As she prepares to smash an Oscar record, the great actor talks about drawing on her own suffering, missing her violent mother – and surviving the Hollywood ‘hamburger machine’
Ellen Burstyn is struggling to make herself heard above the sirens that are screeching across the city. “I live on a road that’s very popular with police cars and ambulances,” she says down the line from New York. She had been trying to tell me about the Oscars when she was interrupted by the racket. If she is nominated in March – and, with the odds of her winning best supporting actress currently at 5/1, she almost certainly will be – this would make her the Academy’s oldest acting nominee, having turned 88 this month. “At the moment, it’s Chris Plummer,” she says excitedly. “But I would beat him by 42 days! What a great crown that would be to wear.”
If her performance in the Netflix drama Pieces of a Woman wins her a nomination, it will be her seventh. Over the last 50 years, Burstyn has been recognised for her portrayals of a jaded wife in The Last Picture Show; of a mother whose child is demonically possessed in The Exorcist; and of a widowed waitress who hits the road with her young son in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In Same Time, Next Year, she played a married woman who meets annually with her lover; in Resurrection she was a car crash survivor who acquires healing powers; and in Requiem for a Dream she starred as the mother of a junkie who becomes an addict herself.