People who find themselves inexplicably imprisoned, particularly for a crime they didn’t commit, often leads them to ponder their life choices, and how they ended up on the fringe of society. Even with their determination to find a way to escape their prison, they often become trapped in their own mind and emotions, as they don’t understand their fate of being expelled from society. Often times it isn’t until another vulnerable person struggling to escape their own emotional torture that the imprisoned person can start to gain a more insightful outlook on life.
That struggle to regain control over their emotions and fate is exemplified in the new mystery action dram, ‘Oldby,’ the Spike Lee-helmed English remake of the 2003 cult Park Chan Wook-helmed Korean film. The remake, which is also based on the graphic novel by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, showcases how a man struggling with his regrets during his wrongful imprisonment can start to receive penance with encouragement from someone who understands his motivations.
‘Oldboy’ follows the profound experience that alcoholic advertising executive and absent father, Joe Douctt (Josh Brolin), experiences as he’s randomly kidnapped off the street one night. He’s placed in a solitary conferment with a hotel-like prison for 20 years, which pass without any indication of his captor’s identity or motive.
When he’s inexplicably released from his prison, Joe turns to his old childhood friend, Chucky (Michael Imperioli), to uncover the person who arranged his punishment, and the reasoning for his imprisonment. Even though he’s now physically free, Joe is still being manipulated by his captor, and finds himself entangled in a twisted web of conspiracy that threatens to engulf him. His mission to find answers leads him to a young social worker, Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s dealing with her own psychological torments, as well as an elusive man (Sharlto Copley), who seemingly holds the key to Joe’s liberation.
Olsen generously took the time recently to sit down during a roundtable interview at The Conrad Hotel in New York City to talk about filming ‘Oldboy.’ Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to remaking the original film, as audiences are drawn to the shocking lengths people will go to in order to seek redemption; how Joe inadvertently helped Marie heal from her own physiological issues, in his quest to liberate himself; and how she develops all her characters’ backstories in the same way, whether she’s working on a smaller, realistic mystery drama like ‘Oldboy,’ or a fantasy action adventure like ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ through her imagination of where the characters have been.
Question (Q): Can you talk about your opinions on remaking the original ‘Old Boy?’
Elizabeth Olsen (EO): Yes. I actually heard about it from my brother. He was embarrassed that I was his sister, and I hadn’t heard about the original. I read the script, and that made me obsessed with this story. I was so shocked and heartbroken, and felt so awful about what happened, and the way it ended up. When I finally saw the movie, I realized my brother was right, and it’s the perfect film.
People tell Greek tragedies and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ stories all the time. If it’s a good story, it’s a good story. I have a feeling this type of story will be told again in 10 or 20 years. It’s a crazy, shocking story. It’s fun for people who don’t know the twist at the end. It’s fun to be surprised as an audience.
Q: What do you think Marie learns throughout the course of the film?
EO: I think something was healed in her from Joe being in her life. I feel like she had this wound, and just put a bad band aid on it. I think she heals somewhat, and can now do whatever she wants to do.
I always have a hard time imagining what happens to characters once films are over. I always think there’s a reason why they end when they do.
Q: You just finished your run in the Off-Broadway Classic Stage Company production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
EO: I wasn’t any good in it; I was so ready for it to be done! (laughs) But it was so much fun, but exhausting. I had such an itch to do a play, and then I did it. Once it was the last performance, I was like, “Get me out of here!”
That’s how I feel about genres, too. I’m like, I got that out of my system, and now I’m onto the next. But the play was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot.
Q: Did you get any tips from Daphne (Rubin-Vega, a veteran stage actress who played Juliet’s caretaker nurse)?
EO: Yeah, we all shared a dressing room. We’d talk a lot about how we’d handle ourselves. It was a rocky transition from the rehearsal room to the theater.
It’s like the perfect example of when you’re a film actor and you show up and do all you can, and then you show up for the premiere. You’re like, “Oh, that’s what they did with that, and I can’t believe they made that into that.” You have no control over the final cut of a film.
I thought you had a little more control over that, but you don’t. You only have control over what you do every night.
Q: Are twisted family relationships becoming a theme for you in your projects?
EO: I just realized that. I don’t have any weird incest or anything. I realized that was prevalent in ‘Silent House’ and ‘Old Boy’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene.’ It’s weird and really bad that my body of work over the past few years has that main theme. I’m kind of disturbed by it. (laughs)
Q: It doesn’t get any better; Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays your husband in ‘Godzilla,’ and then your twin brother in ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron.’
EO: I know, the incest just doesn’t stop there. (laughs) It’s really weird.
At least I can tell you about ‘Martha’ and ‘Silent House,’ I didn’t choose those jobs. I was given those jobs after auditioning. At the time, the concept of saying no wasn’t formed yet. I was like, “A job, yes! I don’t even care what it is! I’m a working actor now.” That was the same thing with the first five or six films I worked on.
