Spike Lee's re-imaging of Oldboy, the 2003 cult favorite dark revenge thriller is now in theaters. Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley, this intense update follows the journey of Joe Doucett, man suddenly who inexplicably finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room for twenty years, and what lengths he goes to in order to solve the mystery of "why" when he's suddenly released.
I had the opportunity to participate the in press junket for the film earlier this month in New York City, and was among the online reporters invited to this roundtable interview with Olsen, who stars as Marie, a nurse in a free clinic sympathetic to Doucett's plight. She talks about working with Spike Lee, her thoughts on this version of the film versus the original, and I managed to sneak in at the end what she is doing to prepare for her role as Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Here are some the highlights from the 12-minute Q&A session.
Had you seen the original film going into this? Or was this something you wouldn’t watch once you got the call to be a part of this one?
OLSEN: I read the script first actually. And then I saw the movie within the same day, I believe.
You read the script for Mark [Protosevich]'s version and then you saw the original?
OLSEN: Yeah, my first experience with the story was the script and that was enough to get me excited. Then I saw the movie and I was like "Wow! It's almost a perfect film," but to me it's just like retelling of like, you know, the relationships, the familial relationships in like Greek tragedies or something. You know, it's relationships and stories that continue for hundreds of years. I think it's not so much about like doing a remake but it's a great story that I have a feeling that people are going to try and retell again in another ten years, because if people haven't seen it, you think like, well it's a shocker and it will surprise you. And it's crazy. I think it will always have that kind of impact.
Why do you think this kind of film, resonates so much with people?
OLSEN: I think it's, I mean parts for me, when you become invested in characters and you think you know what's about to happen, you think you know that someone's going to get what they want at the end, and it all kind of just turns on itself, that's a shock as an audience member and it's fun. It's fun to be surprised in the movies. I mean even in movies when you know the endings like in, what's it called with Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale [Station], like you know the ending at the beginning of the film and the history. But for some reason you're watching that movie and you're thinking "Nope, nope, that's not going to happen. They're going to change it." So even those situations it's fun to, you know you’re still, maybe you'll be surprised. But this movie, you were surprised. You're shocked. You're like ‘What!?’ And that's how I felt, at least. I think that's how people tend to feel.
What it's like sharing so much on-screen time and having, you know, a romantic relationship on-screen with Josh Brolin. Though he's a dapper man and a great actor, he's much older than you.
OLSEN: Well Josh, we just get along great. It was probably weirder for him than for me because he has a daughter my age. So I am sure that was weird for both of them. He's like a big brother to me. We, and by the time like we had to do all that awkward stuff, that was way down the line of shooting and we were already like a family of the crew and psyched and um I don’t know. You felt safe in an environment, especially you know it wasn't something that was beat around the bush. Like Spike, first meeting: "What are we doing about that?" And I guess it's alright to talk about this now. It makes it easier and you know why you're doing it and you know how it helps the story and you know why it's important. So that's how I think of it. You know it would be different if it was just like for titillation or gratuity, but it has more of an impact at the end if people witness this kind of voyeurism, in a way.
So when he says to you how are you going to do that, was he really expecting you to choreograph the scene?
OLSEN: He just literally wanted to know details like what I'm cool with, what I'm not cool with. (Laughs) That’s all he wanted. You know he and I are both very direct people and the same with Josh. Like don't beat around the bush. Say it how it is. Tell me what you need. If this is what you're not getting, just say it. You're not going to offend me. And I think it's kind of we’re all kind of athletic in a way. We’ll respond to things that way. So that's how he directs and I appreciate that. He's just the most collaborative man or person I've ever worked with.
Sorry, this is a stupid question but you know I'm a non-actor. But as an actress, you know when there’s a film that you know where we’re trying to dodge around director friendship with a twist, you know, that you having read the script you're aware of it.
And your tasked with playing this entire film with Josh and playing it a certain way when you in the back of your mind are aware of other things that that viewers watching and your character are not supposed to be aware of.
How do you block that out? I mean, what's your process sort of like for that?
OLSEN: It's not so much like blocking it out. People you know, there's a reason why Marie when she first meets Joe, she sees someone that she can help that’s not going to ask for it but also I think she sees someone that she maybe inherently has some sort of a connection to... I think things like that you shouldn't ignore. I mean obviously it's easier to talk about it in this situation than it is in any other kind of interview. But I think you kind of embrace it in a way, and then, you just, you do. You just kind of like think about your linear story that you're telling. We usually don't know each other as strangers... But I think that kind of connection you have to someone has to be part of it because there is a connection.
Do you see this as one day being sort of referred to in the same breath as the “Bruce Willis is dead the whole time” in The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game twister? Do you see this on that level because I certainly do?
OLSEN: That'd be cool.
