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Scarlet Witch: Elizabeth Olsen on the secrets of super-twins in Age of Ultron

An on-set Q&A : ‘Her reality isn’t what everyone else’s reality is.’

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Jay Maidment

The first thing you need to know about Scarlet Witch is she already knows what you’re thinking.

Elizabeth Olsen’s new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Avengers: Age of Ultron is one half of the Maximoff twins. Wanda can harness destructive supernatural energy, pry into people’s minds, move objects with telekinesis, and generally vibrates on a different spiritual plane than the rest of us. Her brother, Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver, can move so quickly and forcefull yyou don’t even see him.

He’s physical — she’s mental. Both defend each other in different ways, or at least try to. In the comics, they were the children of Magneto, but since he’s locked up in the film license of X-Men with rival studio 20th Century Fox … that backstory has been changed.

What writer-director Joss Whedon says he likes about the Scarlet Witch is that her powers aren’t “punch-y powers.” She knocks people down in different ways, usually by finding the thing inside their heads that trips them up. 

When Entertainment Weekly sat down with Olsen on the set, she talked about studying the comics with her brother, learning about twins from her two celebrity sisters, and changing Scarlet Witch’s traditional hyper-sexualized costume into something a little less … otherworldly.

Entertainment Weekly: As a newcomer to the Marvel universe, what’s the hiring process like to join an Avengers movie?

Elizabeth Olsen: I met with Joss, and vaguely knew the characters we were meeting about. No one told me. I just knew it had to do with the next Avengers, and they were introducing two new characters, and that was all I knew.

Are you a comics geek, or new to that world completely?

I’m a big nerd. I’m a huge fan of everything Marvel. I have so much fun watching these films, and I’ve always my whole life been interested in how films like this were made. Whether it was fantasy, or comic books, it’s something that I looked up to growing up as a little girl. It’s a crazy experience to go to set and watch people blow things up, or transform cities. My brother’s a huge comic book nerd, so I was raised with comics being on such a high pedestal because he would collect them every single week.

Is he older, or younger?

He’s older. He’s 30… Oh, sh-t, he just turned 30!

Just? Did you miss his birthday or something?

[Laughs.] I just missed his birthday! That’s what happens when you’re on location. My brother is five years older than me, but I always looked up to him, so whatever was cool to him was cool to me.

So after your meeting did you go to him and say, ”What can you tell me about Scarlet Witch?’

I did after I met Joss. I always say things to my brother, like, ‘I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk to you about this, but…’

They make you keep things secret even from your brother? Wow.

Well, I get so nervous. The blogs, the fanboy blogs, actually know some truth to things that are going on when nothing has been released. It’s so odd, and my brother reads all of those things. So he always has like a hundred theories on what is going to happen to these franchises. So it’s kind of fun to talk to him and hear what he thinks is going to happen, and … then I have something maybe to offer the next time we talk about it!

Scarlet Witch’s abilities are magic-related, and most of what we’ve seen in the Marvel universe so far have been technological powers, like the Iron Man suit, or Captain America’s super-soldier serum, and the Hulk. How do you define her skill set?

She’s able to go inside people. Inside their minds, in a way. This sequel has a lot to do with not just the exterior of things, but where it all comes from. Like everyone’s greatest weakness, or their heart, or their spirit. And I think that is my strength. My character is able to do the reverse of just the exterior, if that makes sense.

Were there any Scarlet Witch story arcs or particular graphic novels that you read that you would recommend? Not necessarily because the story mirrors them, but just to get inside the head of Scarlet Witch?

My favorite is The House of M, just because it almost gives you an end place of the character. Scarlet Witch just goes completely bonkers. So that entire series to me is so fun, because you get to see the highest and lowest point of her strength. That was my favorite, because it’s so extreme.

She’s not the most stable human being, right? What is it about her? She’s not mentally ill. It’s more that her mind is … dispersed, maybe? Overwhelmed by her abilities?

 What I get out of the comics, the reason she’s so special is because she has such a vast amount of knowledge that she’s unable to learn how to control because no one taught her how to control it properly. So it gets the best of her. It’s not that she’s mentally insane, it’s just that she’s overly stimulated. And she can connect to this world and parallel worlds at the same time, and parallel times.

And the future, and the past.

Yeah, in my mind, I just think she’s being stimulated by so many things in so many moments, and she has to learn how to control it, that it overtakes her. It’s almost as if her reality isn’t what everyone else’s reality is. It’s things that are happening all over the place. And it gets skewed in her mind. And that’s just so f–king cool.

How would you describe the relationship between her and Quicksilver? Obviously they’re brother and sister, twins…

They’re like the closest you can get. They’re the only thing that matters in the world. You see in the comics, every time you see an image for them, they’re always holding each other’s hand and looking over each other’s shoulder. They’re always so close, it’s almost uncomfortable. Aaron and I have been playing a little bit with those kinds of images just for ourselves, because we think it’s nice for them to have that tight, that real tight union.

You mentioned that she’s scattered. Is Quicksilver a grounding presence for her?

I think she’s a grounding presence for him as well. My understanding of twins is that they always balance each other out. When one’s high, the other one’s low. When one’s sick, the other one’s healthy. That happens, I think, a lot more often than not when people are really close as twins.

I guess you grew up seeing a lot of that, right? [Her other siblings are former child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of Full House.] 

[Laughs.] There’s a thing called ‘mirror twins,’ also. When one would have an ailment on one part of the organ, the other would have the ailment on the opposite side of the body or something. There are weird things that people call mirror twins. Like a freckle here, or a mole here, or whatever.

I’m not sure how often she’s even called “Scarlet Witch” in this movie. Does she think of herself as that title, or does she think of herself as Wanda?

I play Wanda Maximoff.

It’s interesting with hero codenames, like, do the characters even like to be known that way. Steve Rogers, for example … I don’t think he really likes to be called “Captain America.”

[Laughs.] Probably not, but I bet Tony Stark likes to be called Iron Man!

[Laughs.] “I am Iron Man” is kind of his thing.

I guess it depends on ego.

Scarlet Witch has a pretty wild, glammed-out costume in the comics. Like a crown, and a one-piece Borat-style bathing suit. The look in this movie seems very, very different …

One of the things Joss told me is, ‘Just so you know, when you go back and look at the comics, please never pay attention to what she’s wearing, because that’s not what we’re doing.’ I was like, ‘Thank God!’ The movie costume is just kind of how, maybe, pedestrian clothes come together if you’re just walking down the street snapping things from one vendor to the next. There’s not too much effort put into it. [Laughs.] But there is, obviously, for a costume designer.

It’s Age of Ultron week at EW.com. Check back for more exclusive Q&As from the set of the new Avengers movie.

MONDAY: 

Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige on gray Hulk, super women, and saying goodbye

TUESDAY:

Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. on the perils of superhero burnout 

Chris Evans wonders … Is Captain America a virgin?