Right after her breakout performance in 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and just ahead of the release of the horror film Silent House, Rotten Tomatoes spoke to then rising star Elizabeth Olsen about her Five Favorite Films. Five years have passed since then, and Olsen has made the most of her opportunities, appearing in smaller independent films as well as gigantic blockbusters like Godzilla and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
This week, she stars alongside fellow Avenger Jeremy Renner in acclaimed writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s new thriller Wind River, which follows a pair of law enforcement agents on the trail of a murderer in rural Wyoming. RT spoke to Olsen, who decided it would be fun to compare her current list of Five Favorite Films with the one she picked in 2012. She also talked about the new film and how her perspective has changed since she began her career.
I would watch that movie on VHS every night before bed for maybe two years. I’ve always felt a very close kinship with middle-aged women. [laughs] When I was in elementary school, I felt like I understood it. [laughs] I don’t know why. It’s three greats, three great female comedians, and the final song and dance at the end, “You Don’t Own Me,” was something Sarah Paulson and I recreated many a time, filming Martha Marcy May Marlene. It had a new meaning, all of a sudden.
Indiana Jones, that trilogy I just rewatched on a plane from a holiday I just took. I watched all three, and Temple of Doom just continues to win me over. I know; usually, people like The Last Crusade, and there’s a lot of love for Raiders, because it’s the original. But Temple of Doom is just, to me, so funny and entertaining and fun. And the kid from Goonies — Hot Shot? Short Round. He’s so funny, and I grew up with Goonies, but I prefer him in Indiana Jones.
What, you didn’t like Data in The Goonies?
No, I loved him. Obviously, he had all his fun little tricks, all the things that he would shoot out and cling on. I do, I just love Indiana Jones so much, and I believe Harrison Ford is one of the best big movie actors. While he is still engaged in something that’s really active and he keeps the intensity of the moment. Now I can appreciate it, because I don’t know how to be funny in the Avengers movies. He keeps the intensity, but then he still can be sly and charming and funny. Same thing in Star Wars. I just think he’s so good.
Between Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence, Cassavetes. I still dream, to this day, of having an experience. I thought the borderline guys are the modern version of this, of creating a really intimate, truly intimate environment, without any kind of producers with creative control, or any kind of desire of a specific distribution, but to just make stories that you want to make because they are close to you and personal and interesting and character-driven. Gena Rowlands, to me, is so amazing to watch. That’s something I discovered more in my early 20s, Cassavetes movies.
Return to Oz was just one of my favorite films as a kid. If you watch it any time recently, it’s one of the most disturbing films made for children.
Oh, definitely. And I love that movie myself. To be honest, I think I actually have a deeper connection to that movie than the original Wizard of Oz.
Oh yeah, me, too. Absolutely, by eons. That was the film that my friend Clay and I were just obsessed with for our whole childhood, with the wheelers and the woman with the hallway full of heads. That was a movie we loved.
Woody Allen — namely the Diane Keaton collaborative days — those movies were really important to me when I was like 15, 16 years old, because it was when I discovered watching them and went through the canon. I, for the first time, had seen a woman that I was like, “Oh, I can be that kind of a woman. I’m not really the nerd, I’m not really the charactery person. I’m not really the sexy one, but I am a neurotic, nervous, but semi-intelligent one, but I also say stupid things.” It felt comforting to know that that was an example of a kind of woman I could be when I grew up and when I was going through that transition in teenagehood.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: So there was only one duplicate between this list and the one you chose last time, and that’s Annie Hall. You mentioned at the time that you loved Woody Allen, so another one of your choices was Manhattan. Then you also picked Gone with the Wind, Roman Holiday, and Pal Joey.
Olsen: Oh, I said Pal Joey? That’s cute, that’s cute. I think, probably, Roman Holiday, I must have been going through a phase or just enjoying watching that movie. I don’t have very many movies. I think Roman Holiday is right next to Heavyweights on my iTunes movie list.
RT: That’s a weird double feature.
Olsen: Also, probably, Seven might be right above it. It’s a very strange group. [laughs]
RT: So let’s talk about the film. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed Wind River, and he’s been actor for a long time. Was it different working with someone as a director who had done all three things?
