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Elizabeth Olsen's Journey From Celebrity Sister To Scarlet Witch

In recent years, it's hard to deny the power over pop culture that Elizabeth Olsen has. The actress had been a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's supporting cast since 2015, but she came into her own with the 2021 Disney+ series "WandaVision," which centered on her character of Wanda Maximoff and became one of the most critically-acclaimed (via Rotten Tomatoes) projects Marvel Studios has backed. For most, however, Olsen's undeniable on-screen talent had been an open secret for years.

Elizabeth Olsen comes from a famous family, which includes two sisters who were the subject of tabloids throughout the 2000s. Thankfully, Olsen has avoided the pressures of nepotism to forge her own career in Hollywood, one that's seen her become somewhat of an indie darling with her work throughout the 2010s. Now in the 2020s, she's one of the biggest stars that Marvel has at their disposal, and her star won't be fading anytime soon.

Olsen wasn't always destined for greatness, contrary to what some might think. Her path to superhero success was hard-won, but she won't be knocked off it anytime soon, thanks to her dedicated fanbase and proven ability to command a screen with vulnerability and grace. To understand how Elizabeth Olsen made the transition from famous sister to one of the most formidable forces in the MCU, you'd have to start where any great origin story does: at the very beginning. 

Elizabeth Olsen is born into a famous family of Hollywood stars

By the time Elizabeth Olsen was born in 1989, her older twin sisters had already become breakout stars on TV. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were cast together in 1987, at only six months old, as Michelle Tanner on the ABC sitcom "Full House." Alongside co-stars Bob Saget and John Stamos, the two infants became early scene-stealers on the show, with their now-iconic catchphrase: "You got it, dude!" The twins continued to play the roles until the show's final season in 1995, by which point they had become the show's biggest stars.

It was into this world of success that Elizabeth Olsen was born, which made the future Marvel star well-acquainted with the world of television production. As she'd later recall during press junkets for "WandaVision," Elizabeth would make visits as a child to the set of "Full House" where her sisters worked (via Entertainment Weekly). Thankfully, Elizabeth also got her opportunity to brush shoulders with the show's other stars, such as John Stamos, who reminisced about meeting Elizabeth prior to the premiere of "WandaVision" (per WUSA9).

However, while most may be encouraged to enter a life in show business thanks to celebrity sisters, Elizabeth Olsen was intimidated by the prospect. As she explained in an interview with Sam Jones, she felt she had a lot to prove due to her association with her sisters, deciding that if acting was her career, she would put the work in and pay her dues. 

Her first on-screen acting role comes at an early age

Thankfully, Elizabeth Olsen didn't have to wait long to get bitten by the acting bug. Soon after "Full House" ended in 1995, her sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley transitioned to an extremely successful career acting in various TV shows and movies, often centered around them. One of these early projects was the 1994 TV film "How the West Was Fun," which follows the twins as they are summoned to a dude ranch by their mother's godmother. 

"How the West Was Fun" would also become the first on-screen role for Elizabeth, who was only five years old at the time. The role was a cameo appearance as a girl who gives the twins directions. It was quite an encouraging step for Elizabeth, who would often visit the sets with her brother after school (via SF Gate). By the time Olsen turned eight, she began taking acting classes and attending musical theater camp, though she eventually put it aside to focus on school and her extra-curricular activities. 

While appearing in her sisters' films was enough to drive a young Elizabeth Olsen to want to be an actor, she doesn't have much memory of it, as she told Jimmy Fallon in 2018. However, the spectre of nepotism still hung over her head, making the actor briefly consider going by the stage name "Elizabeth Chase" (Chase being her middle name), before ultimately deciding to not shy away from her family's legacy. 

Elizabeth Olsen pursues acting in New York and Russia

Though she initially applied to Ivy League colleges to pursue a higher education, Elizabeth Olsen ended up enrolling at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. There, she majored in theater, which gave her the opportunity to take classes at the Manhattan-based Atlantic Theater Company. Through this, Olsen had her first brushes with on-stage acting by booking understudy roles in Off-Broadway shows like "Dust" and "Impressionism," though she never got to fill in (via The New York Times).

These experiences, while perhaps disappointing for a young actress eager to get on stage, were her first step toward a career in Hollywood. Olsen ended up getting an agent through one of these roles, allowing her to start auditioning for movies and TV shows. Around this time, she took advantage of other opportunities at NYU and ended up spending a semester in Russia, where she took classes in Moscow Art Theater School. She spoke positively about the experience during an appearance on "Conan" in 2018, where she also taught Conan O'Brien Russian curse words.

She graduated from the institution in 2013, but by then she had already become somewhat of a rising star in Hollywood (via The Los Angeles Times) after booking several roles in between semesters. Fortunately, directors like Charlie Stratton had already caught on to Olsen's incredible talent in some of her early film roles, before she eventually became a full-blown movie star. 

