Throughout the first season of Facebook Watch’s “Sorry For Your Loss,” the series returns again and again to the same shot. It locks onto the face of lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, allowing her face to express what words could not. As Olsen’s preternaturally wide eyes peer beseechingly into the lens, the audience is invited to gaze directly into the face of grief. In the process, some find solace for their own pain, and they, too, feel seen.
The 10 episode, half-hour drama features a transcendent Olsen as Leigh Shaw, a young widow trying to find her footing in the months after her husband’s death. Shaw is surrounded by family who are bending over backwards to try to make space for her immense grief, while also finding ways to mourn the loss themselves, making for a searing examination of both the mundanity and tragedy of death.
For Olsen, the journey began long before Facebook Watch was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, when she came across the script written by playwright Kit Steinkellner and found the words registering directly on her wavelength.
“I had just gone through a transition in my personal life, not a death but a loss,” Olsen said to IndieWire in an interview. “I felt broken at the time, but the funny thing is that the loss became so irrelevant by the time we started shooting that it was no longer my connection to the script.”
Given the three years over which the series was developed, with Olsen signed on not only to star, but also serve as an executive producer, her understanding and internalization of the material began to evolve. She read articles, she read and reread Joan Didion’s memoir of loss “The Year of Magical Thinking.” And then things changed.
“When the time came to cast, I wanted to be the reader for the callbacks,” Olsen recounted. “It was really funny, it was one of those things where it’s just, ‘Wow, I’ve been reading this pilot for such a long time, and I’ve never been able to say it out loud.’”
“And I just dropped into her, because of all of the years with the script and developing story and pitching and talking about these characters. All of that led to a lot of simple connections that allow you to make impulsive [character] decisions day-to-day,” she said.
Olsen wasn’t the only one who felt as though she’d dialed into the character’s DNA. After meeting Olsen for the first time, Steinkellner found herself believing in something otherworldly. “I didn’t have an actress in mind when I wrote this part,” Steinkellner told IndieWire. “I know it’s going to sound a little ‘woo-woo’ but I just felt like I was channeling this person. She just came to me fully formed. It was just this human.”
“But when I met [Olsen] and we sat down on the same couch and talked, pretty early on I had this crazy feeling in my gut,” she continued. “I was like, ‘Oh God, I wrote this part for you without even realizing I was writing this part for you.’ I don’t like really believe in magic, but maybe I believe in it a little tiny bit and the part of me that believes in it was all lit up inside when I met her.”