She’s most famous for her dramatic roles, but Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn is eager to make movie audiences laugh these days. “I think right now, people need to have the experience of lightness and enjoyment,” she tells Closer. “They need to go to the movie theater and hold hands if they want to. We all need to rise up out of the darkness we have been in.”
Ellen notes her new film, Queen Bees, is exactly what the doctor ordered. “It’s a romantic comedy with four leading ladies over 70,” explains the actress, who plays Helen, a fiercely independent senior who reluctantly agrees to move into a retirement community while her house is being repaired. In her new environment, she encounters cutthroat bridge tournaments, bullying mean girls, and learns that it’s never too late to make friends or find love. “I think it’s really important for women to see this movie,” she adds.
The actress, who won an Oscar playing a widow forging a new life in 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, explains that she has always been drawn to good stories. “If I find myself turning the pages [of a script] and wanting to know what happens next, then I am attracted to it,” she says. “If I find my mind wandering, then it’s not for me.”
A native of Detroit, Ellen, was born Edna Rae Gillooly, knew from early on that she had a flair for storytelling. “It was always clear to me that I wasn’t going to become a physicist, a chemist or a botanist. I knew it would be some kind of art. I’m not a good musician, and I’m a so-so writer, so acting seemed to be the thing that I could do best,” she says.
“In high school, I was president of the drama club. I produced the musicals and starred in them.” She made her stage debut in 1957’s Fair Game. “The first audition I had as an actress was for a lead on Broadway and I got the part. That was very encouraging,” she recalls. “I worked for the next 20 years doing guest shots in films and television shows, but it wasn’t until The Last Picture Show that I got cast in a good part in a really good, high-quality movie. That would be considered my breakthrough role.”
The three-times divorced actress still leads a very active life. “I really have no complaints,” Ellen says. “I like that I am healthy. I eat well and I don’t have any bad habits. I take care of myself, and it pleases me that I can be 88 and still feel really good.”
So good that she recently took on the challenge of raising a puppy. “House training a new puppy is not something I recommend to anybody, especially in the city,” she confides. “Going down the elevator and over to the park six times a day can be a little wearing. But she is so much fun and so adorable that I am having a good time with her. And that’s what matters.”