In 2011, Olsen's film debut is well-received by critics

In 2011, Elizabeth Olsen made her film debut starring in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," a thriller from writer-director Sean Durkin. Olsen stars as the titular Martha, a woman who escapes a cult and starts living with her sister and brother-in-law, who witness her psychological breakdown over the course of several days as a result of the trauma she's suffered. Her co-stars include Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy, but Olsen clearly stands out as the film's centerpiece. 

This was quite the fortuitous performance for Olsen, who received quite a large amount of praise from critics. Notable film critic Roger Ebert pointed out Olsen's vulnerability in the role, her natural beauty, and her instinctive acting talents. It appeared as if Olsen's training at NYU and Russia had quickly begun to pay off, even impressing her fellow co-stars. Paulson told The New York Times that when she first met the then 22-year-old Olsen, "I felt like she was more mature and worldly than I am."

The experience was quite a daunting one for Olsen, however. She performed several nude scenes in the film, though she was comforted by the fact that the film's second assistant director, who was female, took over for the first AD during the shooting of those scenes (via MTV). Still, the intense role was a lot for Olsen, though she didn't hold on to many remnants of the character after the production wrapped. 

Elizabeth Olsen racks up film credits throughout the early 2010s

Elizabeth Olsen's performance in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" garnered her lots of critical attention, as well as nominations at the Critics' Choice Awards and Independent Spirit Awards. She followed up the film with four projects throughout 2012, all furthering her burgeoning status as an indie movie darling. Among these projects was the thriller "Red Lights," which saw her sharing the screen with Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, and Sigourney Weaver. "Silent House," a horror movie, yet again put her front and center. 

Olsen rounded out 2012 with two films that were much different from her previous three (per The Guardian): "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" was a comedy with Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, while "Liberal Arts" saw her playing the young romantic interest of writer-director Josh Radnor. Still, what all of these films had in common was showcasing Olsen's unique acting prowess, which only continued to become more impressive with each role. 

In 2013, Olsen starred as Edie Parker, the wife of Jack Kerouac, in "Kill Your Darlings," a biopic about several Beat Generation writers starring Daniel Radcliffe and Jack Huston. She also appeared in the 2013 remake of South Korean film "Oldboy" alongside Josh Brolin, although many critics found it inferior to the original version. The 2013 romance "In Secret" found her in the throes of on-screen love with fellow future Marvel star Oscar Isaac, though it wouldn't be long before Elizabeth Olsen found herself bringing her charisma to major Hollywood studios. 

Olsen makes a brief return to her first love: theater

Elizabeth Olsen's success in indie films continued into the early 2010s, including a nomination at the BAFTAs in 2013 for the EE Rising Star Award, which pitted her against Andrea Riseborough, Juno Temple, Alicia Vikander, and Suraj Sharma. Though Olsen lost the award to Temple, it was nonetheless further proof that she was being recognized all over the world for her growing body of film work. However, that same year, she went back to her theater roots in a role that many actresses dream of playing. 

Olsen played the coveted role of Juliet in a 2013 Off-Broadway production of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Classic Stage Company in New York City. The show had broad ambitions, given that it opened at the same time as another Broadway production of William Shakespeare's most famous play, which starred Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in the titular roles (per The New York Times).

The show was vulnerable to some criticism, particularly in its interpretation of some of the play's biggest moments, and The New York Times noted that Olsen herself seemed limited to just two emotional states throughout the course of the show. Nevertheless, playing the role of Juliet is quite an achievement for an actress of any caliber, though it also remains Elizabeth Olsen's last appearance in a theater role. 

Her first blockbuster pairs her with a future on-screen sibling

By the time 2014 rolled around, Elizabeth Olsen had decided to branch out from making indie movies and move into big studio productions. As Olsen later found out, studio executives had assumed that the then-indie darling wasn't interested in becoming part of a blockbuster franchise (via The New York Times). That all changed when director Gareth Edwards cast her in one of 2014's most highly-anticipated projects: a reboot of the "Godzilla" franchise.

The 2014 "Godzilla" starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a U.S. Navy lieutenant and Bryan Cranston as his father, with Olsen playing the wife of Taylor-Johnson's character, as they all get caught in attacks from the iconic titular monster. The film received positive reviews from critics (via Rotten Tomatoes), with Grantland critic Alex Pappademas praising the director's restraint and subtle callbacks to Godzilla's storied canon of Japanese films.

