By Sara Vilkomerson
Updated October 21, 2011 at 04:32 PM EDT
Credit: Drew Innis/Fox Searchlight

Martha Marcy May Marlene opens in theaters today, after riding an almost year-long wave of film-festival buzz. Writer/director Sean Durkin’s terse and tense thriller has been earning high marks from critics, but what everyone seems to agree upon is the star-making performance by Elizabeth Olsen.

Olsen (younger sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of Full House fame) has been hailed as the Next Big Thing almost from the moment people first saw the film at January’s Sundance Film Festival (where Durkin won the U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama). “It’s very weird … and very cool and exciting,” says the 22-year-old of all the attention, though she shakes her head with a smile when the inevitable Oscar talk comes up. “It’s sooo early — I just don’t think you can talk about anything like that. Like at Sundance when people would be like, ‘Elizabeth Olsen is coming out! She’s the new It Girl!’ and then as the festival went on [and other actresses were discovered] it was like ‘and she’s the new It Girl’ — ‘No, she’s the new It Girl.’ I was like, yeah, you speak too soon!”

“There were six young women that got a lot of great attention at Sundance. Which is really cool,” she continues. “There’s this thing when people are amazed when young women are making choices that are substantial. It shouldn’t be that weird.”

And get ready to see more of Olsen: in addition to completing her degree at NYU’s Tisch School (she even left the Toronto Film Festival early in order to attend the first day of classes), 2012 is slated to see the horror film Silent House; the thriller Red Lights (co-starring Robert De Niro); Liberal Arts with Zac Efron and Richard Jenkins; and Very Good Girls, about two best friends (Olsen and Dakota Fanning) who vow to lose their virginity and end up falling for the same guy. (Trivia alert: the two actresses attended the same California high school, though they graduated in different years.) “What I love about [Very Good Girls] is that it feels so real,” says Olsen. “It shows the love of two girls and how they’re family. And it’s about the time when you figure out why it’s important to be honest.”

Meanwhile, Olsen is excited for audiences to finally see Martha Marcy May Marlene. From the moment she read the script, she says, “I was like, when can I audition? Reading it was so exciting. I tend to fall asleep reading all the time and this was one of those times when you just don’t fall asleep.”

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