For Elizabeth Olsen, making ‘Silent House’ was easier than watching it
BY CINDY PEARLMAN March 4, 2012 10:14PM
Elizabeth Olsen plays an abused woman who flees a cult in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
Updated: April 6, 2012 8:09AM
LOS ANGELES — Until this year, Elizabeth Olsen had never seen herself in a movie.
Not in her 2011 indie hit “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Not even in the 1994 screen classic “How the West Was Fun,” with her older sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley.
“I finally saw myself in a film at Sundance,” says Olsen, who screened her new film “Silent House” on a snowy night with a bunch of press people who didn’t even know she was in the audience.
“I sat so low in my chair praying, ‘Please, please don’t look at me. I hope no one notices I’m here!’ ” says Olsen, who cringes before saying, “It’s so weird in a horror movie. People actually laugh, because they’re uncomfortable which freaked me out.
“I was dealing with a lot of firsts hunkered down in my chair. First time seeing myself. First time seeing me in a horror film. And I’m in virtually every frame of the movie.”
Mary-Kate and Ashley never have looked as horrified on screen as Olsen does as Sarah, a tormented young woman at her desolate summer home in “Silent House.”
Olsen is in what appears to be one 88-minute film take as she careens thrugh the house evading dead bodies and a force clomping around trying to find her. Meanwhile, she’s remembering her horrifying past that also took part inside this dwelling.
“I’m a big horror movie fan. I love things that get your heart racing,” says Olsen, 23. “The film with 88 minutes in real time sounded like an amazing challenging and very difficult to do.
“I do have a very fatalistic imagination. It’s not that things scare me easily. I can just imagine very dark things, very fast.”
To prepare for the film, Olsen studied trauma victims “who ended up having multiple personality disorder. They block things out and then reveal the past to themselves in traumatic ways.
“Of course, some people go through life with this big scar. They never remember. They block it out forever.”
Olsen will have trouble forgetting the weeks she spent in a real house, appearing completely horrified for 12 hours a day. The camera tracked her for long continuous shots.
“The director of photography and I were a team,” she says. “He’d be like, ‘Walk faster. Slow down. Light over there.’ We had this dance together. It actually felt like a make-believe haunted house each day, so it was easy to act it out.”
The two directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (who teamed for “Open Water”), sat in a separate room with their producer.
The film went through some reshoots after Sundance. “It’s better now with a new ending,” Olsen says. “But going back to do reshoots was a difficult idea. It was a case of, ‘Oh no, please don’t put me back in that house of doom.’ ”
Olsen’s whirlwind 2011 had its own thrills and chills.
The New York University student who is two credits shy of graduation says she doesn’t find fame bothersome — at least on most fronts.
“When I went back to NYU, it was just a case of, ‘Oh hi, I liked you in that movie.’ That’s always nice to hear,” she says. “I’m still embarrassed to ask teachers for time off. I’ll be like, ‘Um, I need a few weeks off because I’m, um, working.’ ”
Olsen was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a film about cults that turned her into a breakout star. The Chicago Film Critics Association named her the year’s most promising performer.
What she didn’t get was an Oscar nomination. Not that she’s fretting about it.
“It’s more like I’m so happy that people saw my first [lead role in a] movie,” she says. “Critics spoke so well of it. I’m so thankful that someone took a chance on me and only good came out of it.
“Plus, there were so many female performances last year that were amazing. I couldn’t even imagine being in the company of those nominees.”
She won’t address rumors that she’s dating hot actor Alexander Skarsgard. “Oh, I’m not going to start talking about my personal life at all,” she counters.
Olsen grew up in Los Angeles, where she went to private school with a lot of famous kids. “Since I was 7, I was singing, dancing and acting. It was always what I wanted to do. But it was still really hard to say, ‘I want to be an actor.’ It’s almost a degrading thing.”
Next up, Olsen will star opposite Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy in “Red Lights” about a psychologist and her assistant who study paranormal activity, which leads them to look into a world-renowned psychic.
She will also star in “Liberal Arts,” about a 30-year-old (Zac Efron) who falls in love with a 19-year-old college student, and “Therese Raquin” opposite Glenn Close. Therese (Olsen) and her lover murder her husband, who decides to haunt them and turn their love into hatred.
“It’s a funny thing,” Olsen says. “I read the script last summer, and then I took an English Realism class and the first assignment was to read this play. I felt like the movie was haunting me.”
It could be a hit film for Olsen — or her last. “I think of things like ‘I’m very lucky, but it’s not gonna last.’ Everything is a rollercoaster in life. The economy. Your career.
“You can’t always assume something is going to be there. You just have to be thankful for where you are today. I love that I’m a working actor who gets to do as many cool projects as possible.”
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