On the night of Friday the 13th of November director and actress Ellen Burstyn came to receive the Stockholm Lifetime Achievement Award and to present a special screening of one of her most well-known films, The Exorcist during the Horror Night Deluxe as a part of the Stockholm Film Festival.
During the Horror Night Deluxe also two other scary films were screened, Alena by director Daniel di Grado, film version of Kim W. Andersson’s acclaimed graphic novel and Baskin by Turkish director Can Evrenol.
Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn was received with a standing ovation from the audience at the Skandia cinema hall. She has worked consistently in film, television and theatre for decades. She has starred in films such as Requiem For a Dream, The Exorcist – perhaps one of the best horror films in history, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – directed by Martin Scorsese. The latter was the performance that gave her the Academy Award for Best Actress.
She still calls herself a late bloomer because she came to be known at the age of 40 with her first long feature film. Before that she had done plenty of television work. She says that what kept her going during all those years – before that audition that took her to the big role – was the desire to be great. – Be inspired by greatness!– and that’s her advice to all actors and actresses with whom she now works as teacher. She herself had a great teacher during her formative years in acting, who told her: “You are very natural bur you’re not being real. When you’re natural you are acting, when you’re real you’re real”.
Many questions were asked about the film The Exorcist during Ellen’s face2face with the public that night, about this film she says that what makes it so scary is that William Freidkin, the film’s director, works very carefully with building reality, a reality that he introduces from the beginning of the film. The audience believes in the characters and little by little he starts taking one step out of reality, without making it too obvious. This way the audience doesn’t notice when reality goes out of the window and he’s got us all immersed in the terror he silently introduces.
Ellen added that she receives some ridiculous horror scripts all the time that start directly with full-on terror scenes and she feels that just doesn’t work. William Freidkin looked at The Exorcist from the psychological side, he consulted a priest and at some point he asked him to bless the set even though Freidkin was not particularly religious. Ellen tells the story behind it: She had a tape recorder, and one night before leaving the set she left that recorder in her room, the next day it was stolen so Willy (how she refers to William Freidkin) hired a night watcher. The next day they found him dead, he had accidentally shot himself. Around that time they started having the priest coming to the set; then the set caught on fire inexplicably. So the whole cast and film crew had to be as cool as possible and centered to continue filming without being affected by the incidents.
With stories like this, one can’t help wonder what scares a person like Ellen Burstyn? Well she answered to that question, but she had to ask for the help of her son who was also there in the audience. He said: not having world peace.
What’s happening in the world, problems in Europe, the refugees, millions of people without homes, running for their lives and borders being closed down! That scares me! We have to demand that our leaders address it!, Ellen said as her voice broke a little and her eyes filled up with tears.
Ellen Burstyn is also a feminist and one can really tell by the type of some of the roles she’s done. She has even turned down scripts to act and direct, because the women were not depicted as she wants: “they were too loving and docile or prostitutes”, she says.
But she wasn’t always like that and she told the story about a night she came home after 12 hours of filming, her ex-husband was there watching television. There was an ashtray with several cigarette butts and several empty cans of beer around and he said: “Hey babe! what’s for dinner?” Ellen thought, what’s wrong with this picture? and then she had her own transformation.
During Ellen Burstyn‘s 30 minutes face2face we were able to see a more human and spiritual side of the actress than the one we could normally see. She said that she likes to expose herself to the work of great teachers like Jesus or Buddha, even when she doesn’t belong to any particular religion, because she says that many religious people think “my way is the right way, yours is the wrong, let’s kill each other”. Instead of that she likes to think that “We’re individual collections of energy, from the same field, what we do affects the other. We live in the mystery. Even if nobody is directing our faith, things evolve with intelligence, like when you hear a voice that directs you into the best way to do something”.
But what else is there for the 83-year-old actress, who can also be proud to count on her award’s shelves Tonys, Emmys and Oscars? Well, she would really like to work with herself as a director, something she hasn’t been ready to do before, but now she has a project in hands, it’s called Bathing Flow. I’m sure this will also be a film that will shine and it will gives us lots to talk about in the future.