Ellen Burstyn to share her life's spiritual journey
Ellen Burstyn is a little fed up with some of the scripts she's offered these days.
"I always look for good writing, but about 97 percent of the scripts I get sent are for a woman with Alzheimer's. I want roles that are about women my age who are hale and hearty and having a good time."
So while she looks for roles such as the one in the upcoming miniseries "Coma," which will be broadcast on A&E on Memorial Day, she uses her creative energy for other projects: photography, writing poetry, working on a screenplay and teaching about how her acting informs her spiritual journey.
That spiritual journey is one she will share at The Sophia Institute fundraiser at 7 p.m. Thursday at Memminger Auditorium.
She says she is weaving her favorite poetry with her photography and film clips and talking about how the art of acting has deepened her beliefs. And how her life has been punctuated by important moments along the way.
When asked for a single one, she said it would have to be the moment she decided to become a serious actress.
"I had never studied acting. I decided I was going to be a Broadway star, and I asked someone how to get an audition. They told me about a show, and I got the lead. That started my career," she says.
But there came a time when she was successfully working in Hollywood and realized that some of her fellow actors knew something about the craft that she didn't.
She went back to New York and started studying with Lee Strasberg, director of the Actor's Studio.
"I got into the art form of acting by deepening into yourself."
And that was a turning point, she says, for other explorations, including using her creative energies to write, travel and teach. Her life, though, has never been a straight line, and on the personal side she has endured tragedy. She chronicles that life in her autobiography, "Lessons in Becoming Myself" published by Riverhead Press in 2006.
"I learned early on that I have an enormous amount of creative energy. But as an actor, you can't use your creative energy unless you have a job.
"I found that if I didn't use it, that creative energy backed up on me and made me crazy."
So these days, the actress who has won the triple crown of Academy, Tony and Emmy awards is working on a screenplay, as well as writing poems and shooting photos.
Her screenplay is set in World War II, when a young woman from a wealthy family becomes a radio operator and puts herself on the line in the middle of the war. The story is one that Burstyn heard because she knows the family of the woman.
That she took on a screenplay is a reflection of some of the roles she now is offered.
"It's should we put Grandma in a nursing home, taking Grandma to the nursing home, Grandma is unhappy in the nursing home, and Grandma leaves the nursing home," she says.
She says she would rather play a scary role such as the one in "Coma," which she called a very difficult, dark atmosphere. The miniseries is a remake of the 1978 movie by the same name and also stars Richard Dreyfuss, James Woods, Geena Davis, Lauren Ambrose and Steven Pasquale. In the story, a young woman discovers that patients are mysteriously ending up in comas and then being sent to an institute that cares for them. The two-night miniseries updates the medicine and expands the plot of the original. Burstyn says she appears briefly in the first episode, but more in the second one.
"I've played scary characters before, but they have usually been in independent films that nobody saw. I usually play mothers -- all the time."
But even though the veteran actress is working frequently, she says the fact that the Charleston speech is being billed as a performance still scares her a bit.
She was still putting together the piece and wasn't sure which direction it would take when she finished. Sort of like her life story with all of its twists, turns and successes.