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MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

At Lucy and Ted's House
For Martha, there could be no greater contrast than between the life she was leading at the farm and the new one she finds herself starting at her sister Lucy's lake house in Connecticut – where the materialistic world of ordinary ambition that the cult avoided is very much in evidence. While both seem like family situations on the surface, Martha finds no comfort in either one.

She might turn to her sister Lucy out of desperation, but she really doesn't trust her, or her new husband Ted. Playing Lucy, who goes through her own roller-coaster journey as Martha's would-be savior is Sarah Paulson, well known for her television work on such series as "American Gothic,” "Deadwood” and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

Paulson wanted to allow the character to be simultaneously caring and flawed. "Lucy has the best intentions but she just doesn't really have many people skills,” observes Paulson. "She's probably better with strangers than she is with her own family and at the point that Martha calls her, she hasn't seen her in years. Martha coming to live with her is just incredibly fraught. She doesn't really know where Martha's been. Her husband's never met her. And here Lucy is trying to have a baby and her sister comes along having clearly experienced something no one can understand.”

Paulson admits she was unsure at first of what to expect from Elizabeth Olsen, but was instantly won over. "She really wasn't at all what I expected,” she says. "She is the most down-to-earth, smart, funny, quick to laugh person. She was very refreshing. She was able to go through all the intensity of this role and yet not take herself too seriously. She had to do scenes in freezing water, naked in front of strangers, and she doesn't ever complain. She's so spontaneous and so present, I could act with her for days. I think she's pretty spectacular.”

For Paulson, one of the biggest challenges was holding back her natural reactions to what Martha is going through, and letting Lucy's stand-offish emotional caution, born out of long-troubled family relations, hold sway. "My instinct with Lizzie was to touch her and tell her everything's going to be OK, but that's not Lucy,” she notes. "I usually like to pay attention to my instincts but in this case I had to kind of sit on them a little bit. And then I thought, well maybe if I allow myself to have the instinct but then don't act on it that would come across as something interesting for Lucy.”

This restraint comes to a head in the climactic scene where Lucy and Martha battle it out. "We both were very concerned about making sure that we were giving each other what we needed,” Paulson says of the scene. "We did one take where Lizzie was amazing. It was just wild. Lizzie being the actress that she is really upped my game. The whole film was an incredible experience.”

Perhaps one of the most difficult experiences of the film came in shooting the scene where Martha joins Lucy and Ted in the most unlikely of places: in their marital bed. Durkin says nailing the tone of the scene was a challenge for all three of the actors. "It's such a crazy event, it's hard to wrap your head around how someone would react,” he muses. "At first, we didn't know quite where to go performance-wise, but in the end, I think Sarah, Lizzie and Hugh made all the right choices. We just kept asking ourselves ‘Is this the most honest reaction?'”

Honest reactions were also on the mind of Hugh Dancy, who plays Ted, the hard-working New Yorker looking forward to a stress-free vacation to a start a family with his wife when her very oddly behaving sister suddenly shows up. Dancy, who also stars this year as a Victorian doctor in HYSTERIA and as a New Age artist in OUR IDIOT BROTHER, was drawn to Durkin's script.

"I loved Sean's writing,” says Dancy. "It's very subtle, very graded. I found the relationship between Ted and Lucy very convincing and it was interesting to see how when Martha arrives into this family unit she views them as everything she's been taught to look down on. That could have been made really stark, but instead, Sean wrote it in a way that you really sympathize with these people. They just want a reasonable life, a conventional life of ordinary aspiration.”

Working closely with Paulson, he felt their relationship had a visceral life of its own. "They fought to have a relationship and it's not perfect, but there's real affection and they're reliant on each other,” he observes.

Still, Martha's influence begins to weigh heavily on their marriage, and drives the usually affable Ted towards outbreaks of anger and dismay. "Ted is a good man and a good, supportive husband to Lucy, but with the arrival of Martha certain cracks begin to appear in his certainty,” explains Dancy. "There's a slight bullying tendency in Ted and that becomes darker not only towards Martha but towards Lucy as well. Thankfully, Sean brought so much subtlety to it. Ted is not really a terrible person, he's not a creep, he just behaves intolerantly at moments as the movie progresses.”

He goes on, "The challenge for me was to pinpoint these moments and kind of put that single drop into the water and let it disperse and never completely color the performance too much in any one direction.”

Dancy says that his co-stars created an atmosphere in which that kind of nuance was possible. "I felt so lucky to be part of such a warm, tight unit,” he summarizes. "We all felt safe to put ourselves out on the line. I was especially impressed by Lizzie Olsen because she plays such an incredibly difficult and traumatized character yet she showed so much maturity, intelligence and skill. As for Sarah, it was clear right away that she was going to be great in this role and she was.”

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