An interview with an Olsen sister
No, not the twins; the younger one, the one who got naked in that movie
By Sara SkeelsPosted Nov 22, 2011
At the age of 22, Elizabeth Olsen brings a very subtle but fearless confidence to the table; she’s taken on traumatic roles with an open candor and spirit that gives her an undeniable grace on screen.
From the first moments of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” Olsen’s character, Martha is all at once soft and hard, exhausted and worn. Even as such, there’s a certain electric vibe to her, even as she sleepily curls up in a bath towel to rest after escaping a cultish commune in the Catskills.
She’s been broken, but like a mare who’s been handled by a rough master, still bucks with distrust at anyone who tries to handle her.
Her worry-weary sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), tries time and time again to wheedle information about the past two years out of her, but Martha refuses to divulge anything. Told in between the present (at Lucy and her husband’s lake house) and flashbacks (at the cult’s commune in the countryside), writer and director Sean Durkin carefully unravels a tale of Martha’s fractured identity.
The entire film seems to bathe in soft, natural light that belies the tragic story underneath it; Martha’s identity has been pulled in so many directions she’s no longer sure of who she is and struggles to assimilate back into normalcy.
She’s Martha to Lucy and her brother-in-law; Marcy Mae to members of the cult, most notably the cult’s leader — the oh so charismatic John Hawkes; and Marlene to anyone who calls upon the cult. Olsen flawlessly and fearlessly takes on this electric and tragic role.
The film requires more than one watch to fully appreciate, but it’s well worth your time, at once perplexing and enthralling. Durkin, Hawkes and Olsen have crafted a fine film that, although puzzling, viewers will enjoy piecing together.
UWeekly got a chance to speak with Miss Olsen via conference call regarding her latest achievements.
UWeekly: How did your acting education and background affect your preparation for the role of Martha?
Very analytically based. For me, that’s the best way to work, especially on a script that’s such a riddle … that’s what they really highlight at The Atlantic [Acting School]. It’s an action driven technique that they teach.
UW: What was it like working with John Hawkes (who plays the cult’s leader)?
He’s really funny and caring and kind. He was so supportive off-camera and I’m so thankful for that. I learned so much from him.
UW: What was the dynamic on the set? How did you like working with Sean Durkin (the film’s writer and director)?
We created a small family; it was a small crew and a small cast. We all lived together on location and that created an amazing environment. The great thing about Sean as a director is that he presents himself as an open book. You felt open to being fully creative but you also felt that he was going to take care of you and steer you in the right direction.
UW: What scene was the most memorable for you to film?
The whole scene from when [Martha] comes down the stairs to when they’re locked up in the bedroom. There’s only one cut in that scene and we never shot more than six takes.
UW: What’s your interpretation of the film’s ending?
I don’t like to talk about the ending and neither does Sean. Sean says the questions that people have at the end of the film hopefully align with Martha’s questions at the beginning of the film. The movie begins and ends in transition; I think that, in film, we’re not used to that. We never have that type of action in life; everything’s a transition period. That’s why I really love the ending. The funny thing is, when we were filming, I never questioned it.
UW: What do you hope that audiences take away from the film?
The reason I love the script so much is that it’s a personal and unique story, but what I want people to get out of it is just the traumatic experience. I think, for modern audiences, there’s just nothing like it. So I hope that people go in with an open mind and trust that you don’t always have to have the answer to everything. As an intelligent audience member, you can figure out your own story and just get behind this woman’s psychology. I just think that it’s a fun ride; when I read the script I was just so excited to figure out the next piece, to turn the page.
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” opened Nov. 11 in Columbus and is currently playing at AMC’s Lennox Town Center location.