Avengers: Infinity War star Elizabeth Olsen’s movie career has always kept her busy enough, but when she read the pilot for this half-hour drama about a young widow whose husband’s death leaves her reeling — and running back to her mother (Janet McTeer) and sister (Kelly Marie Tran, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) — she immediately wanted to make time for it. “Grief is such a unique, universal experience,” explains Olsen. “I just thought this was a really beautiful and funny way of discussing something we all have to deal with, which is how to move on from losing people we love the most.”
Below, the actress, who also serves as an executive producer, talks diving into many firsts — her first lead TV role, her first time producing, her first time pitching — to make Sorry For Your Loss.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This project marks your first TV role. What drew you to it?
ELIZABETH OLSEN: Three years ago was the first time I read the pilot, which was written for an hour-long show. I’d never done TV, but I was asked to join as a producer, and I was interested in it. I like to play characters that are kind of outside of myself, but this felt like something that was pretty close to home, just on character temperament and personality. I felt like I knew her.
About a year after that, we started creating a pitch — [executive producer] Robin Schwartz, [creator] Kip Steinkellner and I. We developed it with Showtime, and then we moved it to Facebook, and that was last summer [laughs] so it all happened very quickly. And we only had one episode but all of a sudden by January we were creating our team.
You went from developing it at a premium network to pitching over at the nascent Facebook Watch and becoming their starriest show yet. What was that like?
It’s been interesting, especially because part of our pitch, we would quote [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg. She gave a speech to a university and she was discussing grief and growth after the death of her husband, and we quote her in our pitch, and it ended up being this really interesting [connection]. And Facebook is a social community where, even if people say, “Oh, we don’t really use it that much,” they still use it for reasons of birth and death… It’s this odd, perfect little combination of what this show is about.
Tell us about your character, Leigh.
She is a very type-A personality, someone who is a perfectionist at heart, and is very disciplined and determined person, and it’s hard for people to take care of her. [Laughs] That contradiction was entertaining to me. I just think that there are lots of ways that people relate to grief and a big life change… The person who had the huge loss, no one could ever put themselves in their shoes really. Yet everyone can connect to this type of story.
Of course, not everyone has a family dynamic quite like Leigh’s.
Yeah, it’s a funny combination of a few elements. Janet’s character [Leigh’s mother, Amy] is this ultimate mother hen who’s this strong and independent woman who wanted a second kid and wasn’t married at the time and decided to adopt Jules, Kelly’s character. Jules has just finished a stint in rehab and paid rent toward her mother because she can’t afford to live anywhere else, and because of the death of her husband, Leigh is also at home, because she doesn’t want to return to the apartment that she shared. So these two adult women are back in the house with their mother.
Both you and Kelly worked on this while also starring in two of the biggest franchises — for you, the Avengers films; for her, Star Wars. Did you two relate on that level? What was it like even finagling your schedules?
I don’t even know how we got everyone’s schedules to work out last minute on this show! [Laughs] We got really lucky with the cast. We tried in the casting process to find the best actor for the job; we didn’t know what cultural backgrounds we wanted them to come from. We didn’t care. Kelly is a really grounded and incredible person, and really dynamic to watch, and it was always nice to go from these big movies to more intimate projects, so I think we enjoyed it.
Mamoudou [Athie, who plays Leigh’s husband, Matt] and Jovan [Adepo, who plays Matt’s brother, Danny] are having incredible success in their careers as well. So the four of us, we were all the same age — we’re all 29, Jovan and Mamoudou are ’88 babies, and Kelly and I are ’89 babies — and I’d never been on a job with so many people my age, so it was just really fun for us. [Laughs]
Again, Sorry For Your Loss marks several firsts for you: The first TV show you’re leading, the first time you’re producing, not to mention the first time Facebook has collected so many big-screen stars for an original series. What has been the most challenging aspect of all of this? And would you want to do more TV now?
It’s just been the wildest learning experience, because I enjoy being part of the producing aspect; it’s about bringing people together. We have an incredible director of photography, we have an incredible crew and amazing guest directors, and it’s such a highly functioning set. That was the thing that was so important to me, for people every day on the crew to be enjoying their jobs and feel valued.
What I didn’t realize is how vocal I was going to end up being at every step of the process [laughs]. I happen to be someone who has always been very opinionated — any director who has worked with me would know that — and being a producer, you end up being opinionated about every aspect of the job. So it’s just been the most fun job I’ve ever had, and I would love to do it again. I love television and I love long-form, so I would do both things over again. Absolutely.
Sorry For Your Loss debuts Tuesday on Facebook Watch.