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Ellen Burstyn Discusses 'Requiem for a Dream'Aired January 14, 2001 - 9:37 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And now Ellen Burstyn. The list of hits and awards is way too long for us to enumerate here. She's on TV Saturday nights right now in a program called "That's Life," and she's on the silver screen in "Requiem for a Dream" and in the re-release of "The Exorcist."
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: This award-winning actress joins us live now from New York this morning.
And, Ellen, I have to tell you, Miles and I were talking about how beautiful you are looking this morning.
ELLEN BURSTYN, ACTRESS: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: Looking terrific.
Since your debut in 1957 with "Fair Game," you've had quite an amazing career. As you sit with us this morning, what's going through your mind? What do you think are some of the best moments?
BURSTYN: The best moments of my career?
BURSTYN: Oh, I don't know. I've had -- I've been very lucky and had a lot of good fortune. I've done films that I've really liked, like "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and "The Exorcist" and "Resurrection."
But this film, "Requiem for a Dream," is really something that I'm very proud. I think it's a very deep and powerful and harrowing movie to watch, but it's very meaningful and I'm glad that it's getting the recognition it is.
O'BRIEN: Deep, powerful and harrowing. Why don't we give our viewers who haven't had an opportunity to see the movie just a little taste of it, and then we can talk about the movie.
PHILLIPS: Let's watch for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REQUIEM FOR A DREAM") BURSTYN: I like the way I feel. I like thinking about the red dress and the television and you and your father. Now when I get the sun I smile.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Boy, you were drawing deep for that performance. How difficult was it to do this performance, and give people a little sense of the plot so they understand a little bit of the context of that.
BURSTYN: Well, I'm playing Sara Goldfarb, who's a woman whose husband has died and her husband has left home and she's alone in her little apartment in Brooklyn and pretty much addicted to television and eating and chocolate.
And she has an opportunity to appear on television as a contestant. And she decides she wants to get into a red dress that she wore when she was thin and looked her best. And she goes to a diet doctor, and that starts a downward plunge of addiction to diet pills that finally leads to total destruction and madness.
PHILLIPS: You actually had to lose a lot of weight for this role. I was reading about what you had to do. Was that -- tell us about that. Was that a rough experience?
BURSTYN: Well, you know, I had fat suits. I had a 40-pound fat suit, and then I got down to a 20-pound fat suit. And then when I got out of the fat suits, we had a break in the schedule. So I then took off 10 pounds in two weeks. So altogether there's a 50-pound weight loss. But involves necks and wigs, and it was always uncomfortable. But I think the hardest part was the emotional demands of the role, because she does go to some horrible depths. And it's demanding to get there.
O'BRIEN: You had a tremendous string of success in the '70s and have had a bit of a renaissance lately. That's got to be quite gratifying for you. How do you explain your enduring success?
BURSTYN: I don't know, endurance itself, I guess. I just kept hanging on. I've always worked. Last year I did a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut. And the year before -- not "Midsummer Night's Dream," I'm sorry, "Long Day's Journey into Night." And the year before I did "Long Day's Journey" as well as the Alley Theater in Houston. And I made films that I like, like "The Spitfire Grill."
So I've been here. I've been working, but I don't have the kind of wonderful role like I do in "Requiem."
PHILLIPS: Ellen, you were also elected president of the Actor's Equity Association, first woman elected to this post. Why get involved with this? Tell us a little bit about it and why your heart's in that.
BURSTYN: Well, when I was asked to be president of the union, it just seemed like something got -- it was an opportunity to give back to the profession because I've gotten so much from it. I love being an actor and the profession's been very good to me, so it was just, you know, a way of saying thank you to the profession. And I like that kind of work.
O'BRIEN: The film is "Requiem for a Dream," just the latest in a long string of wonderful films by the actress Ellen Burstyn. The re- release of "The Exorcist" out not too long ago, she told me just a moment ago, in re-release earned $30 million. Talk about endurance there. Thanks very much for being with us. It was our pleasure to have you on the program, Ellen.
BURSTYN: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: Thanks, Ellen.
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