She’s only 23 years old, but Elizabeth Olsen’s big screen one-two punch is a no-foolin’ trumpet blast heralding the arrival of a major new movie talent. If, bafflingly and sadly, her debut “Martha Marcy May Marlene” failed to crack $3 million at the domestic box office, won over plenty of critics; she was co-honored, along with her collaborators, with the New Generation Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, among several other prizes. Her new film, “Silent House,” not just confirms Olsen’s talents, but immediately showcases her ability to anchor a movie — quite literally. She’s in every frame of co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s psychological thriller, which unfolds in real time as Olsen’s character, Sarah, finds herself sealed in and under siege in her family’s secluded lake house. ShockYa recently had a chance to chat with Olsen at her film’s press day; the conversation is excerpted below:

Question: How did you come across the script for this movie, and what was your motivation in selecting it?

Elizabeth Olsen: How it really went was, “Hi, I’ve only done two movies, I’m auditioning, and please give me a job.” I got the part when I was filming “Martha,” and the guys who were making that had seen “La Casa Muda,” the Uruguayan film [upon which it’s based], in Cannes. I’m a big scary movie fan — not slicing and dicing, but scary movies and suspense, and things that get your heart racing. They said the first hour was the most terrifying hour they’d had in a theater. So I was like, “Wow, great, that sounds awesome.” And it also sounded like an amazing challenge to figure out how to do that. There are still moments where I’m like, “God, if only I knew what I’d learned in hindsight, and could do it all over again,” because it was a very difficult thing to figure out. It was different.

Question: Your character goes on such an emotional journey. Was there a lot of talk about Sarah’s psychology? And have you seen the film with an audience?

EO: You figure out what the task is at any given specific moment, and focus on that. I saw it at Sundance at the press screening, which wasn’t a premiere or anything. No one knew I was there, so I was sitting so low in the chair. It was weird because in horror movies people often laugh because they’re so uncomfortable. It was also my very first time ever seeing myself on screen, and ever with an audience. It was a lot at once, so I don’t remember anything except that I was dealing with a lot of firsts.

Question: How do Chris and Laura work as directorial tandem?

EO: Since we first met, day one, Laura said that she was going to be more hands-on on set since she also wrote the script and Chris [was] going to handle more of the technical things. So obviously Chris had opinions about content and character and stuff like that, but instead of having two people talk at you they would talk together and Laura would be the one speaking to the actors. Clearly they’ve done it before, so they know how to manage it.

Question: Was the camera ever intrusive to you? It’s right on you, every scene.

EO: The funny thing is because there’s no crew, it’s just you and the boom guy and the cinematographer, who in this case was operating the camera, and we would do it together. The truth is that (director of photography) Igor Martinovic and I felt like a team, and we just danced together. He would say, “Walk faster, slow down, light over here.” So they obviously could go back and [remove] that in sound, but we had this dialogue together at times. So it felt like a little make-believe haunted house. I never once felt that it was in my way at all. Igor is brilliant.

Question: Did you have to practice the choreography?

EO: Yes, we did chunks at a time — usually about 12 minutes apiece, which is a lot, still. We’d do one chunk a day, starting off with the choreography. And then because you’re [using digital] and not film, we would record and learn from mistakes. Igor would like to go back and watch it and see what he thought looked best in frame. We’d just do it over and over and over again. Usually by midday we’d be full-blown attacking it, and we probably did about 25 full-blown takes, and of those only one or two would be possible to use. (laughs) So it was heart-wrenching sometimes. There might be 20 or 30 seconds left of a take, and someone would have to put a prop down and their hand would just be there [in frame], so you’d have to do it all over again.

Question: Do you get spooked easily? And how did you keep up that level of anxiety?

EO: I do have a very fatalistic imagination. But it’s not that things scare me easily, it’s just that I can just imagine very dark things very fast, since I grew up loving scaring movies. As [for filming], it was exhausting, but if you do it repetitively I found it’s almost like a muscle, eventually. But at the same time I was frustrated sometimes trying to remember, “OK, we’re at about minute 23 right now, and there’s still a whole journey to go.”

Question: You did reshoots after the movie played at Sundance, right?

EO: Yes, we did. It’s a new ending, a better ending, so people that saw it at Sundance I fully encourage them to see this [version too]. The first ending was the same twist, but executed differently. We also tightened some dialogue and ADR. Going back to do re-shoots sounded like a very difficult idea, but I’m glad we did it. We finished in November and did re-shoots in March. It was like, “We’re going back into that house of doom!”

Question: The last year has been very big for you. How has it been, adjusting, and what are your future plans?

EO: I don’t actually get [bothered] that often. I’m from L.A., and literally never run into people who do that. Maybe it’s because I’m on the side of town that people don’t careā€¦ I’m not there, in the mix of it. I went back to school at NYU, and I have two art humanities classes left to finish my degree. I get to take whatever I want from like art history to literature, so why miss out on that opportunity? I’m trying to figure out how to do that, even though I have no intention of going to the NYU graduation — because it’s at Yankee Stadium. Otherwise, I feel very lucky to be working, and I’m enjoying the idea that I have choices now. And I’m not much interested in anything else besides working.

Question: You’re so young and just starting out, and have already played some incredibly complex and layered characters.

EO: True, but of the first four films I did, in “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” I play just a very simple college student. It’s a family movie. I was like, “Thank God Bruce Beresford gave me a job!” And then I did a movie called “Red Lights.” I was cast before I even went to Sundance the first time, and it was great working with an ensemble cast. Now I’m in a position where I can start to say, “What character is something new to me, what director or even director of photography do I want to work with?” Now I get to think of things in a very lucky way. It’s not going to last, everything’s a roller coaster in life, so you can’t always assume something’s going to be there.

Question: You did “Martha” and this movie back-to-back. What was that experience like?

EO: Back-to-back it was so much torment. After that I went back home, lived with my mother, did lots of yoga and hung out with my younger siblings, and then went to Sundance and had an amazing experience.

Question: Having two older sisters who were so famous, did you just assume that fame was going to happen to you too?

EO: I don’t think of things in terms of fame, I just think of it in terms of work. It’s not just because of my sisters but it’s being a kid growing up in L.A. and going to a private school, that’s kind of what everyone’s parents do somehow — whether it’s a producer or a writer or they do special effects makeup or do something with soap operas. They all think of it as work and don’t bring it into their private lives. So for me, since I was seven, I was singing and dancing on a stage, and it’s always been what I’ve wanted to do. It’s really hard to say I want to be an actor. It’s almost a degrading thing. So that I’m getting work right now is really cool.

Question: And now you’re going to be doing “Therese Raquin,” with Glenn Close, right?

EO: Yes! There’s one French film, maybe two, but there’s not an English [language] version, I don’t think. It’s also a play. The funny thing is that I read the script in the summer, and then I started school in September and was taking a theater class called Realism and Naturalism, and the first assignment we had was to read the novel and the play. It felt like the movie was haunting me. It became this thing that I really wanted to do, so I was so excited when it actually happened.

NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Silent House” is also available on VOD.

Written by: Brent Simon

Elizabeth Olsen

By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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