The world is filled with notable Olsens. There’s Jimmy, from “Superman.” Susan, who was Cindy on “The Brady Bunch.” Mary-Kate and Ashley, of course. And, increasingly, their younger sister, Elizabeth, an indie-movie darling (“Oldboy,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) turned Marvel franchise star as Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch in the “Avengers” movies.
Olsen returns to her indie roots as star and executive producer of the half-hour drama series “Sorry For Your Loss,” premiering Tuesday as one of the first longform shows on the streaming service Facebook Watch (available on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV). After the death of her husband (Mamoudou Athie), young widow Leigh Shaw (Olsen) finds herself dealing with hollow, well-meaning condolences and society’s expectations of grief. Janet McTeer, Kelly Marie Tran and Jovan Adepo also star.
Olsen, 29, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, reprises her Marvel Cinematic Universe role in the untitled fourth “Avengers” movie due out in May. She spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
What made you want to spend 10 episodes embodying the terrible trauma of this kind of grief?
The reason I wanted to get behind the project as an actor but also as a producer was because I feel loss is something inevitable and in everyone’s life. It’s something I think can be a bit of a taboo subject, and something we’re supposed to move on from or forget. And I don’t think that’s what actually happens. [Family and friends] stay with you, and you don’t know how to react with them anymore. It’s really exploring what happens to people and families when there is something that’s such a huge loss.
But you’re so young. From where are you drawing the kind of grief that’s not “Oh, my grandmother has died” but “my husband has died”?
I think everyone has a backpack of trauma that they carry around. They have to adjust the way they walk through life based on the weight of that backpack. When you lose someone who’s so significant, all of a sudden it gets a lot heavier. And that’s how I think about this character and this story and this journey for her.
Not to be glib, but your life and career appear to be really successful and trauma-free.
I don’t think anyone’s life is trauma free. [Laughs.] Everyone carries a lot of secrets around with them. Especially actors.
An article in March about “Sorry for Your Loss” called it a dark comedy, and so now Wikipedia calls it that. I’ve seen the first few episodes and that doesn’t seem an accurate description.
I think that happened because we hadn’t written the season yet, and we were thinking that it would be a dark comedy and it ended up being more sincere than that.
That’s good. I was afraid I wasn’t getting the joke.
Right, no, it’s a drama. It brings some humor to situations where people are experiencing these extreme situations of depression and loss and grief. But it’s not a dark comedy.
Are there parallels between your role as Leigh and your role as Wanda? Because in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Wanda sees her romantic partner [the android known as] Vision die.
I never even thought about that. . . . I think the difference specifically is that [Wanda] has to kill him and then [after Vision is briefly resurrected] she has to watch him be murdered. There’s something really extreme about that! I think the difference with “Sorry for Your Loss” is that there’s a lot of anger toward the unknown, and [Leigh is] really frustrated and angry, and there hasn’t been anything that’s impacted her in this way, so this is her first time needing to do that work. An older person, someone who’s lived another decade, might be able to handle it differently — maybe more maturely or calmly. But she is just angry and frustrated, and she doesn’t care if she’s not doing the right thing.
With both Leigh and Wanda, their eyes are like they’re carrying the weight of the world. . . . How much of that weight in their eyes are the characters and how much is you?
I think it’s a combination. I mean, part of our jobs [as humans] is existing and trying to be better people — have some sort of self-awareness of how we come off and how we treat others. It’s a lot of analysis of yourself and what makes you a person. . . . You get to really dive into it when you’re working on things that have to have high stakes, and in the Marvel movies everything’s the highest possible stakes you can imagine. It’s almost unimaginable, so you have to make it as personal and as close to yourself as possible and play a lot of “what if?” games.
Elizabeth, you sound wise beyond your years.
I don’t think so — just a lot of therapy. [Laughs.]