Elizabeth Olsen On Singing Badly, Badass Marvel Women & Tom Hiddleston

Brian Patterson/REX USA.
This story was originally published on Sept. 13, 2015, after I Saw The Light premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is now in limited release.

In the Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light, Elizabeth Olsen plays Williams' first wife, Audrey, a woman ambitious on both her husband's behalf and her own, even though her singing skills are not quite on the same level as his. Olsen costars with Tom Hiddleston, another fellow Marvel star who is also acclaimed for his work in indie films. Oh, and they are also rumored to be dating, which meant that their appearance together on the Toronto International Film Festival red carpet premiere Friday set tabloid tongues a-wagging. Only, Olsen told Refinery29 that they are not an item. During our chat at Toronto's Byblos restaurant Saturday, we began by comparing notes on the Los Angeles high schools we attended, then discussed Olsen's portrayal of Audrey and how she feels about criticism of women in the Marvel universe. I didn’t know really anything about Audrey. She bucks a lot of what we've come to expect in these biopics in terms of the so-called "wife" characters. What first drew you to her? "The first thing that drew me to the relationship was how passionately they hated each other and how passionately they loved each other. I think the way [writer/director] Marc [Abraham] wrote the dynamic of the marriage and their dysfunctional relationship was very honest. It wasn’t judgmental. That was something I found very interesting. I really love characters that people assume you’re supposed to not like and then defending them." In movies, we often see the wife as holding a genius back or suffering. Audrey does neither of those things. "No, she was his business manager. She was making the phone calls. The truth is, Hank was one of the most talented songwriters that we’ve ever had, but he had no business savvy whatsoever. I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. They had just done this big exhibit about Hank Williams and they had all of these things that they’ve kept on behalf of the family that actually weren’t part of the exhibit, and they allowed me to see all these family collages. She had all of these pages and pages of the top ten songs of the week, she would highlight and circle any time it was Hank’s song or a song he wrote that someone else sang. Even after their divorce she still was doing it." Was she still working for him? "No. I think what happens is, when you come from a place of not having a lot and then you have someone within your family become some sort of — and I’m not saying this is in reference to my own family at all — but for this family, when you have someone who becomes such an icon... This is what I also experienced because I played [writer and Jack Kerouac's first wife] Edie Parker for three scenes in Kill Your Darlings, and the rest of that woman’s life was spent teaching lectures on the Beat poets. And that’s kind of nuts. So the rest of Audrey’s life, before she passed [due to] alcoholism, was spent trying to still have a singing career and she was trying to get Hank Jr. to have a singing career and she threw him out there, she even threw her daughter Lycretia out there. That was the kind of woman she was, and I know that’s what she becomes. But, all I wanted to do was show her compassion and empathy for being in such a tumultuous relationship with a man who was an artist first and foremost." So you wanted to focus on her romantic relationship with him? "Not so much that. I just wanted to defend her. I still wanted her to be the strong woman she was, to compete with her mother-in-law. Because she did. Everything you read about this woman was pretty much unlikable — except her daughter, Lycretia, had beautiful things to say about her." That’s funny because I liked her a lot. "Because you want to give these people respect. Because they existed and they are not here to defend themselves, you want to just give them as much respect as you can. As an actor, my job is to get behind a character fully, and if that means some people in the audience end up liking her, that’s great. My favorite thing about Jill Soloway characters is that they are people who maybe you don’t want to be friends with, but you root for them. They might be unlikable, but you still really care, and that, to me, is really interesting storytelling." Are you a big Transparent fan? "I love Transparent. I love Afternoon Delight. I would love to work with her." Are you a singer at all? Did you have to train yourself to sing poorly? "I love singing. I would never say I was a singer. I’m not going to come out with an album any time soon." Would you do a musical? "I would love to do a musical. I can't sing musical theater songs, though. I don’t have that kind of voice. Like, Patsy Cline is like my range. I don’t really go beyond that. It was actually really fun to just figure out how bad she can be without making her seem like a complete idiot or show that Hank's a complete idiot. Like, what's that balance so that people in the music industry would be like, she's bad, and then a general person might be like, she's not that bad. Because when you listen to her, she's kind of horrible and then eventually because I listen to her so much, my dialect coach and I were like, "I think I kind of like her singing voice for some reason." It became kind of endearing in a way." I want to go in a slightly different direction. When Avengers: Age of Ultron came out, there was a lot of talk about Black Widow — criticism of how her infertility storyline was treated. As the person who plays Scarlet Witch, another female Avenger, how do you see the state of these female characters in the universe? How did you react to that discussion? "I thought it was all kind of ridiculous, to tell you the truth. I think her calling herself a 'monster' because she felt incapable of being a full woman is allowed. I don’t think people should judge that. I actually think they write amazing women. I think the women exist on their own. I think if there ends up being a love interest for any of them, it's not making them a love interest in a story. It's just part of humanity. Everyone is trying to find a mate. That’s kind of just how the world has been created. So for a superhero to not want that is kind of strange. Like, why are you cutting off the fact that there's another part to them? It's like, okay, so what? Female CEOs and CFOs aren't allowed to, like, have a husband and get married and have a baby? I don’t understand. So, for me, I love the way they write my character. I love what happens." How does that develop during Captain America: Civil War? "She's in a place where she has nothing, and she's in conflict about what she thinks she should be doing, and where she is, and who she is. I get to continue to play a kind of wild card. That’s awesome for me. That’s a great position to be in for one of those films." There have been a lot of links between you and Tom Hiddleston, about you two dating. I don’t know if that’s something you confirm, but how do you feel — "I mean, we definitely are friends and we've known each other for about four years. And we happened to be at a restaurant at a wrong time having dinner. We all go out to dinner." How do you react when you see that in the press? "Well, apparently, I'm dating Chris Evans, and apparently, I've dated Jeremy Renner, so I guess that... I don’t react to it." So you're not dating Tom?

"No. I mean people can think what they want to think."

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