The Exorcist: Believer | A look back at why Ellen Burstyn agreed to return

ellen burstyn in The Exorcist: Believer
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Ahead of The Exorcist: Believer’s release, let’s take a look back at why Ellen Burstyn agreed to make the sequel in the first place.

It’s unlikely that many cinema-goers would have expected this autumn’s sequel The Exorcist: Believer to be superior to director William Friedkin’s pivotal 1973 original. And, as review embargoes have lifted, it’s becoming clear that David Gordon Green’s possession horror has lived down to its lowly expectations – in our two-star review, Maria Lattila describes it as a “frustratingly thin” film that fails to do much with a sterling cast.

Ahead of The Exorcist: Believer’s release tomorrow (that’s 6 October), it’s worth taking a look back at why Ellen Burstyn – whose performance as horror-struck mother Chris MacNeil lit up the original Exorcist – agreed to reprise her role in the first place.

As she admitted in a lengthy, sparky interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year, Burstyn had “turned down many versions of The Exorcist 2“, including John Boorman’s calamitous 1977 sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic. In that movie, Linda Blair reprised her role as Regan, the possessed kid from the first, and she was joined by a starry cast including Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, and a returning Max von Sydow.

Burstyn, meanwhile, was conspicuous by her absence – which is probably just as well given how unintentionally funny the film is. (Seriously – track down Exorcist II and give it a watch if you haven’t seen it. It’s fascinating.)

Since then, The Exorcist has branched out into an unlikely franchise, but to date, Burstyn has resisted appearing in any subsequent movie, at least until now. So what changed her mind? Predictably, the answer is ‘money’. But the way Burstyn relates the story – and what she wanted the money for – is quite something:

“This time they [the producers of The Exorcist: Believer] offered me a whole bunch of money and I still said no. And then they surprised me and they came back and said, ‘We doubled the offer.’ I said, ‘OK, let me think about this.’ I thought, ‘That’s a lot of money. Let me think about it.’

“The next thought that came to mind was: ‘I feel like the devil is asking my price.’ And the next thought that came to mind was, ‘My price is a scholarship program for talented students at our master’s degree program at Pace University. That’s my price.’ So I then went back and upped their up and ended up getting what I want. And I’ve got a scholarship program for young actors.”

In short: Burstyn did it for the money, but it at least went to a good cause. Ellen Burstyn, we salute you.

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