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Elizabeth Olsen Wins Best Actress at Ghent Film Festival

Elizabeth Olsen

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" director Sean Durkin tells THR the 22-year-old actress nailed the part in her first reading.

Elizabeth Olsen picked up the best actress award for her role in Martha Marcy May Marlene at the 38th Ghent Film Festival in Belgium, it was announced Wednesday.

Olsen, who has generated early Oscar buzz with the role, was not on hand to collect the honor, but Martha director Sean Durkin was on hand to accept on her behalf.

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After the ceremony Durkin said Olsen will be extremely happy to hear about the award and that he cast the 22-year-old actress because he wanted a fresh face in the lead role.

“I wanted someone I’d never seen before,” he said of Olsen, who is the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. “I saw so many people. So many great actresses came in but no one was specifically right.”

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He added that despite an arduous search for the lead, he knew immediately that Olsen was what he was looking for. In the film Olsen plays a young woman attempting to reconcile with her family after leaving a cult.

“I didn’t always know what I wanted her to be,” he recalled. “Even though she was fleshed out in the script, an actress’ interpretation is everything. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn't want. Elizabeth came in and from the very first read she was amazing.”

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The director added that despite her young age Olsen impressed the cast and crew with her maturity.

“She is really focused on her training,” he said. “She wasn’t focused on anything else because she is such a hard worker. For me it was amazing working with her, and all the other actors felt the same way. She was 21 when we shot and she just blew everyone away with how professional and prepared she was.”

The awards were handed out by the Ghent fest’s jury at the city’s historic city hall. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Elena received the Grand Prix for Best Film, while Norway’s Issaka Sawadogo took the best actor prize for his role in the Belgian drama The Invader.

Early in the ceremony, Israeli director and jury member Eran Riklis drew a laugh from the crowd when he told veteran director Norman Jewison – who was sitting in the front row – that he worked as a gaffer on Jewison’s 1973 musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which shot in Israel.