Though Olsen's introduction to blockbuster territory was long overdue, it coming in the form of a "Godzilla" movie was a surprise to the actress, according to an interview with ScreenSlam. But she had been impressed with Edwards' previous work and was excited for the fresh take on the franchise, while staying true to its origins. Strangely, however, the film had her kissing the actor who eventually played Wanda Maximoff's twin brother in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Elizabeth Olsen makes her official MCU debut in 2015

Elizabeth Olsen technically made her first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," during a post-credits scene which introduces her as Wanda Maximoff and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her twin brother Pietro. The two characters made their official debut the next year in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," where Pietro is subsequently killed and Wanda is accepted into the Avengers. Olsen's casting initially threw off critics, who felt that Marvel was whitewashing a typically Roma and Jewish character from the comics (via The Atlantic).

However, it didn't take long for Olsen to win over any doubts the public had about her. She reprised her role in "Captain America: Civil War," which depicted the early stages of Wanda's soon-to-be romance with Vision, played by Paul Bettany. The two later played prominent, albeit tragic, roles in "Avengers: Infinity War," while Wanda also got to kick Thanos's butt in "Avengers: Endgame." 

Though Olsen's performances in these films were more supporting than front-and-center, the groundwork was slowly being set for her character to have a big presence in the MCU. During press for "Captain America: Civil War," Olsen relished the idea of Wanda "being a wild card" and somewhat of a threat to the other, more well-established heroes (via IGN). Nevertheless, the character's growing strength throughout the films would also coincide with Olsen's own career outside of the MCU. 

Olsen's superhero gig doesn't pull her from indie films

In-between her ventures in the MCU, Elizabeth Olsen never lost touch with the indie gold that made her an attention-grabbing star in the first place. Following her debut in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Olsen starred alongside Dakota Fanning in "Very Good Girls," a drama written and directed by Naomi Foner, although the film was subject to negative reviews for its poor screenplay, according to one review for Variety

Some of Olsen's other, smaller projects found her sharing the screen with some other alumni of the MCU. "I Saw The Light," a 2015 biopic of Hank Williams, starred "Loki" actor Tom Hiddleston as the country artist with Olsen playing his wife and fellow musician Audrey Williams. The 2017 crime film "Wind River" also reunited Elizabeth Olsen with Jeremy Renner, who played Hawkeye in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Captain America: Civil War" alongside her. 

Starring in Marvel movies didn't compromise Olsen's desire to act in indie projects, as she told IndieWire in an interview promoting the 2018 Netflix film "Kodachrome." Though she felt every film deserved a theatrical release, she thought a smaller-budget film like "Kodachrome" was perfect for streaming platforms. Nevertheless, her commitments to Marvel did hinder Olsen from taking on certain roles she wanted, particularly one in Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Lobster" (via The New York Times). However, the projects she did pursue would certainly be worth her time. 

Ingrid Goes West puts Elizabeth Olsen on a chaotic viral press tour

"Ingrid Goes West" premiered in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was acclaimed for its dark, witty screenplay. Elizabeth Olsen stars as Taylor, a social media influencer who is stalked by Aubrey Plaza's titular character, Ingrid. Eventually, Ingrid embarks on a mission to befriend Taylor, which ends up with Ingrid going to horrifying lengths to keep her obsession with Olsen's character a secret from those closest to her. Olsen received credit from critics for her work in the film, although most of the acclaim was saved for Plaza's wild, committed performance. 

The real draw of "Ingrid Goes West" wasn't the film itself, however, but its two stars. In support of the film's release, Olsen embarked on a lengthy press tour with Plaza, which spurred many viral shenanigans. Aside from plenty of off-the-rails interviews with the two actresses, the biggest viral stunt came at the film's Los Angeles premiere. In a sort of homage to their characters, Plaza showed up to the red carpet wearing an identical outfit to Olsen, who was delighted and shocked by the prank (via Vanity Fair). 

Fans of both actresses have since clamored for a reunion, which Olsen and Plaza have both supported. It may be on its way sooner rather than later, as Aubrey Plaza has been cast (per Variety) in "Agatha: Coven of Chaos," the "WandaVision" follow-up starring Kathryn Hahn's villain. 

Sorry For Your Loss finds Olsen at her most vulnerable

2018 was a big year for Elizabeth Olsen. Not only did the actress do her most gripping work yet as Wanda Maximoff in "Avengers: Infinity War," but she also executive produced and starred in her first TV drama. The show, "Sorry For Your Loss," premiered on Facebook Watch and starred Olsen as Leigh, a widowed woman learning how to move on after the premature death of her husband, who ironically happened to be a comic book artist.

The show's first season received rave reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes, particularly for Olsen's engaging and heart-wrenching performance. A second season premiered in 2019, which received even further acclaim (via Paste) for its portrayal of Leigh's complicated family dynamics, with sparks flying between Olsen and her co-stars Kelly Marie Tran and Janet McTeer. 

