Elizabeth Olsen talks to Wonderland about her new film, Liberal Arts, and why she most definitively isn't a manic pixie dream girl.
So your character Zibby is a college student who's actually pretty mature for her age. How was the uni experience for you?
Oh, terrifying. I went to the same school from when I was 5 to 18, so going to a college was terrifying! I didn’t have a friend! Not anyone going to the particular part of NYU I was going to, and that was horrifying. I chose theatre, but I also came from a place where I liked film and I felt like I was going into this world where everyone knew so much more than me. I was almost embarrassed by not knowing as much as everyone else.
Liberal Arts has been kind of called a 'manic pixie dream girl' film of the Garden State variety, with Zibby as the manic pixie dream girl. Agree or disagree?
I've never heard of that, what is that? [after the term is explained] Oh, right! Well I didn’t, I thought of her as someone who hasn’t found the person she thinks she can connect with. It’s just too bad that the first person she feels that way about is the exact wrong thing she needs. I think it’s really sad. When she says it’s the saddest thing ever, it is – to feel like you know what you want someone to give you and you think you find that, but it ends up being the wrong person. It is sad.
You studied at NYU yourself – so have you graduated?
I haven’t, I’m a six-year undergrad student – I'm one of those! I am going to take my final two classes in January, so I’m almost there. I really enjoy being in school and that’s probably why I haven’t decided to stop going. I’ve never blown off a class before.
I can’t imagine being an actor and never having any interest in anything else besides how to act. I feel you should be hungry to learn everything in the world if you’re an actor.
We heard that people at NYU used to knock on your door just to have an excuse to check you out.
That happened a couple times. They would say, “We heard there was a party here.” Or they’d ask if someone lived there. And I knew everyone on the floor, and I’d be like “no…” It was really weird. I grew up with the same kids for the majority of my lives. Growing up in LA you’re jaded by what everybody else’s parents do, and you don’t really think about that as a sight to see. It was my first experience as that.
Was it weird being known as the “other” Olsen on campus?
Yeah, it was. I’d never had that experience at any other point in my life. To have that at 18, you kind of hope that people who are your contemporaries wouldn’t draw attention to it. That’s why I only lived in the dorms for one year.
Speaking of Olsens, are your family really supportive of your acting?
Incredibly supportive. It’s not like this thing I decided to do randomly. I made everybody go see three plays a year when I was 8 years old. I made my family sit through so much bad stuff! They’re used to that being my passion.
What was the worst show you were in?
Probably our version of Cats. I went to a theatre camp when I was younger where they wouldn’t buy the actual rights to musicals, so they’d change all the titles. So instead of Cats, it was Valley Kats, with a 'K'. That was horrific.
Liberal Arts is out on 5 October in UK cinemas.
Words: Zing Tsjeng