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Film Festival Today

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An Olsen Sister In The Spotlight

Written by: FFT Webmaster | October 21st, 2011

Even if you don’t watch the nightly tabloid magazine shows or read the gossip columns, it would be hard to avoid being aware of the Olsen Twins. The two sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, who started as child stars, are constantly in the tabloids for their private exploits, their spotty cinema careers and their growing fashion and accesories empire, which may ultimately be their biggest impact and legacy. Well, a new Olsen sister, the youngest of the pack, is about to emerge on the national stage, and this one has the acting chops to become a true cinema star.

Elizabeth Olsen, nicknames Lizzie, has an astounding five films already in the can, which will be released over the course of the next year. Her debut performance in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, which opens today via Fox Searchlight Pictures, is already being hailed as a breakthrough role on a par with Jennifer Lawrence’s turn in last year’s WINTER’S BONE. Olsen will be remembered come awards season for her internalized performance as an emotionally troubled young woman who becomes enmeshed in a cult on a remote farm in upstate New York. The film juxtaposes her time in the commune, which becomes more and more violent and abusively frightening, with her “rescue” at the upscale, lakeside home of her older sister and brother in law (played with finesse by Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy). The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Best Director prize for Sean Durkin.

Elizabeth Olsen in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

MMMM was not Olsen’s only film at Sundance. She also had a starring role in the art-house horror film SILENT HOUSE, which will be released later this year. Her contrasting performances in these two films impressed critics and industry insiders alike and Olsen quickly was tagged the “it girl” of the Festival, at the tender age of 22. At last month’s Toronto Film Festival, Olsen also had a double-header, with MMMM gaining even more traction as one of the key indie films of the year, and also a supporting role in Bruce Beresford’s family dramedy PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING, where the ingénue was cast opposite such veteran actresses as Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. The prolific actress has three films opening next year, the teen sex comedy VERY GOOD GIRLS, the paranormal thriller RED LIGHTS with a cast that includes screen icons Robert de Niro and Sigourney Weaver, and the college-set romcom LIBERAL ARTS, directed by Josh Radnor (HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) and co-starring heartthrob Zac Efron.

Olsen’s story so far has been a classically American one. A Los Angeles native, she was raised in the San Fernando Valley her real estate agent father and former dancer mother. She was one of five children, including her famous twin siblings. Her first acting roles were literally cameos on her sisters’ hit television show FULL HOUSE and popular made-for-video movies that starred the grown-up twins as they hit puberty and beyond. She studied acting since her teens but never really wanted to be a child star, perhaps to avoid comparisons with her well known twin siblings. She has just graduated from New York University, where she studied acting technique and appeared on the New York stage. She also spent a semester in Russia, taking classes at the Moscow Art Theater School.

She was one of dozens of aspiring actresses when she attended the auditions for the lead role in MARTHA MARCEY MARY MARLENE. Director Sean Durkin, who also wrote the original script, was looking for an unknown to play the challenging central role in his debut film. “Lizzie read the first scene and immediately, there was something different happening”, he was quoted in a recent interview. “She could convey a lot without doing anything. There was so much going on behind her eyes.” Before her audition was even through, Durkin texted his producer that they had found their leading lady. The rest, as they say, is history, and with Olsen’s emergence on the film scene and her continued visibility in the coming months, it is not a stretch to say that a new star is born.

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