When she returned to school at NYU over the summer, nothing was different for “Martha Marcy May Marlene” star Elizabeth Olsen. Well, one thing was different.
“There was one time when I had to miss class because I had to go to a Hollywood Foreign Press Luncheon in L.A.,” says Olsen, 22, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley.
Oldest excuse in the book, right? Olsen only has a few classes left to earn her degree from the Tisch School of the Arts, but she better get ready for her job to take over her life. Sundance fave “Martha Marcy May Marlene” opens Oct. 28, and she’ll soon be seen in “Silent House,” another Sundance flick from the directors of “Open Water;” “Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding” with Catherine Keener and Jane Fonda; “Red Lights” with Robert De Niro; “Liberal Arts” with Josh Radnor, and “Very Good Girls” with Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard and Dustin Hoffman.
In other words: She won’t be known as the Olsen Twins’ little sister for long.
In “MMMM,” Olsen plays Martha, who has no idea how to behave when she returns to live in normal society with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy) after escaping a cult in which the charismatic leader (John Hawkes) dubbed her Marcy May and provided an odd sense of comfort and family—as well as emotional and physical abuse.
At the Elysian Hotel, the actress (who lives in New York and goes by Lizzie) chatted about living without technology (she loves when her phone dies), her crush on John Stamos and some bad news for anyone hoping for an Olsens reality show.
Much of the movie is about what is or isn’t considered normal. What’s something that society deems unusual that you think should be embraced?
America has the biggest porn industry in the world, yet we are so freaked out by nudity on screen. So that paradox to me is really fascinating. When nudity is used in something like this, where it’s not sensationalized and it’s not gratuitous, and it actually has a point to the story, some people get really shocked by that. [Writer-director Sean Durkin’s] whole way of filming that stuff was, “I’m not trying to highlight it; there’s nothing to hide. Why hide it?” [Martha’s] lost complete understanding of her sexuality and her body being her own.
After all, you don’t have to be in a cult to think it’s appropriate to climb into bed when other people are having sex. You just have to watch porn.
[Laughs.] I do think it’s crazy and inappropriate, but you could watch in the movie and there’s this scene [in the cult] that’s a sort of an orgy almost, but really they all slept in the same room.
In the cult, Martha/Marcy May is detached from technology. How often do you wish you could toss away cell phones and Internet like that?
We did! We did for the movie. We didn’t have any Internet or [cell] service. There was like one spot driving from set to the motel we stayed in where everyone’s phones would start beeping because they’d get messages, and then they’d have to answer them really quickly within 5, 10 minutes because once we got to the motel there was no service again. [Laughs.] I love it. When my phone dies, I love the feeling of not being accessible. And then you can just be like, “Sorry, my phone died.” My parents are pretty old-school when it comes to technology, and same with everyone in my family; my brother’s better than I think the rest of us. The whole social media and everyone knowing where you are at all times, it’s kind of freaky to me.
You’ve said you understand people will ask you about your sisters. What’s the most ridiculous question you’ve gotten so far?
[Laughs.] I think yesterday at the Q&A, which we didn’t even answer ‘cause he asked a second follow-up question about something else, but he goes, “What are your sisters doing right now?” And then he asked something else about the movie and I was like, “Do you mean like right now? They’re probably in an office.” [Laughs.] I don’t know! They own so many different companies. That was kind of ridiculous. Someone also asked me, “Did you and your sisters fight for the limelight growing up?” I’m like, “No!” I don’t even know what that means.
I think the difference between what I grew up with and what other siblings go through is that my sisters being in the spotlight is something that I don’t really know anything else. That’s how it was in my family. It is kind of weird, but there’s nothing that I knew beforehand so it wasn’t like this shock or this weird reality. It was just how it was, and my parents never treated it as something special at all or something that puts us apart from other people at all.
So I guess I never was that bothered by it, and the only thing was, because I’ve always wanted to be an actor since I was a little kid, I knew that when I did [it] there would be a time at the beginning where I’d answer questions and blah blah blah. And I always knew that when I started to work it’d be at a time where I felt not insecure about any of that and feel like it’s totally just a part of who I am.
