And so she waited and trained—at camp, in school, and even during an NYU semester abroad at the Moscow Art Theatre—in what many skeptics assume, erroneously, was her sisters’ shadows. “There’s definitely a reason why I went to so many acting conservatories,” she says. “The more I trained, the less people could say, ‘Oh, she’s just so-and-so’s sister.’ They can still say that, sure—I have no control over that—but at least I know I’ve worked hard. There was definitely a time when I overcompensated, but I’m kind of over that.”
Another factor that contributed to Olsen’s patient ascent to stardom was her aversion to the majority of parts available to girls her age. “I wanted all the grownup roles,” she says. “I didn’t want to play someone’s daughter.” It makes sense, then, that three of her first projects to hit theaters—Martha, the real-time horror film Silent House, and the De Niro-as-Machiavellian-blind-psychic thriller Red Lights—aren’t exactly family fare. Her two younger half-siblings, Taylor and Jake, from her father’s second marriage, haven’t yet been able to see any of her work. “Every time I do a new job they ask, but so far they haven’t been allowed to watch anything.” Nor will they have much luck with her next two projects: Spike Lee’s adaptation of Park Chan-wook’s gory Korean revenge tale Old Boy, and Kill Your Darlings, the true story of a 1944 murder involving the Beat poets, in which she plays Edie Parker, the wife of Jack Huston’s Jack Kerouac.
Since returning from Serbia, Olsen has been crashing with one of her sisters, and she’s starting to feel guilty. “It’s been about a week,” she says sheepishly. “I’m glad to finally have my own place. I was starting to feel like I was actually living there.” Luckily, a mattress is being delivered to her new home in Chelsea, where, for the first time, she’ll have a doorman.
With a few obvious exceptions, Olsen’s life is, in many ways, like that of any other twenty-something navigating life in New York City. She can’t get enough of Girls, and recently started watching The Glee Project because contestant Ali Stoker, one of her college classmates, has a shot at winning the competition. Although she appreciates the movies she feels are integral to her “understanding of film history,” she’d often rather put on a mindless romantic comedy like Eat, Pray, Love—“but I only watch the ‘eat’ part.” The idiosyncrasies of her vocabulary are reflective of an IM culture for which neologistic license reflects quirk and individuality. (To wit: the kale salad and blueberry sorbet she ate during dinner were “so deliciousness”; she peppers every other declarative with “literally,” although she’s often being far from literal; and, while she might not even know she’s doing it, she refers to her acting friends as “thesbians,” as if they all hail from a community of Wimmin.) When she’s not “sitting on Pitchfork” looking for new music, Olsen overwhelms her friends’ email inboxes with video parodies of Rachel Zoe and Bethenny Frankel, as well as Shit Everyone, Everywhere Has Ever Said, but she swears she’s never seen comedian Elaine Carroll’s hilarious caricature of her sisters on the popular web series Very Mary-Kate. (“Wait, now I’m going to have to watch it!” she says She noncommittally enjoys Manhattan after dark—The Jane, a lounge operated by her friends Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte, is her preferred spot—but she eschews anywhere with a line or a list, and would just as soon hang out at someone’s house where she can “control the music and who is there.” She gets dinner with the same group of female friends once a month, she collects movies on VHS, and she loves to wander the aisles of a Super Walmart. “I can buy candles and crackers and medicine and underwear all in the same place?” she says, in awe of the big-box megastore. “It’s like, What?”
Still, Olsen is aware that, despite the ordinariness of some aspects of her life, it’s a life far from ordinary. “I believe that you get to make things the way you want to make them,” she says. “I go to the grocery store. I go to the gym. I take hour-long walks, and I’m not bothered at all. It’s my first time having anything like this happen to me, which is amazing. But at the end of the day, I just have to laugh at this whole thing.” Which is exactly what she does, with a hiccupy mix of charm and disbelief, before being called back to set.
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