Elizabeth Olsen reflects on life after ''Martha Marcy May''

LOS ANGELES Thu Mar 8, 2012 4:13pm EST

Actress Elizabeth Olsen poses for a portrait while promoting her upcoming film ''Silent House'' in Los Angeles, California February 28, 2012. The movie opens in the U.S. on March 9. Picture taken February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Actress Elizabeth Olsen poses for a portrait while promoting her upcoming film ''Silent House'' in Los Angeles, California February 28, 2012. The movie opens in the U.S. on March 9. Picture taken February 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One year ago Elizabeth Olsen stepped out of the shadows of her famous sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, to star in the title role of drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and earned her critical acclaim.

But the actress appeared in two films at Sundance last year, and it is only now that the second, horror thriller "Silent House," is finally landing in theaters. It opens on Friday.

Last year, Olsen was a little-known acting curiosity in a low-budget art house film who was following in the foosteps of her famous twin sisters. Now, she's a bona fide star in her own right having earned best actress nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and Critics Choice Movie Awards, and "Silent House" is her move into the mainstream horror genre.

The film is a re-imagining of the Uruguayan movie "La Casa Muda," and it follows a young woman (Olsen) and her horrifying ordeal over the course of one evening in her family's long-neglected summer home. The 23 year-old sat down with Reuters to talk about it and her year of living in Hollywood's spotlight.

Q: In 'Silent House,' you spend pretty much the entire movie crying and running scared, going up and down stairs and in and out of rooms. That must have been exhausting!

A: "It was! There is so much snot in this movie because that's what happens when I get emotional - snot comes before tears. I gave myself a sinus infection by the end of the movie. It was hard."

Q: The story unfolds in real time and is told in a continuous camera shot. What kind of challenges did that bring?

A: "We would shoot one 12-minute take but if at the 11th minute, something went wrong, everything you did up until that point didn't matter. It was hard as an actor to know that you couldn't use any of that material. It's heartbreaking. But you deal with it and try to be present in what's happening next."

Q: Having done two serious films back to back, did you feel like you just wanted to do a comedy next?

A: "I did feel that way and I did do a comedy, 'Liberal Arts.' It was at Sundance this year. I played this quirky, witty, intelligent student who falls in love with a guy too old for her. It's funny and sweet, and I was so happy to get to do that. I really wanted to just laugh."

Q: A year ago at Sundance your career launched when "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Silent House" both made their debuts. "Martha" was released theatrically last fall and some felt you were overlooked for an Oscar nomination.

A: "Isn't that cool people were like, 'Why wasn't she nominated?' I just can't believe my name and that word is in the same sentence. And I can't believe I was at the Independent Spirit Awards and at the Critics Choice Awards. The fact that I get to choose jobs right now is ridiculous!"

Q: With award shows and new projects, what's life been like for you this past year?

A: "After filming 'Liberal Arts,' I went straight to summer school and then from there, I went straight to fall semester. I had a two-week break in between to relax. I'm very determined to get my degree and I have two academic classes left. School determines how you life your life when you're my age."

Q: You're getting a theater degree at New York University. Why get it when you're already working in your field?

A: "When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be an actor. My sisters (child actors on the TV sitcom 'Full House') were always working nonstop and they were very happy. I saw them work, but I wanted to play. When I got to high school, I started to develop this complex thinking, 'If I'm going to be an actor, no one's going to take me seriously so I'm going to overcompensate and do as much training as possible so that I know that I have something no one can take away from me.'"

Q: Struggle is often a part of an actor's life when they are starting out. Did you ever feel it?

A: "Understudying an off-Broadway play where they don't have room for the understudies so you're writing your essay about the New Testament underneath a spiral staircase - very low moment! (Laughs) But the whole time I was thinking, I'm getting my Equity card and I'm going to get health insurance from this and that's really cool to have.

"I also got my real estate license when I was 18 in New York state because I wanted that to be my summer job. I didn't want to work at a restaurant because I can't deal with people who are rude to waiters (laughs)."

Q: You're in an enviable position of getting to choose roles. Do you have any criteria?

A: "I'm not interested in material that is fluff and clearly just to make money. I don't have children. I don't have a mortgage to pay, and I don't have school tuition to pay for four kids. So I get to make choices right now that are independent.

"I'm very well aware that this is a really cool time in my life, so I stick to gut decisions. If something doesn't work out in the end, at least I knew I had a clear reason why I chose that project to begin with. That I clearly gained something regardless of its success at the end. That's where I am right now. Eventually when I have a family, I will do as much animation as possible!"

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)