Q: At the time of your first films, you mentioned that you were considering leaving it all, after observing what was happening with your older sisters (twins Mary-Kate and Ashley) and the paparazzi.
EO: I considered leaving when I was 15, when I was awkward and uncomfortable. Being from L.A., I did kid musical theater my whole life. I also took acting classes with kids who were doing it professionally. I loved it growing up.
But with movies, it was embarrassing. I was like, “I’m from L.A., and I want to be an actor. That’s a little weird. I’m smart enough to do other things, so why don’t I just do that?” I was like, “I’ll just be an investment banker or lawyer.” But that’s a lot of school. (laughs)
Investment banking was my Plan B for a year, or that’s at least what I told people. I wanted to shade myself from the shame of wanting to be an actor. But I had a great high school drama teacher who made me feel confident enough to do what I wanted to do.
Q: Have things changed since you came to New York?
EO: Yes. I went to drama school (New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts), which helped me get my first two jobs in theater. I was an understudy for a year, and I met an agent that way. So I didn’t have my school, I wouldn’t have started my career the way that I did.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
EO: I don’t know. I’d like to be in a place where I don’t have to live in L.A. or New York City; I’d like to live in a different city, like Nashville-I’ve never been there. I think the older you get, and you start a family, you start to pay attention to the other stuff that isn’t supposed to be part of this job, like people photographing children.
Q: Has that been worse in New York or in L.A.?
EO: They don’t bother me in L.A., I guess because I’m from there. I lived in the Valley, and don’t go to cool restaurants. In New York, I walk a lot. I think they’re waiting for someone else, and I just happen to walk by, and they get me. (laughs) I’ve only been followed onto the subway twice.
Q: Now that you’ve tackled subjects that are grounded in psychology and reality in your career, how do you tackle fighting monsters, like in ‘Godzilla’ and ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron?’
EO: The same way-you develop the character’s backstory and psychology. I feel really good that I just did a play-it requires so much imagination to acknowledge that everyone is around you, but you’re making up this room you’re in.
It wasn’t that hard with ‘Godzilla;’ instead of imagining Godzilla, I imagined a sniper on a building. I’m not going to be afraid of a monster, but I can understand a sniper.
Right now, I’m doing a lot of reading for the Scarlet Witch (for ‘The Avengers’). It’s really exciting to use your imagination and run around in a play yard-that’s what it feels like. It sounds like so much fun, but you still want to approach it with the same thoughts of, this is where she’s from. That’s what makes it fun and real. My parts in these films just have more extremes to them. I’m pretty excited about playing Scarlet Witch. (laughs)
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned in reading so far?
EO: Reading these comics are so fun. She’s a nexus, and is the only human from this universe who can communicate with the paranormal, as well as the past and future, and different universes. To me, that’s pretty incredible. (laughs) It’s amazing that she can touch things, and know where they’ve been.
Q: What is your approach as an actor, when you’re given so much material for a project? Do you look at everything?
EO: I used to be able to multi-task better. When I was doing a project, I’d be okay reading other things. Right now, I just like focusing on what I’m doing in the present. So I wait until something’s done, and that’s when I do a crash course. But that means sometimes you have to wait longer to do something else, but that’s okay.
Q: You seem fearless in your career choices. Do you make specific plans for your role choices?
EO: I have no plans at all. I’m taking things as they go. I feel really lucky, and more confident in my choices now than I did six months or a year ago. It’s been fun. Before, I was like, “They want me to work, that’s amazing!” Then it was, “Now I’ll try this,” without even thinking about who I was trying those things with.
Now it’s about the company and the director. For some reason, that wasn’t the easiest thing for me to grasp at the beginning. So everything’s been a great learning experience.
Working with Spike is a world of difference than working with a first-time director. I feel like I’ve worked with my fair-share of first-time directors. The difference is incredible.
The funniest thing is, the more experience you have, the more comfortable and confident you are in your own abilities. So at first, Spike wants to know everything that you think. You’re just like, “Really? I’m not even in that scene, and you care what I think?” It’s a really comfortable thing to be a part of, and to work with a director like that.
Q: When you watch your performances, are you objective?
EO: When I watch them, I’m like a boxer watching his match. I’m like, “I shouldn’t have made that choice, or I could have carved that piece out better.” I have an athletic point of view, and that’s how I think of my acting.
Q: Can you talk about another one of your roles, Thérèse Raquin, in ‘In Secret?’
EO: Yes, I think it’s going to be released in February. It was fun to do a period piece. It was interesting, but also really difficult. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Lange are phenomenal in it. Our supporting cast is insane, like Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook and Shirley Henderson. It’s such a great group of people. Tom Felton is also great in it.
The period pieces are hard; as you’re acknowledging that something’s a melodrama. It’s hard watching melodrama on films sometimes. But I think it was done with enough care for the story that the humanity is told.