‘The Exorcist’ Actress Ellen Burstyn Knows She’s the ‘Only Actress Still Standing’ to Play Certain Roles

Actress Ellen Burstyn knows why she still gets called for specific roles: the 90-year-old star of The Exorcist: Believer has outlived many of her peers.

In an interview with her Law & Order costar Christopher Meloni for Interview magazine, Burstyn explains why she thinks she keeps busy at her age. “I don’t know, except possibly that everybody else who could play those parts has already died, so I’m the only actress still standing who can play the great-grandmother or something,” says Burstyn. “This is so bizarre. I turn 91 in December and I’m busier than I can ever remember being at any point in my career. And I don’t understand it at all. I mean, what’s all this stuff about ageism in Hollywood? How did I get left out of it?”

Ellen Burstyn Reprises Her Role as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: Believer

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Image Credit: (from left) Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green for Universal.

In The Exorcist: Believer, Oscar-Tony-Emmy winner Burstyn reprises her role as Chris MacNeil, which she played 50 years ago in The Exorcist. Chris MacNeil is the mother of Regan (Linda Blair), the possessed girl in the 1973 movie. In The Exorcist: Believer, viewers learn that Chris authored a book on possession and is sought out by a concerned father (Leslie Odom Jr.) whose daughter and friend are possessed.

In the Interview interview, Meloni asks Burstyn — who has worked in the biz for seven decades — which era is her favorite. “Definitely the ’70s,” says Burstyn. “That was when the studios were still run by filmmakers, not by corporations. And the scripts were submitted because somebody was interested in that story and wrote it, and a producer liked it and thought it would make a good movie. Not because it had been fed into a computer and said, ‘Well, the first version made X number of millions, so the second one will make X number of millions and it has to have a big name.'”

Burstyn continues:

“It was a very deep experience making [The Exorcist]. First of all, it was a best-selling book, and it was based on an actual historic case. A lot of the incidents that are on-screen were from the report of what this boy went through—it was a boy, not a girl. That’s very psychologically profound. And the film is not a typical scary movie. It’s a human drama and a psychological drama. It’s the only film I’ve made in my 70 years in the film business that’s in the Library of Congress. It’s a historical achievement.”

Burstyn also talks about why she returned for The Exorcist: Believer. “There aren’t that many people who are still working in the business after 50 years, let alone re-creating a character they did that long ago,” says Burstyn. “I have a real connection and feeling for the other actors in the film, because we all went through something. You don’t make a movie like that without going through a lot of real, emotional stuff. So the things that happened in [The Exorcist: Believer] that touched on things from the first film grabbed me.”

The Exorcist: Believer is now playing in theaters nationwide.