March 2, 2012
In today’s Friday Journal, Rachel Dodes interviews Elizabeth “Lizzie” Olsen, the 23-year-old actress who until recently was known—if she was known at all—as the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, the “Full House” child stars who parlayed their fame into successful fashion careers. The younger Ms. Olsen, who is still a student at NYU, has shot five films in the past year, including “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” for which she won raves as the title character, a former cult member struggling to reintegrate into society.
Her next film—the second to be released—is “Silent House,” a horror movie that was adapted from a Uruguayan movie “La Casa Muda,” which debuted at Cannes in 2010. She plays Sarah, a young woman who has a psychological breakdown while helping her father renovate a haunted summer home. The film, directed by Laura Lau and Chris Kentis (“Open Water”) is shot in real-time, meaning that it was cobbled together from several extremely long, unedited takes, which required theater-like endurance.
Ms. Olsen, who was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair’s March issue as one of the hottest new starlets in Hollywood, talked to Speakeasy on the phone from LA. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
I didn’t realize that you were still a student.
I have two classes left. I was a full-time student in the fall. Because of the projects I have coming up I wanted to figure out how to complete those classes during a summer session because that’s only six weeks, as opposed to three months. It was so hard last semester.
Did you see the Uruguayan horror film on which “Silent House” is based before you agreed to do this? What did you think?
I did see it, actually. I enjoyed the concept of real time. I think the ending is a little confusing in the Uruguayan version but I thought it was a really interesting experiment. I was filming “Martha” at the same time when I got offered the role for “Silent House” and all the guys who were making “Martha” had just seen the Uruguayan film in Cannes. They said it was one of the scariest hours of their lives in a movie theater because it was shot in real time. I trust their opinions.
The script for this film is really short, and has very little dialogue. How did you choreograph all of your movements to sort of drag out the suspense and keep the audience interested in this story?
We did a week of rehearsal; before we would film a section, [the directors] had already choreographed everything. Then the director of photography, Igor [Martinovic], and I would put in our two cents. It was this collaborative thing, to figure out what makes the most sense from the camera’s point of view, from the character’s point of view, as well as trying to create suspense. What’s difficult is to not repeat anything. It was very technically demanding and challenging for every single department.
How did your theater training help in making this film?
I think the endurance was really important, and to be able to sustain something for such a long period of time. Also we would work on one shot for one day. So it would be 11 hours doing the same 12 to 13 minute scene every day over and over again. The repetitive nature of working with plays and doing scene work that you do in school, that all helps when you are trying to be as fresh and spontaneous as possible. It was like making a short film or doing a short play with every take.
There are some scenes where you are crying the whole time, so were you just crying for an entire day?
It was most frustrating to do the takes during the climax of the film because the beginning is picked up from such a high point. You are trying to figure out the emotional continuity of the day before, so you are trying to start at that heightened level every single shot but then if you attempt to do a shot like 26 times, you still have to start at the same place every time.
You were in two movies at Sundance this year, and another that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. What do your sisters say about your success?
We get excited for all success in the family. It’s been my dream since I was a little girl to be an actor and I just kind of waited and everyone’s just happy and excited that I get to work.
Do your sisters insist on dressing you for the red carpet?
I don’t always wear their line, but I try to wear as much of it as possible. I wear it every day in my every day life. Pretty much all the clothes I own are the clothes they make. But they don’t dress me. I dress myself.
I noticed you were in the front row at a show at London Fashion Week—are you being asked to do a lot of stuff for different designers?
Not really—I really like fashion and it’s just fun to get to be a part of it in a small way. It’s good to develop relationships with different brands. When you’re doing press for a film, a lot of people focus on what you’re wearing for some reason. I guess the fashion industry and the film industry have kind of collided.
Is it true that you’re playing Carrie Bradshaw in the “Sex and the City” prequel? I saw that on some website.
No, I don’t think that film even actually exists. That’s just some rumor that someone literally made up out of nowhere.
Where do these things come from?
I always wonder that. Since I was 15, I don’t read blogs or gossip magazines because I don’t believe they are true, so my friends fill me in on what’s happening in pop culture.
What would be your dream role at this point?
I think I am itching to do a great play. I have dream roles that are actual characters in plays I would love to do—one would be the lead in Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude.” I’d have to be a bit older to play it. I have dream roles based on theater but I guess with film, because you don’t know what’s coming, you just wait to see what’s available and just be patient.