We’re at the worst table in Brooklyn — or at least, the worst table at a small Moroccan restaurant in Williamsburg. A few feet over and we’d be in the kitchen. We’re breaking the ice by debating whether scotch has to actually come from Scotland. And if my dinner date notices our proximity to the fluorescent lighting of the prep stations (or if she cares), she’s not letting on. It’s my first indication that Elizabeth Olsen is chill — or to use one of her favorite words, fucking chill. (More on that in a minute.)
Olsen isn’t exactly new to fame. The 27-year-old has starred in big-budget productions, like Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Godzilla. And now she’s reprising her Avengers role as the mind-reading superhero Scarlet Witch in Captain America: Civil War. But for the moment, Olsen has managed to hold on to an impressive amount of privacy and relative anonymity.
When you think of Elizabeth Olsen, you think…she’s got the best loose waves in Hollywood? She was awesome in Martha Marcy May Marlene? She’s the Olsen who’s not a twin? Don’t worry, she’s hardly offended. “You know you’re going to be compared [with them] for the rest of your life,” she says. “You grow up and get over it, and you love your family regardless.”
Perhaps as a counterweight to all the blockbusters, this spring Olsen also starred in I Saw the Light, a smaller film in which she plays the wife of country-music star Hank Williams (“It’s a fucked-up story — she had a really shitty, difficult experience with her husband,” says Olsen).
On a balmy Thursday night, either our fellow restaurantgoers are playing it supercool or Olsen has successfully shrugged off her celebrity for the evening. Sure, her siblings may be famous (OK, really famous) and rich (a few more reallys), but Olsen is not to the manner born. She swears frequently and casually, like the world’s cutest sailor, lip-synchs to Blues Traveler in the car, fiddles with the sleeves of her sweater (a gray scoop neck from The Row), and piles her hair on top of her head “like a fucking shih tzu.” And while our waitress regards Olsen with more interest than she does me, I can’t tell if she’s registering her as a Hollywood player or just as a really pretty woman.
The fact that Olsen is easy to look at and hard to place makes her a casting agent’s dream and consistently lands her plum roles. She’s currently filming Wind River, for example, with one of her Captain America: Civil War costars, Jeremy Renner. “She’s constantly surprising me,” says Renner. “[While filming,] we have dinners and wine and good chats. I’ve peeled a lot of layers of that onion, and every layer is interesting. She’s smart. She’s strong-willed. She has an old soul.”
Yet it’s Olsen’s blank-slate quality that makes her so appealing. She’s pretty but not intimidating. Kind but not boring. Intelligent but not a know-it-all. Fame, to her, is something to handle with respect. When she arrived at the crossroads where celebrity usually intersects with scandal, she took the high road. And you’re not going to see her on Snapchat anytime soon. “Being a celebrity for not doing anything, I don’t understand that,” says Olsen over the din of glasses clinking and hipsters chatting. Watching her older sisters’ lives — especially their personal lives — play out in the tabloids has made Olsen wary of public attention. “I won’t go to certain restaurants because I don’t want to be photographed,” she says. And when paparazzi started camping out at her farmers’ market in Los Angeles, “I had to find a different kind of sauerkraut.”
It’s not just that she’s not savvy about Boomerang and doesn’t throw out clever-isms on Twitter; it’s more like her social-media skills are on par with those of my 65-year-old dad. Actually, his are better, because he has an Instagram account and could maybe manage a selfie. (Olsen doesn’t and insists she couldn’t.) If she were “spending five minutes trying to look good in a picture [every day], I’d be like, Who am I?” she says. “I’m distracted by other stupid shit [without thinking about Instagram].”
What exactly is that distracting stupid shit? Industry cocktail parties, for starters. “I’ll find a sofa in the corner, and I park myself,” says the woman who calls Hollywood “a weird circus.” Plus, “I’m allergic to small talk.” When she met Taylor Swift, for example, Olsen tried being “cute and funny” and then quickly blanked on the name of a T-Swizzle song mid-conversation. “It’s still horrifying to me,” says Olsen, who recounted the awkward exchange on The Late Late Show With James Corden. “I didn’t realize it would be the most talked-about thing I’ve done in my entire life.”
Then there’s the issue of photo shoots and all those red carpets. “The clothes we’re expected to fit into aren’t sizes; they’re samples. They’re not made for chicks with boobs, so I’m very self-conscious about having them,” she says. “I have fun choosing an outfit for my best friend’s wedding, but not [something] I’m going to be judged in.”
During fashion week in Los Angeles, when Olsen forgot her parking pass to Saint Laurent’s fashion show and was turned away by security, she was upset about one thing: Her friend Clay Hawkins had done her hair and wouldn’t get a shot of her for his portfolio. So she did what any Hollywood actress would do — OK, not really. There were no fits or calls to agents. “We were like, OK, we didn’t get in!” says Olsen. “We were going to have sushi an hour from now, but I guess we’ll have it now instead.” So she drove to a restaurant in a mini mall where “you don’t have to say hi to people who make you uncomfortable. [At the show,] Lady Gaga would be somewhere nearby, and you’d be like, Where am I?”
The conversation pivots to Olsen’s experience growing up in southern California. She looks down at the recorder on the small wooden table between us — and keeps going anyway. “I’m thankful that I didn’t start working until I got older,” says Olsen. “I was confident enough to know who I was.”
And by “older,” Olsen means 21, the age she was when she filmed her first two movies. (That’s assuming you don’t count her turn as “Girl in Car” in her sisters’ 1994 TV movie, How the West Was Fun.) Cameo aside, her early roles required acting chops. Olsen starred in the indie thriller Silent House and the critically acclaimed drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. She blew away critics at Sundance with her portrayal of a disturbed cult escapee in the latter. “People kept saying, ‘Your life’s gonna change,'” she says. “I wish I took it a little more seriously because I could have made smarter work decisions after the fact. But the way I’ve always functioned is that I don’t listen to noise. It’s a defense mechanism. Like, Yeah, this is all fake. All of my friends’ families [worked in Hollywood growing up], and I didn’t want to give it weight.”
Our date is wrapping up. The waitress clears what’s left of our spicy carrots, baba ghanoush, romaine salad, and tabbouleh (Olsen has the appetite of a Middle Eastern rabbit). We finish our drinks and walk out into the cooling evening air. As we approach the trendiest hotel in Brooklyn, the Wythe, we see a line of people waiting to get inside. “They told me I’d need my room key to get into the bar,” says Olsen, clearly amused by the idea that grabbing a drink could be such a scene. She gives me a quick hug good-bye and slips into the hotel lobby — just another young woman disappearing into the crowd.
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