By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Following her star-making turn in last year’s psychological thriller “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” Elizabeth Olsen returns to the big screen with another compelling emotional performance in “Silent House.”
Olsen, the younger sister of twin billionaires Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, plays a young woman helping her father prepare their remote upstate New York lake house for sale. In the beginning, nothing seems amiss in this setup of familial tranquility, but the truth is revealed as a camera literally follows Olsen’s Sarah for 88 minutes.
The filmmakers of “Silent House” are the husband-and-wife duo Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who made the memorable 2003 drama “Open Water,” about a vacationing couple who accidentally are abandoned in shark-infested waters during a snorkeling outing.
“Silent House” was inspired by a Uruguayan thriller called “La Casa Muda,” which was based on true events.
Olsen, who is finishing up her college education, says she was drawn to the material and the filmmakers’ decision to have the camera follow her in what appears to be one continuous camera shot. (It actually was shot in 20-minute segments and seamlessly edited together.)
The 23-year-old blond reveals she had to get permission from her New York University professors to miss a few classes in order to promote the movie. She also explains why she is drawn to such dark material and how she keeps the tension bubbling throughout.
Front Row Features: What sold you on doing this role? Was it the opportunity to be the absolutely star of it and run around for 88 minutes and carry it?
Elizabeth Olsen: No. (She chuckles.) How it really went was, “Hi. I’ve only done two movies. I’m auditioning. Please give me a job.”
Front Row Features: What were the two movies at that point?
Olsen: “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” which hasn’t come out yet and “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” I was filming that when I got the part in this.
Front Row Features: What attracted you to the part?
Olsen: I’m a big scary movie fan, not the slicing and dicing kind, but I love suspense and things that get your heart racing. Some people I knew on “Martha Marcy” had seen the Uruguayan film and said it was terrifying. I was like, that sounds awesome.
Front Row Features: What appealed to you about having the camera follow you the entire time?
Olsen: It sounded like an amazing challenge. It seemed really difficult to figure out how to do it.
Front Row Features: They reshot the ending after the premiere at Sundance last year, right?
Front Row Features: Did you reshoot it for technical reasons or was it a new ending?
Olsen: It was a new ending. It’s a better ending. It’s the same twist but it was just executed differently. We also tightened some dialogue. It was really hard to go back and do it again because my hair was a different length. It was so hard to stitch it together but they figured it out. Going back to do reshoots was very difficult after separating myself from this movie for a while. We finished in November and we did reshoots in March. But I’m happy we did it. It was hard going back in to that house—the house of doom.
Front Row Features: How did Chris and Laura work as a directorial team?
Olsen: On day one, Laura said, “I’m going to do hands-on on set with more of the content, and Chris is going to handle more of the technical things.” Chris had opinions about content and character and things like that, but instead of having two people talk at you, they would talk together and Laura would kind of just be the one speaking to the actors and things like that.
Front Row Features: Was the camera ever obtrusive to you?
Olsen: The funny thing is, it’s like, there’s no crew. It’s just you and the cameraman Igor Martinovic, who is operating the camera and the boom guy John (Sember). We would just kind of do it together. It felt like a dance. Igor would say, “Okay, walk faster. Slow down. Right over here.” It’s just you and these guys wandering around a house. I never once felt that the camera was in my way.
Front Row Features: Do you get spooked easily?
Olsen: I do have a very fatalistic imagination. It’s not that things scare me easily. I can just imagine very dark things very fast because I grew up loving scary movies.
Front Row Features: Did you have to memorize the whole script before you showed up?
Olsen: No, because we did about 12-minute chunks at a time, which is a lot (for movies). We’d do one chunk a day. We’d go through the choreography. Because we were shooting with a digital camera, we could do as many takes as we wanted. We would just do it over and over and over again. We tried each chunk about 25 or more times, and only one or two takes were useable. It was heart wrenching. Sometimes we had literally 30 seconds left of a take and maybe someone knocked over a prop or a hand was visible, and we’d just have to do it all over again.
Front Row Features: Last year must have been a whirlwind for you because “Martha Marcy May Marlene” really made you a star.
Olsen: Yes. I’m very lucky.
Front Row Features: A lot of people thought you might get nominated for an Oscar with your performance in that film. Were you disappointed when you weren’t?
Olsen: No. I was like, “I’m so happy people are seeing this. This is my first movie and people, especially critics, are speaking well of it.” I’m so thankful to have those guys take a chance on me.
Front Row Features: How are you adjusting to fame and strangers pointing and whispering when they see you?
Olsen: I don’t actually get that that often. I’m from L.A., and I literally never run into people who do that.
Front Row Features: What have you been up to lately?
Olsen: I went back to school (in New York) for a full semester. I have two classes left to finish of my degree so I’m trying to figure out how to do that. I feel very lucky to be working. I’m just enjoying the idea that I actually have choices now. I’m not interested in anything else besides working.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about the choices you’re making with films? You’re not taking easy projects.
Olsen: With “Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding,” I play a very simple college student. That was my first movie. It’s a family movie and it’s Bruce Beresford directing. Then I did a movie called “Red Lights,” which I was cast in it before I even went to Sundance. The idea of getting to work with an ensemble cast was insane to me. I’m now in a position where I can actually start to look at what character is something that’s new to me? What director do I want to work with? Even what DP I want to work with. I get to think of things in a very lucky way right now but I know it’s not going to last.
Front Row Features: Why not?
Olsen: Everything’s a rollercoaster in life. You can’t always assume something’s going to be there. You just have to be thankful for where you are. I’m like trying to just get to do as many cool interesting projects as possible that sound inspiring to me.
Front Row Features: Between this movie and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” you put yourself through a lot of torment. I’ll bet it was exhausting.
Olsen: It was. Back to back, it was so much torment. I was so happy to have three months free afterwards.
Front Row Features: What did you do during your time off?
Olsen: I went back home and lived with my mother. I did lots of yoga and hung out with my younger siblings. Then we went to Sundance and had an amazing experience.
Front Row Features: Are you almost finished with college?
Olsen: I have two classes left. I have to take two humanities classes, so I get to take whatever I want, like art history to literature. My major is theater. I just got an e-mail from my advisor. I’m very excited about graduating, although I have no intention of actually going to the ceremony because it’s at Yankee Stadium. How intimate is that?