Inside the cult of ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’

John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen are teacher and student ... and then something more, in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which is in theaters now.

You’d think that celebrated actor John Hawkes, 52, and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen, 22, might lack a rapport after having shot a number of fiercely awkward scenes in their new film, “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” The former plays the charismatic leader of a small cult in the Catskills and the latter plays one of his newest followers — for whom he has both a paternal and somewhat romantic affection. Fortunately, the two actors are plenty comfortable talking about all of their strange and disturbing on-screen moments together.

The cult initiation scene is especially tough to watch. What’s the most difficult part of filming something like that?

Hawkes: One of the creepiest things about that was that there were rats in that little spot, and I really dislike rats. We were all hoping — [to Olsen] perhaps not you, because you were on the ground — but that one would just kind of run through in the background. And that’s the thing. Another actress could’ve been really beyond difficult. Maybe even un-shootable. But Lizzie was so — I think you were just so green you had no clue.

Olsen: I had no idea. I was like, “You want me to do what? OK.”

Hawkes: She was really game and courageous.

One of the most fascinating things about the movie is the cult itself. Did you work out a backstory for the group?

Hawkes: I think that [director Sean Durkin’s] approach wasn’t to be obtuse for that sake — but more that it’s the most interesting way to tell the story. That’s part of the haunting aspect of it, that it’s not all answered for you and there’s a lot of room for you to fill in details. It’s a satisfying thing having it that way rather than having it all sledgehammered into your head.

The real ‘It’ girl

Liz, so much press for this film has discussed you as being the new “It” girl. Since you’ve been exposed to fame from a young age with your sisters [Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen], do you think you’ve handled this attention differently than an outsider would have?

Maybe. But it’s not just my family. It’s also growing up in L.A. and having lots of my friends, their parents being professionals in this business as well, in all different aspects. I never thought of acting as the carpets and the glitter or whatever. I always thought of it as work.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

National

Divers struggle in search for South Korean ferry…

By Jungmin Jang and Narae KimMOKPO/JINDO, South Korea (Reuters) - Rescuers struggled with strong waves and murky waters on Thursday as they searched for hundreds…

National

New Hampshire moves to decriminalize adultery

For the first time in hundreds of years, it's about to be legal to cheat on your spouse in New Hampshire.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Music

Both feet on the ground with Aimee Mann…

What began with a cool double-bill of Ted Leo opening for Aimee Mann morphed into a full-fledged collaborative project that they're calling The Both. “There…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.