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

‘It’s scaring !” Ellen Burstyn isn’t talking about her war with a beast in The Exorcist. Nor is she recalling her battle with amphetamine addiction in Requiem for a Dream. Rather, as I sitting there 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 supporter of his predecessor but was a visible part of Barack Obama’s campaign.

” I was so happy and satisfied for this country that we are at last had has been unable to step over the line into some kind of reasonable outlook and then it ricochetted lane back the other way ,” she says.” But I believe the Russians did it, don’t you concur ?”

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

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

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

It is Livolsi’s feature-length directorial debut and I imagine it must be intimidating to send an actor 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 send her 1974 slapstick Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore .

” I affection new chairmen ,” she says. When she preferred Scorsese to direct Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, he was a relative newcomer.” I wanted to find person brand-new. When I think about it now, what I’ve always been attracted to is that their talent hasn’t been suppressed hitherto. It hasn’t gotten adulterated by know-how so it’s just fresh. As someone 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 located. When obliging The Exorcist in 1972, an accident left her on crutches for the rest of the production. As she recalls the incident, she was attracted on to the floor with a cable during a scene where she is slapped by her devilish babe, Regan.

” I said:’ He’s drawing me extremely 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 hard ,’ and as I turned away, I felt him signal the person and he smashed me on the storey. I expected Billy to scream slash. Instead, I heard him stroke the cameraman’s arm 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 an atmosphere where the irresponsible behaviour of directors is being re-examined following Uma Thurman’s story of abuse by Quentin Tarantino during a car disintegrate on the list of Kill Bill.

” That was a bad know ,” 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” care for the rest of production. Friedkin did not apologise, either then or since. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he denied she was seriously affected.” I’m sure she was hurt by the fall – you fell off 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 suffered.” I’ve always been treated pretty well ,” she says.” I’ve had a couple of know-hows; 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 is conscious of female peers suffering at the mitts of other sexual predators in Hollywood?

” The only person I ever heard narrations about like that was our president ,” she says, although she doesn’t reveal any specifics.

She acquires Harvey Weinstein “sick” and the allegations against him “flabbergasting” but is optimistic about the” seismic transformation in the consciousness” and the opportunities that wives are now being offered. She conceives Wonder Woman is” a marvelous movie” and praises” all those women fighters” 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 passed to me, I could have a career based on my looks ,” 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 see[ Lee] Strasberg and I studied the art of acting. And it realizes me so happy to be 85 and still working .”

She turned down a lot of personas early on because they didn’t fit with how she wished to be seen.” I is ready to portray girls as heroes because that’s what they are ,” she says.” Women were either rogues or brides who bided residence while their partners went out to save the world. Or they were prostitutes. Or they were victims. I wanted to embody a woman as a hero, so those were the fractions I “re looking for”. After a while, I couldn’t do that any more. You get to a level 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 joyous with another important decision at that time.” I turned down a lot of coin 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 represent her directorial debut with Bathing Flo, a comedy 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 “ve been coming” 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 vocation has given her plentiful possibilities with male heads, there is something different about working with a woman.” I think that’s significant differences on fixed ,” she says.” The male administrators are governing and the female directors are working as a team .”

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

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