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Elizabeth Olsen makes auspicious feature film debut

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Big premiere: Elizabeth Olsen
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It might seem reasonable to assume that Elizabeth Olsen hails from the same lifelong background in kid-friendly entertainment as older sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, who were born in 1986, and became regulars on TV’s “Full House” just a year later.

But while Elizabeth, 22, bears a striking resemblance to her better-known siblings, her career path has hardly followed their blueprint for seemingly overnight success.

Lizzie, as she was then billed, made brief appearances in “The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley,” her sisters’ musical mystery videos from the mid-’90s. Yet it took her more than two decades to grab the spotlight for herself.

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After honing her craft at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts and the Atlantic Theater Company, Elizabeth delivers a breakthrough performance for the ages in the indie drama “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

She plays a traumatized escapee from a Manson-like cult, at once projecting the vulnerability of an abused innocent and the unsettling conviction of a true believer.

It is a startlingly complex role, the kind she envisioned as a kid, when she began planning her adult career. “I started going to conservatories when I was 16,” she says. “I wanted to be an actor, just not a child actor. So every time an age-appropriate part came along at the theater company, I auditioned for understudy parts.

“I ended up working on stage, Broadway and off-Broadway, and I met my agent through one of the teachers at my acting school. So none of what I’ve achieved has come from family connections, though I don’t want to distance myself from my family because they’re very important to me.”

Elizabeth insists she didn’t seek out the troubled protagonist in “Martha” simply to establish herself as a different kind of Olsen; on the contrary, her decisions to date have “evolved organically,” and do not reflect such a calculated master plan.

Besides, “Martha” director Sean Durkin argues, it was Elizabeth’s stunning first audition that left him pursuing the young, up-and-coming star. “There’s a lot going on behind her eyes, in the quieter moments,” he says. “There’s a turmoil brewing, and she was able to convey that with ease. With her, it’s all about a feeling.”

IF YOU GO

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy
Written and directed by Sean Durkin
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 41 minutes

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