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Martha Marcy May Marlene star Elizabeth Olsen spends a lot of time with her face filling the screen, emotions shadowing her otherwise numbed expression. It's a demanding move on the part of director Sean Durkin, and it requires a certain sort of actress. Recalls Durkin, "When we were casting, there was something different happening with Elizabeth. Something was happening internally, but with ease. Some people could easily slip into overacting to try to get something across. But Elizabeth - without trying, without 'doing' anything, you could see that something was happening."

So, Ms. Olsen - how do you make that something happen?

A lot of times, you can get away with things: you can do a math problem in your head, and it makes you look like you're thinking. But when you're doing something [with the camera] so close, you have to put yourself in a mindset. You have to try to have honest responses to everything that's going on.

And how do you get that across?

I approach everything scene by scene, and I try to make something as clear and specific as possible for me to play, so that the inner battle will come across. I actually have no control over creating images, or facial expressions that would convey [interior emotion]. The only thing I can do is have clear intentions or goals.

So in the scene where you go into your sister's bedroom and sit on the bed while she's having sex with her husband...

My intention was to gain comfort. By that point, Martha's not used to being alone - she's used to being in a home with lots of people. And someone having sex next to her is something that she's been experiencing. So she goes in and sits down - what they're doing doesn't really matter to her. She just wanted that comfort of being close to someone.

And your sister is so shocked that all she can do is tell you that it's not normal.

And it's really embarrassing. To forget certain things and have someone reminding you.

Tell me about getting into the character of Martha - I kept thinking, "She's a stranger to herself." That has to be tricky to play.

Something that I immediately attached onto was her paranoia. When people suffer from paranoia, everything they see is real to them. No matter whether it's real or not, no matter what anybody tells you about how it's not real. You're either not going to believe them, or you're going to think they're part of it. So it just escalates. That was my launching point - playing with the idea of paranoia. How much can you share? How much can you let someone know about what's really going on? Because for Martha, it's all real. That's what I played with most in the lake house with her sister and her sister's husband. How that comes across - as loss of identity, or fear, or shatteredness - well, everyone interprets it in different ways. But for me, in my mind, I had to be as specific and clear as possible.

What attracted you to this part? Why did you want to do this film in particular?

When I read the script, I responded to the narrative - the way Sean wrote it. It was a gift to be able to read something where you weren't force-fed answers. You understand things through content and context, as opposed to clear exposition. And I had a lot of empathy for the character and her situation - a young woman with lots of possibilities. I wanted to make sure that no one could just write her off as easily manipulated. I wanted to show her as a strong-willed young woman, very much her own person - but also one who needed to feel like she was part of something bigger than herself. And there was also something she needed that she never perceived in her family. These people [in the cult] provided it for her.

[Interview with director Sean Durkin here.]

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