Elizabeth Olsen: Being an "It Girl" Is Such a Fleeting Thing

The Martha Marcy May Marlene star talks to iVillage about living up to her hype and what she's learned from her famous older sisters

Elizabeth Olsen may be the younger sister of child stars-turned-fashion stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, but she’s having no problem making a name for herself. After scoring a breakout role as a woman who escapes from a cult in the 2011 drama Martha Marcy May Marlene (now out on DVD/Blu-ray), Olsen turned into an overnight “It girl,” a mantle she laughs about. “I always joke that the term ‘It girl’ is such an ephemeral thing,” she tells iVillage. “And I’m really tying to have a long career until I’m ready to retire as an older lady.”

The 23-year-old actress -- known as Lizzie -- has a bounty of  projects on the way. Besides the indie horror film Silent House (which hits theaters Friday), she's prepping back-to-back movies Kill Your Darlings, a thriller about Allen Ginsberg starring Daniel Radcliffe as the Beat poet and Olsen as writer Jack Kerouac’s wife Edie Parker; the crime-drama Therese Raquin with Glenn Close; and the coming-of-age story Very Good Girls costarring Dakota Fanning.

Just two classes short of her degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Olsen also has her sights set on finishing up her education during the school’s “off-semesters.” When iVillage spoke to the actress recently, she talked about her good fortune making Martha Marcy May Marlene, what important lesson she learned from her famous older siblings and why she doesn’t pay much mind about being part of the romantic rumor mill.

Tell me about the experience of making of Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Well, what was so nice about it was everyone on the crew, we all just became immediately close, like a great group of friends and family. And also all of the guys (writer-director Sean Durkin and his producing partners Josh Mond and Antonio Campos) had been making movies since they were in undergrad school together. They already had a sense of humor that was the same and to be part of that you kind of feel like you’re in this really safe world and you can do things that are very intimate and uncomfortable and you can trust the people around you. There was something really special about making this movie that I will cherish forever.

That must've felt like a big coup for you when you found out you won the role.
I had just started auditioning for like six months or something (and) it was the first script I’d read that I was actually excited about. It actually made me feel like it was a challenge and would make you work. When I got that part I was already in upstate New York filming this other movie and I was running through this farm field and screaming. I was so excited.

The movie turned you into an “It girl.” What has that been like?
Well, I mean I always joke that the term “It girl” is such an ephemeral thing (laughs). And I’m really tying to have a long career until I’m ready to retire as an older lady. So for me, it’s really nice that it has helped me kind of start my career and I’m so thankful that it got the attention that it did. Because now I’m in such a cool position of choosing really interesting roles.

What was it like growing up with sisters who had been famous since before they could walk?
I never thought there was anything that weird about it just because growing up in L.A. in a private school, a lot of families around me did something in the entertainment industry. It was just this thing that everyone’s parents did. And so I never thought there was anything too strange about it as a kid.

What advice have your sisters given you about the business?
We don’t really talk too directly about work. If we do, it’s more just about, “I’m having a hard time making a choice, can you help me out?” Just anything that you’d ask anyone in your family if you trust their opinions. But, really, all they’ve done their entire lives was work and they’re really amazing workers. They’re such strong women that have so many different companies to take over and run and it’s just amazing to have those types of women in your family.

Was their work ethic something that was ingrained in you?
You’re never going to get anywhere without having a strong work ethic. Some people might come and go, but if you don’t actually put in the work, you’re not going to stay very long.

The other thing that happens, of course, when you become well-known is that people start scrutinizing your love life. Tell me about that.
I mean honestly, there’s nothing to talk about (laughs). It is funny that you have a conversation with multiple different people in one night and then someone wants to talk about one thing and I’m in New York, I grew up in L.A., I don’t think having a conversation with someone there is a discussion.

When you look in the distance ten years down the road, what do you see for yourself?
I just hope that I am able to have a family and make decisions that will financially support their needs and also have a balance with the projects that inspire me to work. I think that’s kind of the key when you become a parent.

So, have you been able to take any time off for yourself since you’ve been working so much?
I have, and it’s actually really cool because it’s the first time in my young adult life where I haven’t been in school or working. I’ve had a few weeks of chunks here and there and I’m able to make spontaneous choices and just relax and do yoga. It’s my first time ever experiencing that as a human being and so it’s been really, really nice.

Serena Kappes is iVillage's Entertainment Editorial Director. Follow her on Twitter: @serenakappes

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