For Olsen, working on "Sorry For Your Loss" was not only a personal, vulnerable job, but necessary for her to get excited about acting again. As executive producer of the series, Olsen came out of the experience with a better idea of what she wanted from a work environment, as she told Variety. Like a woman navigating her way through grief, "Sorry For Your Loss" helped Olsen find a new direction in her career, just when she thought it was getting stale. 

WandaVision explores familiar territory with a Marvel flair

In 2021, Elizabeth Olsen was tasked with the heavy duty of kicking off the MCU's highly-anticipated Phase Four, coming off the heels of the box office smash hit "Avengers: Endgame." The project was the first MCU Disney+ series, "WandaVision," which promised to be one of the more unique entries in the billion-dollar franchise. Unique it was, finding Olsen's Wanda Maximoff creating a false reality, stylized after eras of TV sitcoms, where she still gets to be with Paul Bettany's deceased Vision. 

The series was a homecoming for Olsen, who spent her childhood visiting the sets of her older sisters' sitcom glory. "WandaVision" tested not only Olsen's dramatic prowess as a superhero trying to use her powers to overcome grief, but also her comic timing in the vein of Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Bowen. The series' first episode, which was reminiscent of sitcoms like "I Love Lucy," was actually filmed in front of a live studio audience, which Olsen compared to her past experiences with stage acting (via Indiewire). 

The success of "WandaVision" paid off extremely well for Elizabeth Olsen. The actress became the first to be nominated for her performance in a Marvel project, garnering an Emmy nomination for her work in the series. It also skyrocketed the popularity of her character not only in the MCU, but in the comic book world (per EW). 

Elizabeth Olsen pens a children's book with her husband

"WandaVision" premiered on Disney+ in January 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which some publications found compelling due to its narrative about a woman escaping her trauma through television (via The New York Times). However, the existence of a pandemic didn't make Olsen any less productive. Not only did she spend much of the height of quarantine finishing production on "WandaVision" and starting work on "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," but Olsen also got to enjoy married life. 

The actress eloped with her now-husband, musician Robbie Arnett, just before the first COVID-19 lockdown (via People). During their time indoors, the two decided to collaborate on a project outside of their usual territory: children's books. In 2022, they released the first entry in a series they hope to make more of: "Hattie Harmony: Worry Detective," which centers on a young feline girl who helps her friends overcome anxiety, fears, and social pressures. 

The book features illustrations by Marissa Valdez, who will hopefully reunite with Olsen and Arnett for future additions to the "Hattie Harmony" literary universe. Perhaps there's even a future for the character on-screen, which would certainly be a delight not just for children, but for all fans of Olsen's work. 

Olsen finally embodies the Scarlet Witch

In 2022, Elizabeth Olsen brought her newfound success from "WandaVision" to the big screen with a major role in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." The film was helmed by Sam Raimi in the director's triumphant return to comic book movies, and all advance word seemed to indicate that, despite Benedict Cumberbatch's character having his name in the title, Wanda – as the Washington Post suggested — would steal the show. By the time it was released, that prediction came to fruition. 

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," however, was controversial among Marvel fans, according to The Wrap, particularly due to its portrayal of Wanda. In the film, the character is consumed by the evil power of the Darkhold, which she acquired at the end of "WandaVision," transforming her into the ruthless entity known as the Scarlet Witch. While it was a great vehicle to showcase Olsen's acting ability and ownership of the character, many fans felt distanced by the villainization of the character. 

Nevertheless, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" proved that Olsen was the newest star of the MCU. Unfortunately, the fate of her character seems to be in jeopardy after the tragic ending of the film. But fans of Wanda shouldn't be too scared about the character's future, given that Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige seems confident that this is far from the end for Olsen's tenure as an MCU mainstay (via Variety). 

Elizabeth Olsen's heel turn continues into 2023

Hopefully, fans of Elizabeth Olsen's career thus far aren't fed up with seeing her play the villain. The actress is posed to take on a role that may even challenge the darker aspects of Wanda Maximoff with her upcoming HBO limited series, "Love and Death." According to EW, the show finds Olsen taking on the role of real-life axe murderer Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who in 1980 allegedly murdered her neighbor, whose husband Candy was having an affair with. 

The first sneak peeks of the series have already given audiences insight into how chilling Olsen's portrayal of Candy is going to be, in particular her interactions with her lover, played by Jesse Plemons (via Yahoo). Understandably, it was this kind of character that Olsen was hungry to play, telling Jimmy Fallon in 2022, "I just played an axe murderer, and I love her." 

Nevertheless, the reign of Elizabeth Olsen over pop culture is far from over. The actress has a bright future ahead of her, whether it's in the Marvel universe, intimate indie films, or children's entertainment. But one thing is certain about Elizabeth Olsen's career: probably no one anticipated this level of media dominance would come from "Girl in Car" from "How the West Was Fun."