The actress opens up about ignoring Hollywood norms and why she’ll never enjoy Instagram
HARPERS BAZAAR – Marvel films don’t often go hand in hand with low-key actresses. Big Hollywood blockbusters tend to act as magnets for showy, big-time names and the kind of stars who like to eat out at flashy restaurants amid wails of dwindling privacy. Elizabeth Olsen is an anomaly to the formula.
For the past three years, the LA-based actress has played Scarlet Witch in the Avengers franchise, a superhero who can alter both probability and reality. Next week sees the culmination of the Marvel film series – the release of Avengers: Infinity War, which brings the giant superhero ensemble together. The cast is huge and the hype is massive, and yet Elizabeth Olsen would rather be at home with her friends putting her newfound break-making skills to the test.
“If I could do whatever I wanted for the day, I’d start with going to the gym or doing some sort of workout, then I’d go to the grocery store because my favourite thing to do is grocery shop,” she says. “The night before I would have prepped bread, like dough, then the next day I’d bake bread and create a delicious meal, sit outside in the sun, eat delicious food all day with people I love.”
It sounds like every clichéd LA wellness trend wrapped up in one, the type of day you’ve seen over and again on influencer Instagram pages. But none of it is is designed to be broadcast – Olsen isn’t keen on social media (in fact, one of her latest films, Ingrid Goes West explored the dark ridiculousness of Instagram); she only recently joined and, to her horror, has already amassed 1.1 million followers.
“Every day I think I should delete it,” she said. “I still don’t know why I’m on it, then I think well ‘I guess I want to promote Avengers’ and then I find myself putting something private up there and I think ‘this is stupid, why did I do that? I should delete it immediately.’ I’m trying to treat that aspect of my life as part of the job. There are ways I can benefit by having it, but I will delete it relatively soon because I’ll stop having promotional stuff. It’s a distraction more than anything.”
Despite having grown up with two of the world’s most famous twins in a family where fame was completely normal (Olsen had appeared on screen with her sisters seven times before she was eight), privacy and having a quiet life has always been important to her. If anything, her unusual childhood and high-profile siblings furnished her with the skills she’s used as an actress, and gave her a realistic view of the job.
“It’s been helpful in helping me navigate how I want to approach my career,” she says “I didn’t know anything outside being famous, so it was never weird to me – that’s just what it was. It was always very clear that acting was a job; I never had this twinkly fantasy of people taking photographs of me. It was a job and work and there are different ways of drawing attention to yourself that you don’t want.”
Maintaining a semblance of privacy is an Olsen trait. Elizabeth’s sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley, aren’t big on interviews and only attend the red-carpet events that they need to. They manage this without having gained a reputation as being standoffish or frosty.
“There are ways you can be private – my sisters are intimately private and I respect that,” says Olsen. “They showed me that you can be private, but also accessible to journalists, for those reasons. It’s helpful and I learnt my value system from them. They’ve always had the greatest friends and so have I. People always ask, ‘was it hard for you to make friends once you started working?’ And I’m like, ‘what are you talking about? No.’ I already had those and the ones I made through work are great.”
The difficulties, Olsen concedes, is when a person doesn’t have a solid foundation.
“The struggle comes when you’re displaced, when someone is in an industry where they worry about people taking advantage and they don’t know what to do with that,” she says. “I’ve been lucky not having to worry about that aspect of it as well.”
For a long time, the 29-year-old only did low-budget indie films – her break-through was 2012’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which she starred as a young woman who had escaped from a terrifying cult. There was horror film Silent House, Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts and spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy, which involves incest and amputation. She’s not big on high-profile events or awards ceremonies, nor does she endorse lots of different brands. She’s currently the face of H&M because of its focus on sustainability.
“It might be because my friends grew up in LA, but there’s no value in going to big parties and ‘networking’,” she says. “I think actually and truthfully wanting and make an effort to retain privacy is grounding.
“Also, I think it’s important not to believe anyone when they tell you’re good; maybe that’s not healthy,” she laughs. “But I think if you start to think of yourself the way that people you that you work with speak to you, then that’s dangerous.”
Despite her desire for a low-key lifestyle, Olsen couldn’t resist taking on the role of Scarlet Witch – a job that would invariably come with a lot of press rigmarole and publicity. However, it was Scarlet – emotionally charged, sometimes unstable Scarlet, whose comic book history sees her lose her twins, her husband and deal with an abusive father. She’s not what you would call one-dimensional.
“She got so angry when she found her kids weren’t real that she killed all the mutants,” says Olsen. “There was so much emotional depth to her and then there’s the fact that she is her own villain because of her inability to understand what her powers are and how to control them. I’d like to be more like her where I am always emotional. But to be in this world and to be able to function in it, we should probably put on our layers of socially correct behaviour.”
Olsen might be about to star in her biggest film to date, but unlike her superhero alter-ego, she’s worked out how to use her skills to protect herself in a frenetic Hollywood world – bread-making and all.
Avengers: Infinity War is released in cinemas on 26 April