I have not seen the original.
OLSEN: That'd be cool. That'd be really cool. I mean that's the goal. That's the whole goal. Not a lot of people have seen the original, and it's a crazy story so let's tell it! If people haven't seen it, it's a twist. It's a great twist, and I love a twist, you know. Who doesn't?
Well, when you heard Spike Lee was directing this film, how did you feel? Because you know Spike has his own reputation?
OLSEN: Apparently he does and I was intimidated because he has some sort of reputation that has nothing to do with who he is. It's very confusing to me because the man is like only heart and loves. He has so much collaboration and is so open to everyone's opinion. I mean I don't really know what people think of him that much. But like this man is the key. He asked me. He asked me if I even liked my name in this script. We all together rewrote it with Mark, like it was we were all a team. It was the most collaborative thing in the world. And then you're totally taken care of. And the guy, the coolest thing about Spike directing this is you have this Korean very stylized film and if you are going to do an American remake, you need it to be stylized in a different way. And there aren't many other directors who can just turn on the TV, switch a channel, and you'd be like "Oh, that's a Spike Lee film. I can tell by its camera angle and by the color of the movie." Like that’s, Spike can do that, and there are very few people I think that and he does, so he's perfect for it.
Did he challenge you in any way?
OLSEN: Yeah, absolutely, I mean he's very specific. He’s like obsessively detail oriented. So he opens it up to you. In a way, he challenges you by like giving you the opportunity to make choices ‘cause sometimes he will make them for you. But he makes it a dialogue. And then there's just nit-picky things that he wants from you and you're like "You're serious?" It's like Pinterest or something. He makes fun of like "I’m gonna make you do it you know sixty-seven times," but like he still makes you do this one weird thing a lot. And you're saying "Okay well like you know what you're doing. I'm not looking. You're looking at the camera. I’m not," so you're just trust him.
So what other sort of changes did you make that you felt were important?
OLSEN: It was just things that we wanted to develop on. There weren't so many like changes as it was. You know, there's no hypnotizing in our film so my character, if you're going to do like play for play, in the Korean film, it all happens because everyone's hypnotized. You know, and not in our version, it's not. You have to have some sort of psychological baggage or background to make sense for these two people to come together. And so it was just always a constant development of that, you know. It's kind of like playing like Freudian games. Like what would make that happen in this person's life to add up that this other person coming into the space is someone she needs and that she'll learn from. So it’s just that kind of detail and then trying to do it without doing it in an obvious way and without like having like let's have an expositional moment. Those things are hard when you are like trying to keep things ahead of themself.
Have you seen the movie?
OLSEN: Not in its final form, no. I saw it in one of its earlier versions before like ADR and sound and color correction and things like that. But I think I more or less saw it, but not as pretty maybe.
So you think you’ll be like this with like your hands over your eyes?
OLSEN: I'm not going to lie to you tonight. It’s my first time I am going to a premiere and not sitting through a movie. I learned in Toronto that I really don't enjoy watching myself do those things in front of an audience and I'm tired. I finished a seven-week run of a play yesterday, and I just really just want to go home after doing my business at the premiere, and I'm moving and I'm tired.
Did you have to gain weight for the movie?
Because you're so thin in person.
OLSEN: It's the same body. [laughs] It's the same body, I'm telling you. It's so funny you said that because I have actually like a rule of thumb with that. When people know that they're about to like do a movie or a scene where they are nude or partially nude, they go on some crazy diet or do some crazy whatever. I think it's a little weird, you know. I mean, sure it makes sense you want to look good. I mean people want to look good for their wedding, you know. You want to look good if you know you're about to be photographed, but like the job is to always be on camera and you don't want to worry about that all the time. You know? It’s kind of exhausting.
So would you work with Spike again because you know that Brooklyn is his origin?
OLSEN: Well, he told me he wanted us to work together again and so I am going to hold him to that 'cause I’d love to do like a Michael Imperioli or Samuel Jackson and come back again. Yeah, I'd love that.
Sam Jackson had mentioned online a couple of weeks ago that he might be working with you again on a…
OLSEN: I don't know about worked together, but we'll be doing Avengers together. I don’t know if we’ll be doing anything together, though.
Are you looking forward to the Scarlet Witch?
OLSEN: Yes I have been becoming such a nerd about it. I am having so much fun right now. It's really, really fun to read those comics and get. It's just really exciting. The majority of the stuff isn’t relevant to what we’re going to be doing, but I'm loving it and it's a lot of fun.
Have you seen your costume yet?
No. I just know about it but it's not probably what people would expect.
Have you seen your costume yet?
No. I just know about it but it's not probably what people would expect.
You would make a real cool action figure.
OLSEN: Oh God, my brother would be happy about this.