The reluctant star is returning as the witchy Wanda in ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’. She talks to Jacob Stolworthy about superhero film flak, her famous sisters’ advice, and why she rarely watches herself on screen
Elizabeth Olsen is covering her eyes. “I can’t look at the screen. I’m sorry.” The cause of the actor’s dismay is not, as you might think, my face, but her own. It’s midway through our interview and I’ve switched off my laptop camera to evade internet issues, leaving Olsen alone, staring back at herself. She spends the rest of the chat with her eyes modestly directed to the right. “We should have caught up in person,” she says.
This isn’t the behaviour you’d expect from a bankable Hollywood star of Marvel movies – and one who comes from an acting dynasty. Her siblings are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, stars of tween films and fashion lines. Younger sister Elizabeth has been acting since the age of four, but she didn’t appear in her first film till she was 21. Instead of going the way of the twins, she oscillated between smaller indie films and blockbusters, including Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla (2014) and several Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.
Each role has been vastly different to the last – a spirited drama student in cosy comedy Liberal Arts (2012), a narcissistic social media influencer in 2017 Instagram satire Ingrid Goes West, and a timid rookie FBI agent in violent murder mystery Wind River in the same year.
But it’s for her character in the Marvel universe that she’s become best known. She played the perennially unlucky witch Wanda Maximoff in 2015 Avengers sequel Age of Ultron, before returning in a further three MCU films – Captain America: Civil War; Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Then Wanda proved so popular that she was given her own TV show, WandaVision.
In the space of nine inventive episodes, Olsen became a Marvel favourite thanks to her ability to switch fluidly from comedy to emotion with a flick of the wand. She shows this in our conversation, too, discussing sensitive topics, including the media’s treatment of her sisters, while playfully reacting to the persistent postman who won’t stop knocking on my door. “See ya!” she shouts after he informs me, through my letterbox, that he’s leaving my package on the doorstep.
It helped Olsen’s cause that WandaVision, Marvel’s debut foray into television, was an ambitious project that put time and care into a character previously given short shrift in favour of the dominant figures – well, big strong men – Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.
“I only signed on to do a couple movies, so it continues to be a surprise when they want to use me for more projects,” she says, adding: “I’ve been confused by how lucky I got with them wanting to make WandaVision.”
Olsen was living in Richmond, London, when the show launched in January 2021, during the second lockdown. It became one of the best-reviewed Marvel projects of all time, and the word-of-mouth hysteria surrounding it saw the series accomplish the feat of attracting non-fans as well as diehards. Olsen, though, says she “totally dissociated” from the frenzy it whipped up, and is “not really attached to it emotionally”.
I don’t like presenting at awards shows. I tried and I don’t like it