Elizabeth Olsen's Marvelous Journey From Mary-Kate and Ashley's Little Sis to Emmy Nominee

Nominated for her first Emmy for Disney+'s WandaVision, Elizabeth Olsen has stepped out of her famous sisters' massive shadow to become a force to be reckoned with in the MCU and Hollywood.

By Tierney Bricker Sep 16, 2021 4:00 PMTags
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Given their diminutive stature, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sure do cast a massive shadow. But it's one Elizabeth Olsen has stepped out of, becoming a force to be reckoned with as an actress and an Avenger. 

Elizabeth, 32, is nominated for her first Emmy for her work on Disney+'s beloved WandaVision and it was her bewitching performance as the grief-stricken Wanda Maximoff—or Scarlett Witch if you're into that sort of thing—that helped land the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first TV series a whopping 23 nominations. Not bad for a character some fans had initially written off as ancillary in the MCU.

Then again, defying expectations is something Elizabeth has been doing her entire life—literally. By the time she was born in 1989, her older sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, now 35, were already household names, thanks to their shared role as Michelle Tanner on the hit ABC sitcom Full House

The twins quickly parlayed their sitcom success into an impressive empire, starring in TV shows and movies under their own production company, as well as launching their own product and fashion lines, magazine and toys. They were running a billion-dollar company by the time they turned 20.

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And Elizabeth was always there, whether on-screen or off. She first appeared in 1994's How the West Was Fun when she was just 4 years old and then popped up in several of The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley video series—perhaps most memorably, Mary-Kate and Ashley singing "B-U-T-T Out" sang to little Lizzie when she tried to accompany them on one of their investigations. 

But appearing in her older sisters' projects was Elizabeth's version of day care, not the real start of her acting career.

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"The one thing that people say that annoys me is, 'It's her first time working since doing her sisters' videos,'" Elizabeth explained to Nylon in 2011. "When I was younger, my brother and I were both in the videos because there are four kids in my family, so after school my parents would take us to the set so we'd all be at the same place. So while I was on set [Mary-Kate and Ashley] would be like, 'Hey Lizzie, do you want to be in this, since you're already here? They'd be like, 'Can we put gum in your hair?' And I'd be like, 'OK.' So it always bothers me when people are like, 'Why did you decide to start acting after your short acting stint when you were five?' I'm like, 'I don't even know what you're taking about."

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Despite Mary-Kate and Ashley's extraordinary fame, Elizabeth attended a private school in Beverly Hills from the ages of 4 to 17, where it wasn't all that unique to come from a well-known family. 

"The weird thing is that everyone's family was a part of this industry," Elizabeth told Nylon. "Everyone is always like, 'What have you learned from your sisters?' But it didn't really have to do with my sisters at all. Like, my best friend's father [Rick Baker] is a makeup-artist with seven Oscars! Another one of my friends, her family created Days of Our Lives."

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While she was attending school, Elizabeth also did musical theater and was enrolled in acting and singing lessons. Occasionally, she went on auditions, but she almost quit acting at the age of 10 after going out for Spy Kids and being chastised for not reading the script ahead of time. Her father, David Olsen, asked her to write a pros and cons list before making her final decision. 

"What's really cool about my parents is that they've always been the same way with every person in our family," she said. "If you change your idea of what you want to do it doesn't matter as long as you give it your all. If you actually care about something, then you should try to be the best version of yourself in that situation."

Spoiler alert: She chose to continue acting, even though she had no romantic notions about the career path she was embarking on. 

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"It was always very clear that acting was a job," Elizabeth said. "I never had this twinkly fantasy of people taking photographs of me. It was a job and work and there are different ways of drawing attention to yourself that you don't want."

And even at a young age, Elizabeth was aware of the word every celebrity's offspring and relative hates: Nepotism.

"During that time, I thought, 'I don't want to be associated with [Mary-Kate and Ashley],' for some reason," she admitted to Glamour UK in April, revealing she almost used her first and middle name as a stage name to distance herself. 

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"I guess I understood what nepotism was like inherently as a 10-year-old," she explained. "I don't know if I knew the word, but there is some sort of association of not earning something that I think bothered me at a very young age. It had to do with my own insecurities, but I was 10. So I don't know how much I processed, but I did think, 'I'm going to be Elizabeth Chase when I become an actress.'"

After attending New York University (NYU)'s Tisch School of the Arts, during which she took classes at Atlantic Theater Company, Elizabeth went on to secure several understudy roles in off-Broadway and Broadway productions, admitting to Nylon that she went through "a phase when I first got into college where I was thinking if I don't get a manager or agent, I'll ask the girls [Mary-Kate and Ashley] to help me. I was OK with that idea, but I never needed it."

And she didn't, ultimately securing an agent on her own in 2009 (though she did get her New York real estate license, just in case).

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But it wasn't until the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that the world truly discovered the third Olsen sister, thanks to her breakout performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene as a woman who escapes a terrifying cult. Critics quickly crowned Elizabeth their new darling, Hollywood had its latest ingenue and the media dubbed her an overnight success.

"My dad is so funny, when all the Sundance reviews were coming out and they were like, 'It Girl of the festival!' 'Came out of nowhere!' 'And she's an Olsen sister!'" Elizabeth recalled to Nylon at the time, "My dad would be like, 'Don't they know you've been doing this your whole life?! These people should be writing that you have been working on this forever!'"

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Those people began making up for lost time as Elizabeth earned nominations from the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards—with many believing she deserved an Oscar nod—and racked up roles in acclaimed indies such as Kill Your Darlings and Ingrid Goes West, as well as blockbusters like Godzilla, and, yes, The Avengers, making her debut in 2015's Age of Ultron.

Despite joining the most successful film franchise of all-time, Elizabeth managed to maintain a low-profile—she secretly married her longtime love Robbie Arnett earlier this year, breaking the news herself in June—something she learned how to do from her notoriously private and elusive sisters.

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"There are always ways you can be private—my sisters are intimately private and I respect that," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2018. "They showed me that you can be private, but also accessible to journalists, for those reasons. It's helpful that I learnt my value system from them."

And that's not the only valuable career lesson she's learned from Mary-Kate and Ashley.

Disney+

In January, when asked on the show Off Camera with Sam Jones about a mantra or rule that she learned from her family that still holds true in her life today, Elizabeth responded, "Something my sisters always say, which might have come from my father at one point...it's that 'No' is a full sentence.'"

"I really liked that, especially as a woman," she continued. "You can just say, 'No.' And I just really like that in all aspects of life."

Just consider it her superpower.

WandaVision is streaming on Disney+.

Visit E!'s 2021 Emmy Awards page for a recap of TV's biggest night.