At 85, the award-winning actor is preparing for her directorial debut and starring in a new movie. She talks about Trump, feminism and the accident on The Exorcist gave that still leaves a bitter taste

‘It’s startling !” Ellen Burstyn isn’t talking about her war with a demon in The Exorcist. Nor is she recalling her battle with amphetamine addiction in Requiem for a Dream. Rather, as I sit down opposite her, she is talking about the current US president.

He has become an inescapable topic, especially in New York where we are, but for the 85 -year-old, his reign has an added sting. Burstyn was not only a vocal partisan of his predecessor but was a visible part of Barack Obama’s campaign.

” I was so happy and delighted for this country that we finally had were allowed to step over the line into some kind of reasonable stance and then it rebounded direction back the other way ,” she says.” But I recall the Russians did it, don’t you concur ?”

Throughout our exchange, Burstyn often asks for my opinion, and then listens with fortitude to what I have to say. We are in her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. Filled with diverse adornments, trifles and furniture signalling a life filled with travel, it seems well-suited to the topic at hand, given that we are here to chitchat about her new movie. The House of Tomorrow stars Burstyn as an idiosyncratic woman who maintains a geodesic dome home with her teenage grandson, played by Asa Butterfield. Their lives are led by the teachings of designer and futurist Buckminster Fuller, who, in reality, was close friends with Burstyn.

” The head, Peter Livolsi, sent it to me not knowing I was associated with Mr Fuller in the past ,” Burstyn says.” It was quite by collision .”

Ellen Burstyn in The House of Tomorrow. Photograph: Shout Studios

It is Livolsi’s feature-length directorial introduction and I imagine it must be intimidating to target relevant actors of Burstyn’s experience. After all, she has worked with Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin, Oliver Stone, Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan. It was Burstyn who was responsible for getting Martin Scorsese to direct her 1974 comedy Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore .

” I adore brand-new directors ,” she says. When she opted Scorsese to direct Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, he was a relative newcomer.” I wanted to find person new. When I think about it now, what I’ve always been attracted to is that their flair hasn’t been mashed hitherto. It hasn’t gotten adulterated by experience so it’s just fresh. As soul once said, whatever can go wrong will go wrong when making a film, so I’m prepared for that .”

Not many actors know as well as Burstyn about what can go wrong on a establish. When stimulating The Exorcist in 1972, an accident left her on crutches for the rest of the production. As she recalls the incident, she was plucked on to the floor with a cable during a scene where she is slapped by her demonic child, Regan.

” I said:’ He’s attracting me more hard .’ Billy[ Friedkin, the film’s director] said:’ Well, it has to look real .’ I said:’ I know it has to look real but I’m telling you, I could get hurt .’ So, Billy said:’ OK, don’t pull her so difficult ,’ and as I turned away, I felt him signal the person and he crushed me on the floor. I expected Billy to scream gash. Instead, I insured him touch the cameraman’s limb to move the camera closer and I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Through my screams, I said:’ Turn the fucking camera off .'”

Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Photograph: Mondadori via Getty Images

The memory still leaves a bitter taste. It carries even more power in a climate where the irresponsible behaviour of directors is being re-examined following Uma Thurman’s story of mistreatment by Quentin Tarantino during a car disintegrate on the set of Kill Bill.

” That got bad experience ,” she says.” I don’t feel that I was complicit in it because I told[ Friedkin] not to do it. When I think about it now, why weren’t there pads on the floor, why weren’t there pads on my back ?”

She underwent “all kinds of” therapy for the rest of production. Friedkin did not apologise, either then or since. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he disavowed she was seriously affected.” I’m sure she was hurt by the fall – you fall on your backside, it’s gonna hurt- but she wasn’t injured ,” he said.

While the experience might have left its mark, Burstyn’s time in the industry has been devoid of the sexual harassment that many of her peers have knowledge.” I’ve always been treated pretty well ,” she says.” I’ve had a got a couple of knowledge; there have been a couple of dumb guys that I worked for early on. But for the most part I’ve always been respected. When I was a model, that wasn’t true. Before I became an actress, when I was 19, 20, I had to handle some situations that were ugly .”

Was she well understood female peers suffering at the sides of other sexual predators in Hollywood?

” The only person I never heard narrations about like that was our chairperson ,” she says, although she doesn’t reveal any specifics.

She finds Harvey Weinstein “sick” and the allegations against him “flabbergasting” but is optimistic about the” seismic transformation in the consciousness” and the opportunities that girls are now being offered. She recalls Wonder Woman is” a incredible movie” and praises” all those women warriors” in Black Panther.

Early in Burstyn’s career she made an important choice about how she would be viewed as a woman in Hollywood.” It came to me, I could have a career based on my gazes ,” she says.” But if I did, it would be a very short career and that I’d better not rely on that. So, I went to[ Lee] Strasberg and I studied the art of playing. And it induces me so happy to be 85 and still working .”

She turned down a lot of capacities early on because they didn’t fit with how she wished to be seen.” I is ready to portray females as heroes because that’s what they are ,” she says.” Women were either rascals or spouses who remained dwelling while their husbands went out to save the world. Or they only prostitutes. Or they were victims. I wanted to embody a woman as a hero, so those were the portions I was looking for. After a while, I couldn’t do that any more. You get to a phase where work is welcome .”

Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. Photograph: Allstar/ Cinetext/ Artisan Entertainment

She tells me she regrets turning down the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but remains happy with another important decision at that time.” I turned down a lot of money for The Exorcist 2 ,” she says.” You can’t make a brand out of The Exorcist. It’s just ridiculous .”

In general, she doesn’t dwell on the past. Next she is stepping behind the camera to induce her directorial introduction with Bathing Flo, a humor in which she will likewise star.” I’ve been putting it together for three years ,” she says.” We’re going to start shooting at the end of April and all of May and I pray I come out alive. It’s very exciting .”

She has also gained lessons from working with director Jennifer Fox in the devastating sexual abuse drama The Tale, which won plaudits at Sundance this year. While her profession has given her plentiful openings with male directors, there is something different about working with a woman.” I think that’s significant differences on change ,” she says.” The male chairmen are ruling and the female heads are working as a squad .”

* The House of Tomorrow is released after the US on 27 April with a UK date yet to be announced

Sign up for Film Today and get our movie team’s spotlights of the day


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here