Elizabeth Olsen: I don’t know. I would actually be curious to ask Taylor, but I think he probably would have approached all three — whether it was being an actor, a writer, or a director — I think he approaches them very similarly, which is just trying to tell an authentic truth of an experience that he has had, or that he knows of, or that he had learned about. I think why people are drawn to his writing is because it’s poetic while showing active, driven stories where character becomes unfolded. It’s not just about the action. The action is how we understand characters better, because of how they approach whatever obstacles that come their way and then we learn about them.
He’s a very straightforward, no bulls— kind of guy. That’s why he writes the way he writes. That’s the way he directs, and I’m assuming that maybe that’s what he did as an actor. Sometimes, it’s hard to do that as an actor, because there are so many things that are fake that you’re dealing with. That’s why it’s not for everyone.
I do know that he’s a great bulls— detector, and he’s really great at telling you. He’s a great lie detector, and I think that’s what I want in a director. I want them to have a great vision and understanding of the tone and the world they’re trying to create, and I want them to be passionate about the story we’re making. I also want them to just say, “That wasn’t good,” or, “This is how you can do it better,” or, “How about you try this?” He’s very good at that, and so is Jeremy. The three of us together, I think it was a very trusting and comfortable set to be on, because no one was just trying to stroke each other’s egos.
RT: Speaking of Jeremy Renner, it feels to me, at least based on a lot of the media coverage that comes from the set, that the Avengers cast is a fairly tight group, and I’m wondering if either you or Jeremy played a part in recruiting the other for this film?
Olsen: I was attached to the movie first. I was attached to it for a year, and there was another actor — I think that’s public knowledge at this point — that was attached as well. Scheduling didn’t work out, and Taylor wanted to make it the during the winter we made it. He said, “How about Jeremy?” I said, “I love Jeremy. It would be incredible to get to work with him.”
But I felt uncomfortable pushing it on him, because we weren’t that close. If it were Aaron Taylor Johnson, I’d be on him to do it because Aaron and I have that kind of friendship. Now Jeremy and I do, but at the time, it was more of just a work relationship and semi-social. I think I might have just sent him a text message once saying, “Did you read this script yet? I’m doing it. I just wanted to let you know that I’m definitely doing it, and it’s not someone just… Whispering that in your ear, or something.”
I told Taylor I didn’t want to be too pushy about it, because I don’t think Jeremy responds well to that. Taylor just sent him a note and said, “Dude, read 10 pages of this script, and if you hate it, you don’t have to finish reading it, and I’ll buy you a nice bottle of booze.” That’s the story that I’ve heard now a gazillion times, since we’ve been doing press. He loved the script and that was it. We started filming a month or two later. It was really fast. He finished the script. He devoured it and wanted to do it.
RT: When we first spoke with you, it was five years ago in 2012. You’d just done Martha Marcy May Marlene and Silent House, and you had stuff like Kill Your Darlings and Old Boy coming out. You expressed at that time a desire to challenge yourself with a lot of different roles. So, looking back on the past five years and the rapid rise of your career, do you feel like you’ve settled into a groove now? That you have a handle on the kids of projects you want to do and want to be involved with?
Olsen: Yeah. I think the first, I would say, four or five years of working, I was just so excited to be working. I was excited to do every kind of movie. I wasn’t thinking, really, about the producers or the directors, the DP. My mind didn’t work in that way. I wasn’t even thinking about, “What’s a creative arc that I want to create for myself?” That has altered and that has changed.
I really love working. I think that’s also part of the problem, because I don’t want to have free time. I like to go from one film to the next to the next with just maybe a week or two in between, because that’s all I really need to decompress. I think I just got a little excited at the beginning, and I wasn’t making the most discerning decisions.
Now, I do feel like I have made decisions, even though it’s almost impossible to compare and contrast Ingrid Goes West and Wind River. They were both projects I really wanted to be a part of, and I thought made sense for me, for what I want to put out there, that are completely different. They don’t have to be similar. It is interesting, and now I’m diving a little bit into the development side of things.
It hasn’t even been 10 years yet for me, but it’s still a much more knowledgeable perspective now, obviously, than I had in 2012 after working for like a year and a half or something. I seemingly get wiser. I think maybe in 10 years, I’ll tell myself that I was an idiot today, but we’ll see.
Wind River opens in limited release this Friday, August 4.