"You sort of stand back and let it happen. Maybe add some water and some sunlight and let it blossom. I mean, she is, you know, what can I say, she's unbelievable. And the one thing I think hopefully that audiences will get is that they'll feel robbed by Hollywood which has not hired this woman for twenty years. And it's almost a crime on the world, because, you know, just her abilities…it's just unbelievable. And it should be mandatory that you have to get two films of Ellen Burstyn a year."

--Darren Aronofsky (director of Requiem for a Dream), talking about working with Burstyn

Okay, Ellen Burstyn (born Edna Rae Gilhooley) is one of the most amazing actresses I’ve ever seen. The “biggest” film she’s been in was The Exorcist, where she played Linda Blair’s mother. I first saw her in Requiem for a Dream (2000), where she does an absolutely phenomenal job as Sara Goldfarb, an elderly widow living in Coney Island who becomes addicted to diet pills. During one particularly moving scene, director Darren Aronofsky noticed that the cameraman (Matthew Libatique, the director of cinematography) had allowed the camera to roam off-center. Aronofsky was about to berate him for ruining the shot—until he noticed that Libatique was hysterically crying due to Burstyn’s performance, and the reason the camera was drifting was because he was crying too hard to control it.

For that role in Requiem, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role—she had been nominated for that same award four times previously (for Resurrection in 1980, Same Time, Next Year in 1978, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in 1974, and The Exorcist in 1973). She was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Last Picture Show in 1971. The only Oscar she actually walked away with was the 1974 Best Actress award for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—although she didn’t quite walk away with it, not showing up to the Academy Awards because she felt she couldn’t handle the “pressure and attention.”

For some reason, despite all the critical acclaim surrounding her, she could barely find movie work in the 1980’s. She turned to television, where she starred in a number of made for TV movies as well as her own short-lived television series, The Ellen Burstyn Show (1986). The TV movies landed her two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special—in 1981 for The People vs. Jean Harris and in 1987 for Pack of Lies.

Burstyn is well-respected among her fellow actors and actresses—she served as the first woman president of Actor’s Equity (the actor’s union) from 1982-1985, and in 2000 was named named co-president of The Actor’s Studio alongside Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino.

People Magazine named Burstyn as one of their “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” in 2001.

Ellen Burstyn’s Complete Filmography (bold titles are required viewing)
  1. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) .... Vivi Abbott Walker
  2. Within These Walls (2001) (TV) .... Joan Thomas
  3. Dodson's Journey (2001) (TV) .... Mother
  4. Walking Across Egypt (2000) .... Mattie Rigsbee
  5. "That's Life" (2000) TV Series .... Mrs. Dolly DeLucca
  6. Mermaid (2000) (TV) .... Trish
  7. Requiem for a Dream (2000) .... Sara Goldfarb
  8. The Yards (2000) .... Val Handler
  9. Night Ride Home (1999) (TV) .... Maggie
  10. The Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist (1998) (TV) .... Herself
  11. Flash (1998) (TV) .... Laura Strong
  12. You Can Thank Me Later (1998) .... Shirley Cooperberg
  13. Playing by Heart (1998) .... Mildred
  14. "A Will of Their Own" (1998) (mini) TV Series .... Veronica Steward
  15. The Patron Saint of Liars (1998) (TV) .... June Clatterbuck
  16. Mary Jane Colter: The Desert View (1997) .... Narrator
  17. Deceiver (1997) .... Mook
  18. Murder in Mind (1997/II) (TV) .... Yvette Watson
  19. Our Son, the Matchmaker (1996) (TV) .... Iva Mae
  20. Timepiece (1996) (TV) .... Maud Gannon
  21. The Spitfire Grill (1996) .... Hannah Ferguson
  22. Follow the River (1995) (TV) .... Gretel
  23. My Brother's Keeper (1995) (TV) .... Helen
  24. How to Make an American Quilt (1995) .... Hy Dodd
  25. The Baby-Sitters Club (1995) .... Emily Haberman
  26. Roommates (1995) .... Judith
  27. Choosing One's Way: Resistance in Auschwitz/Birkenau (1994) .... Presenter/Narrator
  28. The Color of Evening (1994) .... Kate O'Rielly
  29. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994) .... Emily
  30. Trick of the Eye (1994) (TV) .... Frances Griffin
  31. Getting Gotti (1994) (TV) .... Jo Giacalone
  32. Getting Out (1994) (TV) .... Arlie's Mother
  33. The Cemetery Club (1993) .... Esther Moskowitz
  34. Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story (1993) (TV) .... Joan Delvecchio, The psychologist
  35. When It Was a Game 2 (1992) (TV) .... Herself (passage narrator)
  36. Taking Back My Life: The Nancy Ziegenmeyer Story (1992) (TV) .... Wilma
  37. Grand Isle (1991) .... Mademoiselle Reisz
  38. Dying Young (1991) .... Mrs. O'Neil
  39. Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love (1991) (TV)
  40. When You Remember Me (1990) (TV) .... Nurse Cooder
  41. Hanna's War (1988) .... Katalin
  42. Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987) (TV) (voice) .... Mrs. Stocks
  43. Hello Actors Studio (1987) (TV) .... Herself
  44. Pack of Lies (1987) (TV) .... Barbara Jackson
  45. Something in Common (1986) (TV) .... Lynn Hollander
  46. "The Ellen Burstyn Show" (1986) TV Series .... Ellen Brewer
  47. Act of Vengeance (1986) (TV) .... Margaret Yablonski
  48. Into Thin Air (1985) (TV) .... Joan Walker
  49. Twice in a Lifetime (1985) .... Kate MacKenzie
  50. Surviving (1985) (TV) .... Tina Brogan
  51. In Our Hands (1984) .... Herself
  52. The Ambassador (1984) .... Alex Hacker
  53. Silence of the North (1981) .... Olive Frederickson
  54. The People vs. Jean Harris (1981) (TV) .... Jean Harris
  55. Resurrection (1980) .... Edna McCauley
  56. A Dream of Passion (1978) .... Brenda
  57. Same Time, Next Year (1978) .... Doris
  58. Providence (1977) .... Sonia Langham
  59. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) .... Alice Hyatt
  60. Harry and Tonto (1974) .... Shirley
  61. Thursday's Game (1974) (TV) .... Lynne Evers
  62. The Exorcist (1973) .... Chris MacNeil
  63. The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) .... Sally
  64. The Last Picture Show (1971) .... Lois Farrow
  65. Alex in Wonderland (1970) .... Beth
  66. Tropic of Cancer (1970) (as Ellen McRae) .... Mona Miller
  67. Pit Stop (1969) (as Ellen McRae) .... Ellen McLeod
  68. "The Iron Horse" (1966) TV Series (as Ellen McRae) .... Julie Parsons (1966-67)
  69. For Those Who Think Young (1964) (as Ellen McRae) .... Dr. Pauline Thayer
  70. Goodbye Charlie (1964) (as Ellen McRae) .... Franny
  71. "The Doctors" (1963) TV Series (as Ellen McRae) .... Dr. Kate Bartok (1964-1965)
  72. Gunfight in Black Horse Canyon (1961) (TV)

Sources: IMDB and my own cloudy little mind

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