Next week, Mary-Kate Olsen will attend the annual awards ceremony for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, where she and her sister Ashley have been nominated for women’s wear designers of the year. They recently graced the cover of Vogue’s best-dressed issue and have received critical acclaim for their line The Row, which has grown to be part of their billion-dollar business.
But somewhere on the Web, another Mary-Kate Olsen is asking: “Who caaaares?”
This is Very Mary Kate, a web series-cum-viral sensation that has turned an unknown actress into a cult comedian—all at the expense of Mary-Kate Olsen. The series grew out of an audition for Saturday Night Live in 2008. Asked to come with impersonations of a few celebrities, Elaine Carroll, now 30, brought in her best Mary-Kate: thick blond wig, body pitched slightly forward, and her mouth turned into a Grinchian sneer. As she recently tweeted, hers is a facial expression best illustrated by the emoticon :}.
Though Carroll didn’t get the part, she took the skit online and created Very Mary Kate, now in its second season, which chronicles the (fictional) life of the actress. Carroll portrays the star in a constant state of semi-somnia, navigating the trainwreck of her life. She falls asleep on a dime, has a talking cat, and is never without a juice cleanse, a Trenti latte, or a purse full of prescription pills—“I take these when I want to go to sleep,” she says in one episode, pulling a bottle out of her purse. “I take these when I want to wake up. These I take when I go shopping so I don’t overspend. These I take when I go online shopping so I remember my credit card information. These I take to just, like, not die.”
Now, VMK has almost 40,000 Twitter followers, and her videos have gotten ++7 million++ views on YouTube alone. (The real Mary-Kate has no Twitter account and maintains a low profile online.) Very Mary Kate’s thousands of fans submit pictures of themselves doing her signature stance: hands flexed in front of their chest, eyes squinted, eyebrows raised. A pair of U.S. soldiers have submitted their best impressions, as has an entire team of high school cheerleaders.
As she’s portrayed on VMK, Mary-Kate is simultaneously hilarious, oblivious, and deeply depressing; constantly circling the drain. But the real Olsen couldn’t be more different. Well beyond her addled NYU appearance and beyond the fashionable-bag lady look, the real Mary-Kate is now a successful adult. Online, though, she’s still a caricature. Isn’t, we had to ask Carroll, the entire conceit a little dated? “Of course!” she says. “She’s not even in NYU anymore. It’s definitely a dated impression. It’s not a real world. [The real Mary-Kate] is the CEO of her own company with her sister. Mary-Kate Olsen is not Very Mary Kate at all.”
Carroll says Very Mary Kate is a work of fan fiction—the art of giving an easy-to-tease celebrity a life of his or her own. This is a gimmick she’s pulled on several other stars: among them Maggie Smith as Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess, Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris in Mad Men, Kate Winslet (“crying and soaking wet in every movie she’s in”), and Anne Coulter just being herself (“she has an interesting way of saying, ‘You lied, you’re a liar!” Carroll says.)
Though Carroll has yet to land a gig on SNL, she keeps going back to audition every season. “Before I was an unemployed actor, and now I have a little bit of recognition,” she says of how Very Mary Kate has changed her life. “I didn’t realize how empowering it was to create something yourself rather than sitting around a waiting room, auditioning for something that never really came through.”