VOGUE – Many might think that Elizabeth Olsen’s stunning turn on the red carpet in London earlier this week was the work of someone who is used to securing the next-day’s headlines, but for the star herself, the whole “dressing sexy” experience is a relatively new one.
“I’m on this trajectory right now where I’m thinking, ‘Lizzie you can be sexier!’ I have always wanted to be conservative,” Olsen told us on the morning of said red-carpet outing for the premiere of the new Avengers film, Captain America: Civil War. Olsen reprises her role as Wanda Maximoff (or Scarlet Witch) for the third time. Pointing out that she was wearing a mini skirt for our meeting, she assured us that it was a first. “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a mini skirt before!” she laughed. “I would normally wear pants and blouse, but it’s not like it’s offensive – and my version of what I think dressing sexy is like is definitely not offensive!”
Sexy aside, the actress is worth more to her movie producers than the inadvertent promotion she gives them. Sweet, articulate and instantly likeable, Olsen has that rare quality that makes her endearing to indie-film audiences but accessible enough to take on massive franchises like Marvel. She does, however, give the post-shoot side of things more thought than many would think a young actress might.
“The weirdest thing as an actor to me is that when you’re on set, there are so many crucial people that work there,” she said earnestly. “Like, if your focus puller had something out of focus, that’s incredible important! You really need all these people, yet as an actor you’re there representing hundreds on the crew, a huge cast, all the people that deal with post production and that handle all the special effects being the face of it all – that’s weird! There are so many people that need credit.”
Olsen isn’t someone who talks about herself in grandiose terms and self-promoting clichés – on the contrary. She laughs and blushes when told she is one of the most famous actresses of her generation (“I don’t feel that way, that’s funny to say,” she smiles) and doesn’t think of herself as one of the most attractive either.
“Because I don’t see myself as a stunner – no-one ever made me feel that way as a kid, so I guess my whole life I wanted to be taken seriously, whether it was my school grades, or anything else I did, and for some reason I thought that meant, ‘Walk tough, wear pants and a blazer’,” she said (for the record she is even more beautiful up close than she is on the big screen or those wistfully quirky Miu Miu campaigns).
None of this is said in a looking-for-attention way, instead as more of a frank reflection, spoken with a smile and an easy demeanor – a level-headedness that seems to be a family trait. Her sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, also have reputations for being cool customers and tread the line expertly between being incredible successful and fiercely private when it comes to the press. While it is hard to believe there could be anything fierce about the youngest Olsen sister (Elizabeth is, at 27, two years younger than the twins), she does have have a good handle on press attention.
“It comes quite easily,” she said of dodging paparazzi. “I don’t know if that comes from growing up in LA and having so many examples around me all the time. It’s something that I watched people doing well growing up – people inside my family and outside my family – but I also know what restaurants in LA not to go to if I don’t want someone to photograph me. But sometimes you have a friend who wants to have a birthday dinner somewhere and you just have to suck it up!”
It’s a pragmatism that stretches beyond dodging the paps to another underlying pressure for any actor in LA: securing trophies during awards season.
“It’s kind of hard not to think about it, because a lot of the time people spit it in your ear or throw it in your face, so if you never had the thought before, now you did!” she smiles. “The only time I was ever a part of the campaign season was with Martha Marcy May Marlene and I was like a fish out of water because I’d never even had a movie out before. It was weird. It wasn’t even overwhelming, it was like, ‘Wow this is funny’. If I’d had a couple of years of non-successful work and then had that experience, I would have taken advantage of it in a totally different way probably, but I was so confused, and 22, and had only just started working.”
It won’t be surprising to hear that Olsen loves auditioning (“You’re letting me do something that I love to do!”) and she doesn’t worry about roles she doesn’t get (“That is something that is completely out of your control and so you can’t get worried about it”), but it might raise eyebrows to know that, despite her worldwide fame thanks to her outings with the Avengers, she sees herself as the underdog.
“I don’t see myself at the same caliber as a large group of actresses and so in my mind I see myself as the underdog – and I like being the underdog,” she laughed. “But I also don’t have an interest in being considered the best of the best, because one, I don’t think that exists and two, if it does, it’s ephemeral. What I want is longevity and to keep working.”
Elizabeth Olsen: possibly the loveliest underdog around.