• Golden Globe Awards

Oral History: Ellen Burstyn on “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”

Ellen Burstyn plays the mother of Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman. The first time she met with HFPA journalists in January 1975, she talked about Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese.
“When I read the script written by Robert Getchell, I felt that it was very close my own life, I’d say about 100%. Of course, with my particular training in acting, I always use my own experience and with this film it was quite easy to do. Then in the course of rehearsal Marty Scorsese works in a way where all of the actors were encouraged to contribute whatever they could, so a lot of changes were made, particularly with the mother-son relationship, to which I added a lot of actual lines and conversations that my son and I have had.”
“My son’s name is Jefferson, he’s named after Thomas Jefferson. He’s 13 and he is spoiled, I’m afraid, not because of indulgence, but because he’s an only child, which I think is a mistake, that, if I had to do over, I wouldn’t make. It seems to me that kids learn about sharing through the necessity of sharing with their brothers and sisters, and without that they tend to be convinced that the world is revolving around them, as man was convinced for centuries that the sun was revolving around the earth. When we found out there were other planets, then we tended to not be so self-centered as a species. And my son hasn’t found out about the other planets yet, I’m still hoping he will.”
“Jeff is also very smart and fresh, and we have a relationship like Alice and Tommy have in the movie, which is to say that we’re very candid with each other. I try not to lie to him and to answer his questions as fully as I can. We read together, we fool around, we ride bicycles and every Saturday we go to the theater.”
“I don’t teach my son any specific religion, I encourage him to get in touch with his own spiritual side of himself, which seems to me is more available to people, if it’s not organized by an institution, if they’re not told the way it’s supposed to be in heaven but encouraged to investigate themselves what they feel. For instance, sometimes, I’ve been sitting out in the country alone, beside a tree, feeling the wind blow me and the tree at the same time, and I’ve experienced some unity at that moment. That to me is spirituality, as opposed to ritualistic religion.”
“I don’t believe in one religion to the exclusion of others. In other words, I would celebrate anybody’s holiday or observe any tradition, but I don’t like to take part in exclusiveness or say that this way of thinking is the one and only way and all of the other ways are not.”