Mary-Kate Olsen’s E-birthday card. This article was originally posted at the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy
Few people know the real Mary-Kate Olsen, but actress Elaine Carroll has given the web the Mary-Kate the world dares to imagine. Carroll’s Mary-Kate has a “normal body temperature of 62,” wonders if heaven is like the Soho House and tweets such intimate secrets as: “my favorite color is clear, my favorite flavor is bland, my favorite food is invisible pie.”
After the jump, the Very Mary Kate creator on teaching Mary-Kate to drive, what famous cartoon character inspired her impersonation and what works in web video, along with a few embedded webisodes.
Since January, Carroll’s web series Very Mary Kate has quickly become a viral hit, garnering hundreds of thousands of views on Vimeo and YouTube and a few thousand followers on Twitter. Twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, Carroll offers viewers a brief glimpse into the life of Mary-Kate and her slightly more put-together twin Ashley.
“I wanna finish my education. It’s part of being a grown-up. I want to major in ponies,” Mary-Kate says in one episode, having parted ways with Ashley in an earlier episode by moving into the “26-bedroom, two-bath” apartment next door.
The web has known numerous celebrity impersonators — from Iman Crosson‘s Obama to VenetianPrincess — but very few actors and directors decide to serialize their creations. Twitter has known numerous “fake celebrities” (now accounts are verified) and several people have done it in blog form, but it seems the demands of video production — costumes, good acting, etc. — has made it less desirable as a web series concept (though let’s not forget 00bama). Of course, celebrity sketch parody is almost as old as television itself, dating back to Laugh-In and Saturday Night Live in the 1960s and 1970s; celebrity impersonation as an art form has always existed concurrently with celebrity itself.
Carroll has been making original videos for the web since 2004, when YouTube was just a twinkle on Chad Hurley’s desktop. In college she and fellow thespians formed comedy troupe DutchWest and started posted videos online at Dutchwest.tv. That work produced a couple of viral hits, landing them on TBS’ now-defunct Super Deluxe, Atom and eventually Comedy Central. She’s also done acting work with CollegeHumor and Babelgum.
“DutchWest was the way we figured out how to do what we’re doing,” Carroll said of learning what makes a web hit. “The shorter, the better. Basically that.”
Her version of Mary-Kate grew out of a screen test she did for SNL two years ago. A professional impersonator, Carroll found impersonating the Olsen twins keenly delightful and wanted a way to keep doing them. So she started writing episodes. Each episode takes no longer than an hour to shoot, and Carroll edits them herself. A friend of hers designed a simple website using Tumblr and her boyfriend, CollegeHumor’s Sam Reich, designed the logo.
Why Mary-Kate and not Ashley? “It was really just an arbitrary choice,” though Mary-Kate is likely the most public of the two – with her much-publicized eating disorder and her alleged connection to Heath Ledger, Carroll said. From there, Carroll created fictionalized versions of the stars. Carroll plays Ashley as more down to earth, worldly and bubbly, whereas Mary-Kate is a little more “blah.” If you believe Olsen little sister Elizabeth’s tweets, she’s dead-on, and for what it’s worth, Carroll is a fan.
“You can kind of compare Mary-Kate to Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh,” Carroll said. “She doesn’t really know what’s going on, does not have it together, trying so desperately to become an independent woman but just does not understand the world in which she lives.”
Carroll is thinking of ways to grow the series. She is toying with producing longer episodes, which currently clock in about one minute, making merchandise to sell or creating a more interactive experience. A music video or special 30-minute episode distributed through iTunes is possibly in the works. While she would like to start making money from the series, she’s unsure if sponsorship or branded entertainment — one of the main ways web series bring in cash — is the right way to go for the series.
But Carroll is also working hard offline, performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles and auditioning for mainstream film and TV work. She was cast in a film, The Good Doctor starring Orlando Bloom set to come out next year, and recently shot her second pilot, a sketch comedy show from Fox called Naked But Funny.
Despite her commitment to publishing online and her success in the medium – the series has already been nominated for Logo’s NewNowNext awards alongside Chatroulette and “Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber” – Carroll says she will need to take a break from the hustle of filming Very Mary Kate.
In the meantime, what’s in store for our drug-addled heroine? “I want to find a way to bring Mary Kate to Los Angeles with me. I want her to learn how to drive, get into a relationship,” Carroll said.
“I was even toying around with the idea of her becoming a Scientologist.”
Here are a few episodes. See the story from the beginning here.