Elizabeth Olsen Liberal Arts Interview
Elizabeth Olsen spoke in London yesterday to promote the release of Liberal Arts; her new romantic comedy written, directed and co-starring Josh Radnor (otherwive known as How I Met Your Mother leading man Ted Mosby). The film follows a 35 year old graduate who returns to his former college campus and strikes up an unexpected relationship with young student who forces him to reassess what it means to be an adult.
Bets known for her breakthrough performance in Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen spoke at a Q& A event following a preview screening at the Gate cinema in Notting Hill. The beautiful young star spoke about her character Zibby, working with Josh and new projects including Spike Lee’s Old Boy remake. Read the full interview below:
How did you come to be involved with Liberal Arts?
Actually I think there are three of us in this film who have the same agent. Josh Radnor and I have the same agent and she slipped me a copy of 45 pages before the script was even finished. Just because she thought that I would be right for Zibby. I could tell Josh I read his pages because I was allowed to read them. Then once Sundance happened with Martha Marcy May Marlene this ended up being the first movie where I actively said I’d like to do that. It was my first opportunity to say what I did and didn’t want to do. Everything else had been about being asked and getting cast. I was really tired of all these psychological thrillers. So I figured this would be fun. I met Josh and we read through the script together, then I had to wait a couple of weeks till he told me I got the part.
How did you prepare for the role of Zibby?
What I thought was most telling is her excitement about just making theories on the actual academic world she was a part of at school and also life in general. I find that when you’re so stimulated by your school and peers in this tremendously isolated environment you think up all these theories about the world. It’s like this perfect bubble, so just that type of excitement for life I found so fun to play. I also liked the idea of just wanting to be older than you actually are. Instead of going through where you are right then. I think that’s what happens to everyone, we all have experienced a little bit of that.
Your character Zibby and Jesse have quite a complicated relationship, but what was it like really working with Josh Radnor?
We just did a couple of press days together in New York, so I don’t feel all that bad saying this when he’s not here. It was like a love hate relationship. You might have wanted to do something differently but he also knew exactly how he wanted to edit the movie and we didn’t have a lot of time to play around. So there was something really great that he knew exactly what he needed and wanted. So he just asked me to do that. That was both an amazing learning experience and a struggle with yourself where you maybe want to be stubborn. It was nice to work within such tight restrictions and try and find energy to work within that.
Jesse and Zippy argue fiercely about the subject of teen Vampire romance books, what’s your own opinion of Twilight?
With Twilight or vampire romance novels in general… I don’t read those sorts of books. I’ve never really read a young adult novel. I think it’s because if I’m reading it’s usually because it’s a teacher assigned thing and I don’t think they’d ever recommend that. I can’t imagine any professor at any university suggesting I read those books. When I’m not reading that’s in preparation for a movie or a play I’ll read something that’s on the list of things you’re supposed to read before you die. It’s like the whole nurture or nourishment thing. Whatever the argument is I like to pick the nourishment.
Your character is also a passionate fan of classical music, did you share that passion?
I don’t really listen to classical music but sometimes I’ll listen to it when I’m stuck in traffic. I do that because they’re not just 3 or4 minute songs that make you feel like you’ve been listening to so many songs. If you listen to three piece of classical music you’ve pretty much made it where you’re supposed to go. But I was a ballet dancer so that was pretty much the only time I listened to classical music. But Josh was very impressive sitting next to you talking about books and music. I don’t know how, but his head is kind of like a bottomless pit of knowledge. So it’s really impressive because he was able to ramble off about any bit of classical music or anything.
Did you bring any of your own student experiences to the role?
Nope! What was on the page stayed on the page and made it to the screen. That’s what happens when the writer & director is also the leading man. We actually even shot on the campus where Josh actually studied in real life.
How did you find living in dorms at college?
I did one year of it then I didn’t do it again. I lived in a dorm at NYU my first year but I have one allergy and its dust, so that didn’t work so well for me. And my roommate… this is being recorded, but yeah that didn’t work very well either. I also just didn’t like the security of the buildings because I had like girlfriends visiting me form Boston and they could only stay in the dorm rooms for two nights of the week, so we had to sneak them in and it felt so silly. I didn’t really like it. But maybe that was because I was in New York City and you really just want to live on your own at that point.
Where do you imagine Zibby being when she actually reaches 35, the same ages as Josh’s character in the film?
I have a hard time answering that question because I don’t really think about it. I always just think about where was she before. I think about where things are framed or supposed to be framed. I think she’s the type of person who seems like she’s going to find herself getting a little shock when she leaves this place to live in the real world for a couple of years. Filming on location was really interesting because it’s a really isolated town in Ohio. My father came to visit me on father’s day and it was really interesting because there’s not a restaurant there to go to on Sunday. We ate in a bar and had burgers and fries, otherwise we would have had to take a car and go like an hour to the next town. So for the people who go to school there it’s like the perfect place with no distraction. I had an artistic director for theatre school who went there and for theatre it was also great because all you could do is work on whatever you’re creating until you’re released. So it sound’s kind of scary to go to school there but people love it. I think I enjoyed it too; there are so many positives to that.
