Elizabeth Olsen: A Career that Balances Commercial Success and Artistic Achievement

When asked to think of famous people with the last name Olsen, you might think of Mary-Kate and Ashley. The twin powerhouses who traded on early childhood sitcom stardom to launch a multi-million dollar empire. Their sister Elizabeth, the namesake of their high fashion collection Elizabeth and James, is also trying to make a name for herself, and blazing her own trail as a successful actress.

Elizabeth Olsen worried her famous last name would take away from her talents, and used that fear to motivate her when she worked on her acting craft. She told the Guardian, “their fame made me more determined to study. I felt that pressure, and that people would say, ‘Oh, that’s nepotism.’ I decided that as long as I felt confident and worked hard for it, instead of having it handed to me, no one could take that away from me. I don’t have any insecurity about it. I never got any job because of my sisters. I could have pulled a few strings through them, but I never needed to.”

Olsen handles the pressure that come with recognition with stride, and is humble about her new found successes. While she recently told the press that, “I have a hard time with the pressure of looking cool,” at red carpet events, she quickly added, “It’s a privilege to get to have a job in this industry.”

She uses instinct and relaxed and thoughtful criteria when choosing her roles. In an interview with Elle Canada Olsen described her approach to her work, “The only thing I care about is if the team is great, the script is good and the character is someone I can connect to in my gut.”

Olsen appears also to be following a popular approach for her acting career. The “one for them, one for me,” direction pioneered by celebrities like George Clooney. Where stars alternate commercial blockbusters, with passion projects, and smaller scale artistic endeavors. Olsen’s choices seem to follow this blueprint. She strikes an impressive balance between superhero movies like entries in the Avengers and Captain America franchise series, and big studio pictures like Godzilla, and daring character driven indie dramas.

Here are 4 Elizabeth Olsen movies to inspire you on your path for balancing commercial success with creative fulfillment.

Silent House, 2011

Horror movies are a rite of passage for young ingénues, and Olsen made the bold move of staring in Silent House, a movie made using a single shot camera style, of a young woman’s point of view, as she is trapped in an isolated remote summer house. Olsen proves herself as an actor to watch in the challenging role. Roger Ebert said of her performance, “What’s impressive is Olsen’s ability to sustain that kind of intense on-cam scrutiny and stay convincingly in character. She has a pretty face, expressive and delicate, and carefully modulates her performance: not overacting, not mugging, not trying to sell us on anything. Some of her best moments communicate silent terror.”

Kill Your Darlings, 2013

Olsen has a small but pivotal role as Edie Parker, muse and first wife of Jack Kerouac, in this star studded drama based on a true life 1940s Beat Generation murder. She told the Hollywood Reporter, “Most of my scenes are with Jack and the script is so good. That’s why everyone wanted to be in it. It’s basically four snippets of her (Parker’s) life but my character is the glue that hooked them all up.”

I Saw the Light, 2015

Olsen plays another famous wife, this time as Audrey Mae Williams, the wife of Tom Hiddleston’s Hank Williams, the alcoholic country star. Olsen did her own singing in the film, and took an interesting angle for a character whose musical ambition was greater than her actual abilities. She explained to Boot.com, “I’m not saying I sing great. I do have vocal control. I know what flat is, I know what sharp is, and I do know how to crack my voice. Those techniques, you learn. Because you can’t make her look like an insane person for thinking that she can [sing], and you don’t want to make him look like an insane person [for thinking she can’t], so you try to strike a balance there.”

Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011

Elizabeth Olsen established her reputation in a career making performance in this contemporary indie drama centered on a fractured and fragile young woman who escapes from a terrifying and abusive rural cult, to the sanctuary of her estranged sister and brother-in-law’s lakeside vacation home, where the family dynamics are equally complex and troubled. Olsen’s performance is nuanced and intense as her character Martha succumbs to paranoia, never quit sure if the cult has truly let her go, or is still perusing her.

Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers called the movie, “a mesmerizing meditation on identity,” and that Olsen is a, “damaged soul clinging to shifting ground, who makes this spellbinder impossible to shake. Right now you probably know Elizabeth Olsen as the younger sister of the tycoon Olsen twins. After you see Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll know her as an actress of uncommon subtlety and feeling.”

In her career so far Olsen has stepped out of the shadow of her famous sisters, and proved herself as an actress of serious talent. Elizabeth Olsen’s filmography of big budget blockbusters, and daring and challenging work is a roadmap for any creative types looking for inspiration on both making a living, and making time for work that matters.

Author Bio: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at splitsvilleblog.wordpress.com. She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun