Elizabeth Olsen is best known for playing the powerful Scarlet Witch in the mega-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some people may think that she sort of popped up out of nowhere as a "third Olsen." Part of this is due to Elizabeth’s quiet nature, and some of it is due to people simply missing her past on-screen work.
Some may think that Elizabeth Olsen benefited from having famous siblings, but she has made her own way in the entertainment industry. While she did consider taking sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s help, she didn’t need it. She worked hard for many years to become the Hollywood star she is today. Telling News.com.au that her career is "so different now," she said, "That has something to do with my own growth as a person, being more confident the longer you do it and figuring out my own voice and opinions … It makes it all the more fun when you feel like what you have to say matters." Frankly, it’s a shame more people aren’t aware of all the things that came before her debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s time to rectify that. Here’s the stunning transformation of Elizabeth Olsen.
Growing up on TV and movie sets
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen starred in the sitcom Full House beginning in 1987. This was long before Elizabeth Olsen was born, but the show and her sisters’ subsequent fame would be a big influence on her childhood. To Elizabeth though, it was simply life. "It was just normal. … It was never weird," she told Danny Pellegrino on his podcast Everything Iconic. As she grew up, she visited the sets of her sisters’ on-screen projects very frequently with her brother.
"When my brother and I would get picked up from school, that was our after-school care," she told SFGate. "It was really hanging around on set, so every once in a while, they’d ask us, ‘So, do you guys want to be in this one? We’ll put gum in your hair.’ To me, it was never acting. … It was silly and fun." While it might still be a fond memory, she expressed to Pellegrino the desire to distance herself from the show and its sequel Fuller House.
Making her on-screen debut
Somewhere along the way, Elizabeth Olsen’s interest in acting piqued. Olsen played a few small parts in projects that starred her sisters. She laughs off those exciting beginnings now. "Oh, I really got to exercise the acting muscles there — you can’t imagine the awesome thespian demands on the kid playing Girl In Car in How The West Was Fun!" she joked to The Guardian. "And my biggest scene was getting bubblegum out of my hair!"
After that, Olsen briefly tried to get into other projects, most notably Spy Kids. She ended up not getting the part, but it definitely taught her how serious acting could be. "[The script] looked bigger than the Bible to me," Olsen said on the Today show. "I didn’t understand why I would ever read something that big." Olsen, of course, has landed much bigger roles since that first foray into film. Maybe she’s learned to speed-read!
Learning to distrust the media
The Olsen twins are pretty well-known for being reclusive and hesitant to meet with the press, and it appears that’s a family trait. "I understand that it’s not that normal to be worried about being photographed, when you’re growing up, by strange men around Los Angeles who are chasing you in cars," Elizabeth Olsen shared with The Telegraph. Understandably, such experiences made her pretty suspicious of the paparazzi. "It made me despise those kinds of people, it made me despise gossip magazines."
In that same interview, she revealed that she likes traveling incognito, and does not want to reward "stalkery" behavior. Luckily, she’s found a way to get around being recognized. "When I was at the airport yesterday, one guy came up to me and said, ‘Has anyone ever told you, you’re the spitting image of Elizabeth Olsen?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard that before,’ and that was it." We can only hope she enters an Elizabeth Olsen look-alike contest someday, Charlie Chaplin style.
Coping with her parents’ divorce
Many might assume that the Olsens’ mom and dad, Jarnette and David, were stage parents, but that wasn’t the case at all. "My mother’s a ballet dancer — which isn’t what you call a job — and the mother of four children, and my father works full-time in real estate," Elizabeth Olsen shared with The Guardian. "My parents had very little to do with my sisters’ job really, at least not after getting them that first job."
David and Jarnette Olsen divorced in February of 1996. Elizabeth was just 6 years old at the time. David married his coworker a month later. Some thought the split had fractured the family, as Ashley reportedly did not attend the wedding, but, despite this, David claimed that things were fine. "The reality is that the transition has been very smooth. Everyone sees eye to eye. The girls are fine," he told Entertainment Weekly. Today, Elizabeth is close with both her parents, even having her father visit on set sometimes.
Stepping back from the entertainment biz
It wasn’t in the cards for Elizabeth Olsen to be a breakout child star like her sisters. As it turns out, she just preferred being a kid. She had to make a decision when an angry ballet teacher threatened to drop her for missing so many classes after she’d been going on auditions. "I realized at that point, ‘I really love ballet. I really love sports. I really love doing my camps. I really love taking my singing lessons and doing all these things and being a student,’" she told SFGate. Thus, her parents had her sit down and write a pros and cons list, and the cons won out.
However, she would still hold a love for the acting craft, as "it was something [she] always wanted to do, and it was something [she] continued." She noted, "I grew up with a really creative group of kids, and we would always make our own movies and plays." It would just take a few years for Elizabeth Olsen to start taking acting seriously.
Catching the acting bug again
Another adult figure in Elizabeth Olsen’s life would influence her to move back into the world of acting. A drama teacher at her Los Angeles high school helped her find the academic side of it. According to an interview by the website News.com.au, she learned that acting was "something I could make tangible and more philosophical than just going to an audition and making a television show — it had so much history and soul."
Olsen went on to study at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and, as a sophomore, she was accepted into the Atlantic Theater Company’s conservatory program. She worked on student projects and auditioned for some professional shows. She was eventually cast in the off-Broadway production Dust and the Broadway show Impressionism. From there, she was able to land an agent, and it looked like her career was taking off. "It all just kind of happened," Olsen said to SFGate. "I got lucky. Good place, good time."
Nearly quitting the business
Just as the metaphorical train was about to leave the station on Elizabeth Olsen’s acting path, there was another bump in the road. In 2004, her sister Mary-Kate Olsen entered treatment for an eating disorder. The next several years saw the paparazzi harassing the young woman. Things only got worse when the twins went to New York for school, where they had to drop out early. The twins would have to wear "grungy" clothing to try and escape the never-ending flash of photographers.
At this point, Elizabeth found the attention abusive. "They would follow us shopping and [Mary-Kate and Ashley] would almost get into car accidents because of the paparazzi," Elizabeth told the magazine Nylon. "And I didn’t want to be a part of it. I just thought, This is such bulls**t." No doubt this difficult period just reaffirmed the Olsens’ distrust of the media and informed a lot of Elizabeth’s caginess when it comes to being photographed.
Studying in Russia
As a part of her college education, Elizabeth Olsen got to spend some time on a completely different continent. As a junior, she flew all the way to Russia to study for a semester at the Moscow Art Theatre School. "My teacher was teaching me the whole Stanislavsky training, and I love Chekov, so I really wanted to go," she said to Nylon. Apparently, she used to speak a little Russian, but wasn’t able to keep that skill.
Still, the semester proved very formative for Olsen and her art. She shared with the local New York City paper The Village Voice, "[It was] really physical. I don’t think there’s better theater in the world than in Russia. …The semester I studied at the Moscow Art Theatre was much more about using your imagination. I thought a lot about theater in my life when I was there." Upon returning to the United States, she’d have more well-rounded skills.
Making a splash at Sundance
The 2011 Sundance Festival was Elizabeth Olsen’s time to shine. She had been a part of many small film projects, but this is where she started to gain critical attention. She starred in two thrillers that year, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Silent House, showing off her acting chops. Oh, and she was still taking classes at NYU at the time, in case that wasn’t enough.
Critics were surprised by this seemingly sudden arrival, but this had been a long time coming. Olsen told Nylon, "When all the Sundance reviews were coming out and they were like, ‘It Girl of the festival!’ ‘Came out of nowhere!’ ‘And she’s an Olsen sister!’ my dad would be like, ‘Don’t they know you’ve been doing this your whole life?! These people should be writing that you have been working on this forever!’" At least they were finally paying attention — better late than never! It was time for the world to know the real Elizabeth Olsen.
A star on the rise
After the festival, Elizabeth Olsen didn’t really buy that she had hit the jackpot. "It’s not like everything has changed. It’s still a struggle, just a different kind of struggle," she told Nylon at the time. Films like Liberal Arts and Red Lights continued to let her shine, and helped set her as a star of the indie film market. Now Olsen sees that this part of her career really was a great step forward.
She shared with Vanity Fair, "What I would have told myself then was to be patient in choosing the next jobs and to believe the noise a bit and to know that this is a hard place to get to." She further discussed how these years were a great learning experience of the Hollywood business. "I had to learn how to make work choices; I had to learn how to pick jobs differently. I went through a few years of kind of just doing things because I was so lucky and happy to be offered opportunities. … in hindsight, I could’ve made smarter choices that could’ve led to a different place."
Joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Elizabeth Olsen’s big splash, of course, came with her cameo at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Playing Scarlet Witch in the titan of cultural zeitgeist, the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Olsen to the general public. She would continue the role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Being the true thespian she is, Olsen was drawn to the character’s emotional struggle. "There was so much emotional depth to her and then there’s the fact that she is her own villain because of her inability to understand what her powers are and how to control them," she explained to Harper’s Bazaar in 2018.
Of course, this newfound fame gave Olsen a ton of new attention, which disrupted her private lifestyle. "Every day I think I should delete [her Instagram]," she said. "I’m trying to treat that aspect of my life as part of the job. … It’s a distraction more than anything." Still, she appreciates her fans and lovingly calls the MCU community "magical."
An engagement… and a breakup
Elizabeth Olsen met actor Boyd Holbrook on the set of Very Good Girls in 2012. A source from the film’s set told Us Weekly that the two had "great chemistry" and really hit it off. Olsen and Holbrook moved in together in 2014 and a few months later were engaged. This was not long after sister Mary-Kate announced her engagement to Olivier Sarkozy. Another source claimed that Olsen and Holbrook had been planning to get engaged for quite some time.
Regarding her engagement, Olsen told Marie Claire in a 2014 interview (via E! News), "I’m relaxed about it, but I am excited and planning ideas because it’s fun." She continued, "It’s just like throwing a party to celebrate life." Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. The two split in January 2015. What’s worse, apparently Olsen dumped Holbrook on the same day that his best friend passed away (via E! News). Olsen’s private nature has kept us from learning too much about the split, but we assume it greatly affected her… despite her alleged decision to break up with Boyd over the phone.
Using her privilege for good
Elizabeth Olsen’s down-to-earth lifestyle has apparently made her realize the importance of her position in the public eye. Her casting as the Scarlet Witch, a character with Jewish and Roma ethnicity, led to some concerns of white-washing. Olsen was surprised by the critiques, but understood where they were coming from. She said to The Telegraph, "I know I’m a white blonde American woman, and I know what that looks like to other people." She added, "I think it’s very important not to fool yourself. You can be who you are and still be able to relate to different kinds of people in the world."
After doing Wind River, a film about sexual violence on a reservation, Olsen was moved to volunteer weekly at the Rape Treatment Center. However, as with many of things she does, she kept it on the down low. "I don’t need to tell people what charity I do," she said in a Vanity Fair interview. "I think it’s funny when people are like, this is my charity. It’s also not something to brag about. It’s a really devastating thing in the world."
Elizabeth Olsen signed on to take her Marvel role to the small screen
Soon after the announcement for the streaming service Disney+, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige revealed that an Avengers spin-off series featuring Scarlet Witch and the character’s superhero love interest Vision was slated to premiere on it. Elizabeth Olsen divulged to Variety that the show, titled WandaVision, will be set in the 1950s. "Paul [Bettany] and I are really excited," she added.
Olsen and Bettany have worked together quite a bit in the Avengers films, and it seems like they get along very well. And they’re even able to throw some playful shade at one another. For example, Bettany quipped in a BUILD interview, "It was very difficult working with Lizzy. I felt like I carried her the whole way through." And he meant literally, as he physically carried Olsen in scenes.
With Scarlet Witch’s rising status in the MCU, Olsen is being thrust even further into the limelight. While success is no doubt welcome, hopefully Olsen can balance the demands of her popularity with her need for privacy.
In 2019, Elizabeth Olsen got engaged to Robbie Arnett
While Elizabeth Olsen had been engaged briefly in the past, by 2019, she was ready to give forever-love another shot. That’s the year she accepted a ring from Milo Greene frontman Robbie Arnett, according to People magazine. Congrats, you two!
Olsen and Arnett had been dating for several years when they made the engagement official, first appearing in public together back in March 2017. The couple made their red carpet debut later that year at the Gersh pre-Emmys party, and they have been together ever since.
As for whether or not Olsen and Arnett will start a family, it’s unclear, though Olsen has said she could imagine children in her home. "I was also thinking, ‘There’s this small room upstairs, which would be good for a kid,’" she told Modern Living (via People). "I don’t know where things will lead, but I do think about it in that way: ‘I think I could raise kids here.’"