy May Marlene.’ It was my second movie but the people I got to work with were people I want to work with for the rest of my life.”
Favorite film: “I can watch ‘Gone With the Wind’ and ‘Annie Hall’ again and again.
Career I’d like to emulate: “Kate Winslet. I think she’s been able to balance all different types of genres, and also different media. I think she chooses really smart work.”

10 ACTORS TO WATCH 2011:
Benedict Cumberbatch | Jean Dujardin | Luke Evans | Josh Hutcherson | Felicity Jones | Taylor Kitsch | Brit Marling | Elizabeth Olsen | Octavia Spencer | Shailene Woodley

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