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Ellen Burstyn Talks About Death, Sex, And Money

The actress, now 81, reflects on her career in an interview with WYNC's Death, Sex, Money podcast. It's amazing.

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Her interview with Death, Sex, Money is the opposite of the usual celebrity profile — it's frank and wise and anything but banal:

On the first time she thought of herself as beautiful:


"I don't think of myself as beautiful. I know that I get a lot of attention for my looks. The other day, I was doing a production of "The Cherry Orchard" at the Actor's Studio. And the director said his friend came to see it and all he could talk about was how beautiful I was. And John said, he kept wanting to hear about the direction, and he never got it. I said, you know when I was about 24 I decided to not base my career on my looks, but to be a serious actress, so I could have a long career and not have it fade when the beauty faded. And here I am 81 years old and now all I hear about is my beauty. I don't know what happened. There was a bend in the road somewhere. When I look in the mirror, I don't see beauty. When I look in the mirror, I see, who is that lady and where did she come from? What happened to the face that I think of when I think of myself. It's gone. I know I always got a lot of attention for my looks, so I guess it was there. But I never identified with it. Partly because I look so much like my mother. The beauty was always hers. So I had to develop other things that were mine."

On getting an abortion in 1950 at age 18:


"That was before I left home. I was still in Detroit. When I left home, I was 18. I think that was just before then. Yeah at that time, there were no legal abortions. And you could only get an illegal abortion. And that's not a pretty sight. There's nothing but shame connected to that. And although I don't recommend abortion to anybody, I don't think it's a good thing to do, at the same time if women are pregnant and don't want to have a baby under any circumstances to take care of a baby, they will get an abortion one way or another. And if it's illegal, they will get an illegal abortion. As I did. And it's a scarring experience . . .

. . . I had no one. I had no one to go with me. That's not a good way to go. It's not a good experience. It's harmful. And I would always, if I had the opportunity, counsel somebody. A girl. To not have an abortion. To have the child and give it up for adoption. But, it has to be legal."

On losing her younger brother:


"My younger brother Steve's death was the hardest thing that I ever experienced in my life. Because we were very close, I adored him. When my mother, after she gave birth to him she had problems that eventually meant that she had to have a hysterectomy. But for the first 8 months of his life, she was bedridden. So he was my baby. So he was in my bedroom, and I did the 2 o'clock feeding in the morning and changed his diapers, so we were very very close. He died of cancer when he was 70, and I was, my son and I were both there. I would not have known how to love as much as I do if I didn't have that baby brother. And it is a bigger mystery than death. And of course you always, once I passed 60, the way I felt was like, you're looking down a tunnel and there's a light at the end of the tunnel and you realize it's getting closer."

And the glory of "should-less" days:


"I'm very lazy. I have what I called should-less days. Today is a day where there's nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it's nap in the afternoon or watch TV, and eat ice cream, I get to do it . . . Should-less days, I recommend them. Because, what I figured out is we have wiring. I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I'm not doing something. God you're so lazy—can't imagine whose voice that is? And that wiring is there. I haven't been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you're being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I'm doing what I want.

Listen to the rest of the amazing interview here, and subscribe to "Death, Sex, Money" here.

Ellen Burstyn co-stars with Matthew McConnaghey in Interstellar, in theaters on November 8th. She most recently appeared in Louis, playing Louis C.K.'s Hungarian neighbor. She is awesome. The end.

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