Playing the complex role of an escaped cult member, still haunted by the abuse of her recent past even as she struggles to regain her footing in reality, could be a daunting experience for a veteran actor. Yet it didn’t faze 22-year-old Elizabeth Olsen.
“I think the reason is that I was cast just 2 1/2 weeks before we started shooting,” she says. “If I had more time to think about it, I might have freaked myself out. I was really just excited by the challenge.”
That excitement, combined with her background on stage and theater classes in college, translated into a performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” that had critics buzzing. The low-budget indie was Olsen’s second film but it made quite a splash early this year when it played at the Sundance Film Festival.
Olsen, three years younger than her celebrity twin sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, says much of the satisfaction of making the film was working with director Sean Durkin.
“I really enjoy the collaboration of acting,” she says. “I’ve always been trained in theater and to me it’s all about ensemble and creating a piece of live theater. When we filmed ‘Martha,’ it was the ideal amount of collaboration. Everyone got to do their job. No one stepped on anyone’s feet. I love working with people and I love learning. Those are the two things I find most gratifying now.”
Much of the material in “Martha” was mentally and physically taxing. So much so that Olsen wondered at times whether it might be comparable to giving birth.
Olsen confesses that playing the title role and mining the emotions and personality of a fictional character also taught her a little something about herself.
“Yes, you can go traveling and learn or you can take up a new class here and there, but there’s something (exhilarating) about exploring it as yourself, your being, and learning about someone else’s mind,” she says.
Unafraid and undaunted, Olsen says she will continue to be on the lookout for “things that make me exercise all those different muscles.”