Bursting onto the scene in 2011 with her knockout performance in the indie thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen is best known to most for her work as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The actress, who has been steadily cast in films alongside industry heavyweights such as Robert De Niro, Josh Brolin and Oscar Isaac, takes her game to the next level in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, which hit theatres this week.
Olsen plays Jane Banner in the movie, a young FBI agent who’s investigating a murder on a Native American Reservation in snow covered Wyoming. Realizing she’s out of her element in an area governed by its own rules, she partners with the towns local hunter (Jeremy Renner) to navigate the deadly terrain. With Wind River and Ingrid Goes West, a darkly comic gem in which she plays a vapid Instagram star, Olsen is currently enjoying a banner year playing two starkly contrasting characters and showing off her impressive range, and we’ve loved her performance in both.
While doing press for Wind River in New York City last week, we were able to chat with the actress about her latest effort, as she discussed working with on the rise filmmaker Taylor Sheridan, what’s next for Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Infinity War, and much, much more.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
Your character, Jane, is so tough and tenacious but she’s also very in over her head in this uncharted territory. How did you navigate that dichotomy?
Elizabeth Olsen: I think the thing that was really important to Taylor and I was that we didn’t undermine the fact that in any other situation she’d be really great at her job. It’s not about her having a lack of skill. It’s about her perspective becoming that of the majority of the audience which would be coming into an unknown territory. A land that we don’t really understand and we don’t really know how to navigate the rules of it.
So it ends up being a strength that she can admit this is a situation above her knowledge and reach and she needs to reach out to people who are local to be of assistance for her. Or else she can’t help and I think that at her core she really wants to help and be of use. I think that’s also part of her frustration with this system. It’s highlighting the problems that we have in our society of federal versus reservation law. How the system is kind of set up for them to fail.
I know you were attached to this project very early on. How did you come on board?
Elizabeth Olsen: I came on board about a year before we filmed. I think at that point we knew we weren’t going to film that winter, we were going to film the following winter. But they had another actor attached at the time. I know Taylor just had me in mind to play Jane which was a very lucky thing for me. I read it and I met with him and I had this kind of flippant attitude before where I was like, “I really don’t want to film an entire movie in that peak of the snowy mountains. That sounds so miserable.” But it’s such an amazing opportunity and part for a young woman and he wanted her to stand out from everyone else that we capture in the film. She’s white, blonde, young and female.
I met with Taylor to understand how he was going to be as a director. He’s obviously a really talented writer. He writes characters that are – Jeremy [Renner] always uses the word “actionable.” Everyone is continually working towards something and there’re a lot of obstacles and through all the action that’s how we understand people’s character and their past. He doesn’t ever neglect character development and at the same time he has this overarching poetic, political, moral, whatever you want to call it umbrella of what he’s trying to get across to the audience. You don’t know how someone is going to direct but just based on his personality you understand that Taylor is someone who can man a ship. That he knew exactly how prepared he needed to be. He’s an over preparer and I appreciated that.
Then I signed on hoping it would go the following year and our actor had scheduling issues. That was nerve wracking for me because I really wanted to get the project together. Then it landed on Jeremy’s table and finally he read it [laughs] and said he’ll do it. It was a really lucky situation. Another frustrating aspect was that I started training for the film in the summertime so then you find out all of a sudden it might not go and you’re like, “Are you joking? I just learned all this stuff! I’m ready, put me in coach.” [laughs]
Was the casting of Jeremy also nice since you had previously worked with him and had already built a rapport?
Elizabeth Olsen: Actually, it was the perfect thing to happen because he made more sense than anyone else I can think of to play this part. The demeanor of the character that was written is just like how Jeremy would probably be written into a script as a person but just placed in a completely different world and job. So I’m sure he can see a lot of himself in it.
Oddly, it was just the perfect accident because I think that this is some of his best work that I’ve gotten to see of his. It was really awesome to get to work every day and see how he manages and tackles character and story. Every single scene we worked on, every page, we were all trying to figure out how to make it better. We were never relaxed but it was so much fun because we felt so stimulated creatively all day.
Do you feel like the extreme weather conditions on set helped you fall into your character and into the film’s world?
Elizabeth Olsen: Oh, yeah. I didn’t grow up skiing. That’s not a part of nature that I’ve ever been comfortable around. Then I learned how to ski after the movie so it’s so exciting falling in love with the snow and the snowy mountains. I love being a part of it. For filming, it made it hard for us to transport the entire crew and equipment. But every day, I don’t ever remember being miserable.
There’s always a time of the day where you couldn’t feel your feet, they were just numb, and you just had to change your socks and your foot warmers. Things like that. It became part of the every day. I just remember feeling exhausted and satisfied at night when I got to go home. I think the only times it was really hard was when we didn’t have the snow and we were creeping up on spring and we had to just go higher in the mountains because it was getting hard to photograph. You obviously can’t snow mobile when there isn’t any snow.
You know the question, would you rather be too cold or too hot? Personally, I’d always choose hot because when I’m cold, no matter how many layers I throw on I just can’t seem to get warm.
Elizabeth Olsen: You know, I also didn’t even think about feeling uncomfortable because I was working with such tough dudes like Jeremy and Taylor. It just wasn’t in the cards to be the young female on set complaining. [laughs]
Right, not a good look.
Elizabeth Olsen: So I was like, “I’m going to be as tough as everyone else here.”