She has been acting nonstop for more than 60 years, but Ellen Burstyn still felt surprised when she was recognized by a male fan while walking near her Manhattan home recently. That’s because the Oscar, Tony and Emmy-winning actress was wearing a mask! “He said, ‘I’ve seen The Exorcist over 40 times. Your eyes are very familiar,’” she related to AARP magazine.

Ellen, 88, may have to get used to more fanfare this year. She’s already generating Oscar buzz for her role as a Holocaust survivor helping her daughter through a personal tragedy in Pieces of a Woman, which recently premiered on Netflix. If she receives the nod, it will make Ellen the oldest actor to ever be nominated for an Academy Award! “I really want that,” she admitted. “I think that’s a badge of something. Of longevity, certainly!”

Ellen attributes her vitality to clean living. “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs,” she said. “I eat healthily and I exercise. I just got a new stationary bike. You have to do the things that will get you there.”

Ellen Burstyn
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Living with the pandemic has been a trial at times. Ellen confided that she guards her health by staying indoors, except for a daily hour-long walk in the park. “I’m coping, but have dips. One day I had a sinking feeling of loneliness and a Frisbee landed near me. I handed it to a little girl who said ‘Thank you,’ and my spirit lifted!” she relates. “Kindness is really an important element of human interaction, you know?”

Ellen remains hopeful that the crisis the world is facing today will bring out the good in most people. “Whatever bad thing there is, there’s the other side, too — how people respond and don’t get defeated by it,” says Ellen, who remembers how neighborhoods pulled together when she was a child during World War II. “I know we’re going to be OK.”

For this story and more, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now!