Elizabeth Olsen has gained quite a following quite rapidly – and not just because of her famous last name (yes, the Olsen Twins are her sisters). The young actress has come up through the ranks of some impressive indie films (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Kill Your Darlings), bold genre fare (Silent House) and some films by acclaimed directors (Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake). Despite all that good work, it’s only now that her career is truly about to shift.
We caught up with the actress at the NYC junket for Godzilla, where she discussed – among other things – what it’s like trying to act against imaginary space that will later be CGI creations, and why acting with a child may be more difficult than believing in giant monsters.
Now was this your first time doing CGI?
EO: Yup, absolutely. Yeah, it was definitely my first time doing something like this. I didn’t have any green screen to work with, though, it was all just an eye line and imagination.
So when you got on set [of Avengers 2] with Joss [Whedon], were you already like a pro? Were you already like, “Yup, camera swoops, head movements…”
EO: No, it’s such a different world. It’s so crazy, you know, because you’re like—the main difference is in Godzilla you’re reacting to something that’s not there, and in something like The Avengers, is you’re approaching and almost interacting with something that’s not there. And so that’s what the main difference is for me right now.
Is there a different way to act in a monster movie compared to an independent, low, budget, do-it-in-two takes movie?
Elizabeth Olsen: Actually, we didn’t do so many takes. I think we did, you know, you have the luxury of time to do lots of angles. But, I don’t know, Gareth comes from the same kind of background understanding as I do, so I actually never felt that odd or out of place. I think my two biggest challenges: one was working with a kid. And then the other was the technical aspects of when your working with special effects—the timing and the camera movement, but finding the freedom in that. So I think those were the two things I learned on the job. And the reason why I thought, you know, doing a movie like this, or any of these kinds of big special effects kinds of movies is the childlike imagination you’ve got to have. I root it in such reality, but, you know, from a child’s point of view, almost.
So, Elizabeth, can you expand a little bit on how that challenge was with the kid? Like how did you bond and that sort of thing?
EO: Yeah. I think I’ve had a lot of different actors tell me how difficult it can be working with some—because we didn’t hire a six-year-old who looked four. We had a four-year-old who played four. And so Carson [Bolde] and his mother and I started emailing before we were in Vancouver. And then I just kind of hung out with him everyday. I would go to the parks with him. He’s very easy to—he’s a very open child, and so it was very easy to connect with him and we just played a lot. And I think Aaron [Taylor-Johnson] did the opposite, actually, because Aaron doesn’t get to see him often [in the movie]. And it’s a lot of improvising. And it’s a lot of using another child when it’s your close up. (laughter) But I would love to do it again. It keeps you on your feet and it’s always going to change and there’s nothing you can rely on to be set, and it’s really fun.
Moving out of, kind of the indie sect, and crossing over into the big, iconic franchises where you are—The Avengers, Godzilla—how is it on this side of the fence when you meet people who are so—you know, have history and love these things so much? What has that experience been like?
EO: It’s been amazing to do group interviews with people who are a different generation than me. With Bryan [Cranston] and Ken [Watanabe]. Especially Ken’s point of view, because the way he talks about Godzilla is with so much love, and it’s so part of his country’s culture. And it represents something so much larger than it has for an American culture. But for Bryan it was his favorite thing as a kid. And I feel like I didn’t grow up with a generation that loved Godzilla. Like, I loved Star Wars. That was my Godzilla, I guess. And it’s amazing to be part of the history. Especially for this film, because we are being supported by Toho. And we are being supported by the original production company. It has been collaborative, and we are respecting the whole origin of the reason why it was made to begin with. So I feel like our film is empowered with that knowledge.
How does Gareth work with actors? Because there’s so much—of course he’s got to deal with so many effects things and the cameras and cranes and swooping…
EO: Well I think that’s what Gareth’s big strength is. I think a lot of times when you make these big films, action films, anything that has to do with special effects, I think the trend right now—or has been—is to get these really great storytellers, these really great, story-driven directors. And a lot of the time they know nothing about special effects, or they don’t understand the larger picture of everything. Gareth is the opposite. Gareth comes from special effects, but loves story-driven pieces. But instead of working at a production company, he worked for a special effects company. And so he had confidence in that fully, and he had confidence also in working with the actors, so all he really was there to do was to make us feel like he was there for the story. And I never felt overpowered or overshadowed by special effects. And also working with Legendary, as well, they weren’t stepping on his toes. They weren’t a very loud presence, except for support. And that I think is really rare when you make a big studio film.
What was it like seeing Godzilla put all together?
EO: It was amazing. I had such a great time watching it. And I was shocked by—because I feel like I’m usually pretty distant from and critical when I’m watching a film that I’m in. But I don’t play such a huge role that it’s distracting for me, so I got to just like sit and relax and I really cared about everyone and cared about the world and cared about them figuring this thing out, and I loved getting to watch what all the other actors were doing, and how it translated from the script I read to it being on screen and not being there for any of it. And then also, you know, just seeing how all the monsters were interacting and it was just kind of wild and amazing and I really loved it.
Godzilla is now in theaters. Click the tag below for more of interviews with the cast & crew, and our official review of the film.