Is there any advice or direction you’ve had from a director that’s really stuck with you?
Sean Durkin who directed Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of my close friends, not just when I was filming that movie but any time I’m struggling with something I talk to him about it. One time I was having trouble like charting a characters arc and he said well you should just forget about that and do what’s in front of you, because that’s not in your control it’s in the editors control. I still find it hard to accept that and give it all up. It’s hard to think you can do all these things on the day and then it’s going to be something out of your hands like a year from now. That’s something that made me feel a little bit more relaxed and not put so much pressure on myself I guess.
What got you into acting in the first place?
I think this was something where I honestly did not have another dream as a kid. I grew up watching old musicals and wet to a theatre camp at a temple in LA till I was 8 and I just never stopped playing. All I ever really wanted to do was perform. I went to school for it then got lucky workwise and met an agent so it all just worked out nicely. I was really lucky at being in the right place at the right time. If I weren’t doing this then maybe I would be at culinary school. Which I still find is one of the most terrifying jobs to have, being a chef or a restaurant owner, because it’s a 99% failure rate or something like that. Which might be similar to acting, but I would like to do that, I enjoy cooking and restaurants.
What are the best and worst things about acting for you personally?
What I love is that I like to feel like I’m going to be a student forever. Which is perfect for this movie! I do feel like if you get to pick parts, if you’re lucky enough to get to choose roles that stimulate or interest you then it opens up a whole world that maybe you wouldn’t have studied. Now you have another reason to keep learning about something. Also I enjoy the collaboration aspect; you have everything to learn form anyone you need. So I enjoy the collaboration part of it.
I think the negatives of being an actor are the most obvious like privacy invasion. It sounds a bit like alien invasion when you say it like that. I don’t have that really have that problem but I think it’ the biggest downfall.
The film reference Woody Allen was that something that Josh made you aware of?
I think Josh would love those references to be noticed. He’s a big Woody Allen fan and so am I. I think nostalgia for the past is a common theme in his movies as well. I know that he very clearly paid homage to Manhattan at the end of the movie but we never really talked about specific references while we were working on it. Although I only own one movie poster and its Annie Hall! I’m not obsessed with it but I was maybe when I was younger. A little hyperbole!
You mentioned Josh placed tight restriction on you, but would you be interested in doing something that allowed you to improvise much more, like a Judd Aptow comedy?
Yeah I would love to. I’ve never really had the opportunity to do that before. More so because the film’s I’ve worked on have been mostly independent films where there’s such an economy of time. But I would love to do that. An actual improve group on a stage sounds like the scariest thing on earth. But having a story and a scene where something has to happen and you know basically what it’s supposed to be sounds like a lot of fun to me.
You already have several new films in production, is there any particular genre you’re drawn to overall?
It’s not a genre really, but I did really want to do a period piece, which I got to do this year. That was something that I actively sought and it’ll be coming out next year.
You’re about to take on the remake of Oldboy how do you feel about that?
It’s so funny because we start rehearsals like a week from tomorrow but it’s been a really awesome process because we’ve already been a part of it since sort of the beginning of the year. We started working with the writer as a group so it evolved with everyone attached. I’ve never been a part of anything like that before so it has been awesome. What you can expect is that it’s going to satisfy everything, it has everything that’s satisfying about the original, but it’s also ten years later and Americanised.
Some fans are a little nervous about seeing the original ‘Americanised’, what does that really mean?
I do think that there are certain things culturally that you can accept story wise maybe more so. Like a modern audience today if they know nothing of the original they might think how can you use that as an excuse, sort of thing. So it’s a little more psychologically deep. But I’m nervous and so excited. It’s really such a phenomenal movie but ours is different, it’s not a remake, it’s like Let Me In and Let The Right One In, how they approached that.
Do you have a particular process for how you approach each film?
I’m still kind of figuring it out, I think that’s what you always do, approach everything differently. It might be boring if you approached everything the same way. I think it actually depends on how much what’s on the page reflects what’s actually happening. I think that’s what I found a little more straightforward about this film. I work in a very analytical way. So things that are on the page are kind of what’s really going on with the character. With a really honest person who feels grounded in what they do it’s a lot simpler.
But with something like Martha Marcy ay Marlene or what I’m going to do in Old Boy you have something on the page but then you have to analyse everything that’s not on the page so that there’s something else that the audience doesn’t get to see but maybe they feel it. Also it makes me have a lot more fun analysing the sorry. But I’m not someone who lives with the character or anything. I really approach everything as being action based. I focus on who I’m working with and my character, what we need or want them to do.
Liberal Arts arrives in UK cinemas on October 5th so make sure you go and check it out as soon as possible.
You can also check out out video chat with wirter, director and star Josh Radnor below: