Actress Elizabeth Olsen lights up Morristown screening

Actress Elizabeth Olsen and director Sean Durkin discuss their new film, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Actress Elizabeth Olsen and director Sean Durkin discuss their new film, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Someday, the trivia question may go like this:

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen…weren’t they the sisters of Elizabeth Olsen?

The 22-year-old Elizabeth appears destined for big things, based on her starring role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, screened Wednesday in Morristown at the New York Film Critics Series.

It’s hard to predict how critics will respond to this intense psycho-drama when it rolls out nationally. But one thing is certain: They won’t be able to take their eyes off this young beauty.

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Elizabeth portrays a woman who flees a murderous cult but can’t escape the memories seared into her brain. The title character is strong enough to run…yet too fragile to piece herself back together.

It’s a mesmerizing performance, one that immediately vaults Elizabeth from the twin shadow of her older sisters, who charmed America as child stars on the TV show Full House before becoming fashion designers.

The real-life Elizabeth, who studied acting at New York University, seems light years away from the dark and disturbing Martha of the film. Fielding questions from the audience at Morristown’s Clearview Cinemas, the blonde actress was a bundle of sparkling charm.

She said her challenge during the 24-day movie shoot in upstate New York was to infuse Martha with just enough virtue  so viewers could feel some hope amidst the claustrophobia.

“You have to open up enough so someone can join the journey,” Elizabeth said.

Actress Elizabeth Olsen and director Sean Durkin discuss their new film, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Actress Elizabeth Olsen and director Sean Durkin discuss their new film, 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,' in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Her toughest scene, she said, was a psychotic flashback that ruins a house party hosted by Martha’s sister and brother-in-law.

“It’s difficult (for me) to watch,” Elizabeth said. “Hyperventilating in a room with a camera is just weird.”

Fortunately, co-star John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Deadwood, The Perfect Storm) also comes off as quite different from Patrick, the movie’s guitar-playing cult leader.  That character is so creepy that a couple of viewers half-jokingly told John they were scared during the Q & A.

John set them at ease with the back story. During a spooky wooded scene in which he inspired terror, he actually was afraid of poison oak.

And after testing his cult followers with icy orders to kill a cat, the actor spent the next three nights off-camera looking for that cat–which had wandered off, much to the dismay of the local girl who owned it.

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The evening also included a wonderful short comedy, the Oscar-winning God of Love.  It was the graduate thesis for NYU student Luke Matheny, who switched gears from a journalism career. (Good move, Luke!)  Available on iTunes, the movie is a clever spin on the Cupid story; Luke filmed it for about $25,000, including grants and loans.

During a humorous Skype interview with series host Mark Ehrenkranz, Luke said he is trying to avoid being pigeon-holed as a director. Still, let’s hope he cranks out a few more comedies before he gets serious. He has one in mind, Ron Quixote. Please pencil that one in, Mark!

 

READ MORE ABOUT THE NY FILM CRITICS SERIES

 

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