Maria Olsen is an actor, casting director, director, and producer from Los Angeles, California. She’s played many roles, and appeared in Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, and Folklore among many others. She is also acting in and producer of Slash, currently being directed by Rycke Foreman. His associate producer is Miranda Foreman. Both are known for their great magazine 69 Flavours of Paranoia. Slash is a slasher movie that sounds as though it is set to take the film industry by storm. The story explores the nature of reality and fantasy. Maria met me at The Slaughterhouse were we talked about horror and the forthcoming Indie release.
Do we live in an enclosure and to what extent is horror an enclosure that reflects our consciousness?
Yes, I believe we all live in enclosures of our own making. We all place boundaries and limitations upon ourselves, and we all feel most comfortable living within the “known”, in our own comfortable little space. When we venture out beyond these confines, we like to label some of the experiences we have out there “horror”.
What one person sees as “horror”, though, is another’s “comfortable little space”, so our own, personal horrors always reflect our own consciousness as they also reflect how we deal with the world, with the known and with the unknown.
As an Indie director what do you feel is needed for the industry to free itself from the censoring shackles of Hollywood?
Although I have nothing against the studio system, I do feel that the films that are being produced on that level consist of far too many remakes, next installments in huge and once-popular franchises and – their latest craze – “enhancing” older classics with 3D technology and re-releasing them. I much prefer living among the trees in Indiewood – a term coined by the amazing filmbiz entrepreneur Tom Malloy – where the stories are, for the most part, fresh and cutting edge and the enthusiasm and pride in achievement, genuine. I don’t know, however, if the two will ever truly meet because Hollywood is an industry – a business – where, as with all businesses, the make or break line will always be the financial bottom line, while Indiewood is a place where stories still get made for the sheer joy of it, even though money obviously does still factor into the process.
How does the image differ from the word and is a script a bridge?
The word is written by the writer while the image is created by a team: the director, the DP, the set designer, the wardrobe department and others equally as talented. The word is one dimensional – although it itself does invoke a picture in the reader’s brain – while the image is two dimensional, and appeals to more than one sense.
A script is a collection of words where each individual word is placed in a specific context by those around it. It is this context that helps words transform into images and that gives the creative team attached to a picture the vital clues showing how the word should be translated into the image.
Tell us about Slash.
Rycke Forman has written, and will direct, a story about two step-brothers trying to find their own identity in a world where a dark Ripper-esque killer stalks and kills members of a theater company. It appears that it’s only a matter of time before our heroes Cade and Trench are on the kill-list unless, of course, one of them is the killer…
Technically, Slash will be unlike anything seen before, and this is not just an empty boast; it’s because new 3D techniques are going to be used in the film. Slash is a fever dream of a story that hangs onto its secret of who the killer really is until almost after the end credits have rolled.
To what extent does the uncertainty and fracturing of identity set against the backdrop of theatre play a part in the film?
I think that the fact that Slash plays out against a backdrop of a show going through Hell Week reflects the story’s increasing tension: as we approach opening night and the chaos that ensues, so we approach knowing who is behind all the chaos. It also becomes apparent that, throughout the story, people are playing two roles in real life, which also echoes the goings on in the theater where people take on another persona the minute they set foot on stage.
These are, of course, subtle themes within the story of Slash, and they are not written so that an audience is hit over the head with them. It is, after all, the objective of all theatricals to be as lifelike and as unobtrusive as possible…
How has your work as an actress influenced your vision as a director?
Up till now, I’ve only directed for stage and not screen; my screen directing debut will come soon, however, with the promo short film for Phoenix Cross’s horror feature Slaughterbox. But directing is directing, and I’ve found that being an actor before I became a director helped me incredibly as it gave me an insight into the actor’s needs and situation that I would otherwise never have had.
Also, when I direct, I can “see” the story both as a whole and point the point of view of one particular character; and when I say “see”, that’s literally what I mean as I can, for instance, change the leading lady’s dress color in my mind’s eye and see how that change would affect an entire scene. I have a very visual mind…and I’ve found that this is another invaluable tool in my director’s arsenal.
Do you think horror works by playing on those parts of the psyche that exist in displacement, all those characteristics that people tend to push away, and alienate from themselves, so they do not recognise them when they see them?
Yes, horror very much works with those emotions that we, in polite society, like to shun and lock up in a small corner of our minds. Horror is also a lot more emotionally intense than other genres, and no holds are barred in showing the depths to which one can sink.
Acting in horror is also more intense than acting in other genres – here horrific villains need to find it within themselves to believe what they’re doing is right or else their performance won’t be believed – and Piper Laurie reputedly balked at the intensity required of her for the role of Mrs White in Carrie, but look how wonderful that turned out!
If horror dealt with the emotions that we show in real life, it would be called drama…
Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced you as an actor?
I’m going to be answering that as two separate questions.
The event that changed my life as an actor was moving to Los Angeles in 2005. I grew up in South Africa and, although I participated in every stage show that would have me, I could never get ahead in the film world because the town I grew up in was very far away from SA’s fledgling film community. Once I moved to LA, though, I quickly found my feet on the stage and then moved on to what I had wanted to do since I was a child: act in films.
I wouldn’t, on the other hand, say there was one particular event that influenced my acting career. I grew up watching many leading ladies in many films in South Africa – Jane Fonda, Kathleen Turner, Sigourney Weaver, Jodie Foster among them – and, after each film I saw, I wanted to grow up to be whatever they played in the film. One day, though, I worked out that i wanted to do what they, as actresses, did and not what they, as characters, did…and this changed my entire outlook on my future.
Tell us something about Maria Olsen no one knows.
Something about me that nobody knows is that, for a long time when I was young, I wanted to grow up to be the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning : )
What advice would I give to myself as a young woman?
“Everything will be ok in the end so there’s really no need to analyse everything to the nth degree and stress so much” : D
Thank you Maria for an informative and perceptive interview.
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