- Studio Photoshoots > 2019 > Session 006
WHAT WHEN WEAR: A loose linen blouse. An untouched plate of madeleines. An empty French bistro in the Valley on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. These are the poised circumstances under which I spend an afternoon attempting to better understand one of Hollywood’s most discreet young celebrities: Elizabeth Olsen.
The 30-year-old actress’s identity doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to much mystery. Since 2014, Olsen has starred as the Scarlet Witch in Marvel’s superhero movie franchise—one of the most-watched film series in entertainment history. (This summer’s Avengers: Endgame quickly became the second-highest-grossing movie of all time.) It’s a role she’ll reprise later with WandaVision, a Disney+ spin-off series about her superhero character coming spring 2021. In the meantime, Olsen executive produces and stars in Sorry for Your Loss, a drama series following Olsen as Leigh, a young widow struggling to deal with the sudden loss of her husband. (The show airs on Facebook Watch, and its second season premieres October 1.) By any objective measure, business is booming for Olsen, the younger sibling of Ashley and Mary-Kate, who long ago reached a level of fame so behemoth they no longer need a last name. The Olsens are as much American royalty as the Kennedys or the Rockefellers. I should know everything about Elizabeth Olsen.
And yet, as soon as she walks through the door of Petit Trois (the setting she chose for our interview) and introduces herself to me, it sinks in how little I do know. “I’m Lizzie,” she says with a jumpy half-hug, half-handshake—though the awkwardness is entirely my fault. I’m caught off guard that the young starlet lives just outside of L.A., around the corner from where she grew up (I would have pegged her for more of a hip Eastside girl), and I never knew she went by the cozy nickname. “Thanks for coming to the Valley,” she says, smiling.
Following behind two heavy-hitting child stars turned esoteric fashion moguls, Olsen, who decided at a young age to pursue a career in acting (and obtained a degree in it from NYU), had prodigious shoes to fill. Her on-screen breakout, a critically lauded lead in the 2011 Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, suggested that Olsen would be taking a cleverly divergent route from her older sisters—one of a risk-taking indie cinema darling. Some of her filmography still reflects that identity—roles in quirky small-budget dramedies like 2012’s Liberal Arts and 2017’s Ingrid Goes West.
Maybe that’s why, even after all the Marvel movies, which are about as commercial as they come, I still see her in that light. Or maybe it’s Olsen’s enigmatic personal life, almost laissez-faire approach to style (“A combination of suburban mom meets little boy,” is how she describes it), and overall serenity of manner that create the sort of intrigue that independent film girls tend to have.
Her current project, Sorry for Your Loss, certainly has some of that indie energy, simply because Facebook Watch is still a new and unknown content platform. Olsen admits that selling the show to
Facebook felt like a scary move in the beginning since most audiences don’t know that watching TV on Facebook is a thing at all. Moving into season two, she’s still figuring out the best way to spread the word to audiences. “There is no precedent, and that can be really challenging,” Olsen emphasizes. Still, there are major pluses to the marriage of television and social media, especially for a show that addresses a topic as personal and underrepresented as grief. “The show living on Facebook has been interesting because of the dialogue people get to have about their own experiences with grief and loss on the platform,” Olsen says.
The actress is looking forward to audiences’ feedback on season two, which finds Leigh “taking big swings, making big mistakes, and trying to figure out the balance.” As Olsen says, “Grief isn’t something that you ever just shut a door on or move forward from. It’s very cyclical.”
Olsen, however, will not be participating in these conversations with fans herself, because—ironically—she’s not on Facebook. She didn’t have a trace of social media presence until 2017. She finally downloaded Instagram shortly after the release of Ingrid Goes West, in which she pulls off playing a very convincing L.A. influencer. In contrast to millennial celebrities who use social media to speak about everything from beauty products to social justice, Olsen doesn’t feel the obligation to be any sort of influencer, politically or otherwise. “If I like blending into a wall, screaming from a stage isn’t something that would help me enjoy my life,” she says. “Sometimes I just don’t want to be part of a conversation because I don’t want anyone looking my way.”
As it turns out, privacy and stability inform everything about Olsen’s life—from how she dresses to the roles she chooses—more than any desire to seem “cool.” She lives in suburbia with her fiancé, musician Robbie Arnett, where she enjoys cooking, eating, and dabbling in interior design. “I love food more than I love anything that has to do with clothes,” she says, starkly contrasting her stylish sisters. (Though the actress is more of a beauty girl—she currently serves as a global ambassador for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics.) Categorizing herself as an “obsessive, detailed perfectionist” beset with a heavy dose of social anxiety, Olsen prefers poring over moldings and wood stains than obsessing over how her body looks in a dress and which angle she should pose in.
Transforming into a character—wearing costumes, acting on camera—puts the performer right at home, but photoshoots and red carpets, which give her no role to disappear into, are a source of great distress. “I don’t like standing out in a crowd,” she tells me just after ordering the dainty plate of madeleines. Our server also named raspberry tarts and pains au chocolat on her list of available pastries, but down to her desserts, off-screen Olsen likes to keep it simple.
“At 30, I feel like I’m finally getting to an age that was meant for my personality,” the actress says with no ounce of irony. “Just domesticated. A homebody.” I introduce her to the term JOMO: the joy of missing out. “Yeah… that,” she confirms. “I never feel bad about not leaving my house.”
Quietude feels inherent to Olsen’s personality, but it’s also something she learned from her family. She tells me her parents have had the same group of 10 friends their whole lives; so have her older sisters. Like other famously private Hollywood families (the Coppolas, the Fondas), the Olsens justifiably keep their circles tiny and exclusive to those with whom they have history—those they can trust. “I don’t have too many friends that I’ve met through work,” Olsen says. “I care about privacy. I don’t have a desire for people to speak about me.” Bottom line: Lizzie Olsen is not particularly interested in fame.
Ultimately, no matter how superhuman she appears on the big screen, Olsen values a fairly normal life: She wants her pastries from Petit Trois, where everybody knows her; she wants her white button-downs and her stable paychecks from Facebook and Marvel (most of which she’s been tucking away in savings to prepare for a family, she says). “Maybe I think about things too rationally, but my career goals are longevity and stamina,” Olsen tells me. “Working steadily, feeling challenged, and just kind of hunkering down for a bit.” One day, that paycheck might come from a less visible job; Olsen says that later in life she’d like to go back to school for a degree in architecture, interior design, or landscaping. “I’m interested in the new science of irrigation and water conservation in California,” she shares. “I could be someone who’s lived multiple lives, multiple careers.”
Before heading out, Olsen packs the six madeleines, which have all gone untouched, in a to-go box for later, when she’s home, to savor in her quiet, happy place. “The next career could be a lot more private,” she says. “Maybe. We shall see.”