Besides, soon they’ll answer questions about you.
I feel like five years from now, it’s just going to be an accepted fact. There are so many different families that have [actor] siblings: The Gyllenhaals or the Afflecks or, you know, they’re all working.
Then I better ask now: At what age did you realize that Uncle Jesse wasn’t your uncle?
I never thought he was my uncle, but he was my first crush.
John Stamos or Uncle Jesse?
Have you communicated that to him?
[Laughs.] No. I think he knew ‘cause when I was a little girl I’d like wait for him to tickle me when I was at “Full House.” ‘Cause my after-school was going to set ‘cause there were four kids in my family from the first marriage, and my dad’s second marriage there were two more, so growing up for all of us to be in the same place, to make it a little bit easier on my mom and my dad, we would just go there. He tickled me, so that meant, “Someone tickling me, I like them.” And then my second crush was Frank Sinatra. He was the first love of my life.
If John Stamos was here, would you tell him he was your first crush?
Probably. It’s funny, ‘cause I actually have a friend whose father [is a writer and knew John], and I met her when I was in junior high and I think just recently we were joking about that. That he was my first crush and I was like, “I have really good taste in men off the bat.”
Poor Dave Coulier …
[Laughs.] Right. But then my friend goes, “[He] and I would do that too.” And I was like, “Are you kidding? I wasn’t special?!” It’s a funny moment about that. It’s like growing up in L.A., like everyone got to be tickled by John Stamos. [Laughs.]
Do you have any Olsen Twins songs that are permanently stuck in your head? I have a sister who’s almost six years younger than I am, and road trips from a long time ago have left me remembering more words to “Brother For Sale” than I should even admit.
Oh my God, yeah. My friends and I, our favorite, our brother was in this video, so we would watch and make fun of him, it’s like, “Put in the pizza!” And the girl from “So Weird!” Do you remember that Disney show? When she was younger she was in the video too. We’d watch it and be like (exaggerated child’s voice), “Ahh, put in the pizza!” And they did this weird YouTube mix of it where they like (talking slowly) slowed it … down … It was like, “Puuuut innnn the pizzzaaaaa.” It’s really funny. [Laughs.] We all have a good sense of humor about all of it.
At what point will we see a reality show, “Keeping Up With the Olsens”?
No chance. We are such a private family. [Laughs.] Never. I think when the Osbournes were on, someone asked my sisters what family they would like to see, and they made a joke about saying that ours would be really funny, and it would be really funny because I think we have a really funny family. But that would never happen. [Laughs.]
On her friendship with co-star Sarah Paulson: “Sarah and I became immediate friends. I really love her. We get along really really well, which when we were filming it’d be a little distracting sometimes because we were supposed to be doing something serious and we were singing “The First Wives Club” song “You Don’t Own Me.” We’d always sing that song and we’re supposed to be like stirring a cup or asking, “Are you OK?” [Laughs.]
What she ate while in Chicago: “We had almost a full day off yesterday. I was like craving vegetable juice ‘cause I like love vegetable juice, so [Sean and I] went to Karyn’s on North Halsted and we got that and then we went to Lincoln Park farmer’s market and we had the most awesome grilled cheese sandwich and then we walked down the beach … One of my close friends from acting school is from here and he like loves Chicago so he gave me a whole list of restaurants. We went to the Publican last night and it was like un-be-live-able. We were so full; we went to a Q&A and we had such food coma. We had everything. We had scallops, we had their halibut that was encrusted with pancetta, we had this octopus with chorizo, we had ribs, we had chicken, we had [pulled pork]. We ate so much, it was so delicious.”
On iPod: Sharon Van Etten, Ani DiFranco, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, “my friend’s band Dawes,” Avett Brothers. “I like folky rock a lot.”
Something she still wants to do: “I’d love to do a period piece. [Any period.] In any country. … I love Victorian England, Elizabethan England, Tolstoy Russia and those types of things.”
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