- Ellen Burstyn was initially reluctant to join The Exorcist: Believer, but director David Gordon Green was able to win her over and get her on board for the movie.
- Burstyn’s main concern was that the movie respected the original 1973 film, The Exorcist, as some previous installments in the franchise had not.
- Critics may have had negative things to say about The Exorcist: Believer, but one positive aspect was its respect for the franchise’s legacy and its desire to pay tribute to the original.
The Exorcist: Believer director David Gordon Green reveals that Ellen Burstyn was initially reluctant to join the project. The new movie serves as a direct sequel to the original 1973 film, The Exorcist. Believer succeeded in doing what no other installments in the franchise could: Getting Burstyn to reprise her role as Chris MacNeil for the first time since 1973. Burstyn earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as MacNeil in The Exorcist, a mother whose daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), shows signs of demonic possession. However, she has been reluctant to dive back into the franchise.
In an interview with A.Frame, Green confirmed that it was no easy feat getting Burstyn onboard for The Exorcist: Believer. The first time he approached her, she shot down the idea of being a part of the cast. Over time, though, Green was able to win her over. Check out his statement below:
I could have done it without her, but it’s a big relief, as someone trying to honor the original film, to have someone I’m not exactly looking for permission but who can hold my hand as I step into sacred territory. If there’s any hand I want to hold here, it’s Ellen Burstyn’s. At first, she was very skeptical. Her immediate answer was, “Hell no.” I think people have approached her many times about sequels, so I said, ‘If you won’t be in my movie, at least be my friend.’
We ended up talking about my intentions and the story I’m trying to tell, how I want to go about it, and how I can make this meaningful to me, personally. I start every project very self-indulgently. I want this to be a movie for me. I can acknowledge that there is a significant fan base, but I can’t give it the tools I have unless I know that the movie needs me, and I need it. Ellen and I spoke and shared literature and philosophies and had a few social conversations. When I then sent her the script, I think she was probably, in my eyes, pleasantly surprised that I’d incorporated some of the conversations that we had, that I’d personalized it for her and taken great lengths to pay respect to the Chris MacNeil character 50 years later. We had a tremendous collaboration, and I’m very proud to have worked with her.
Was Ellen Burstyn Right To Join The Exorcist: Believer?
Now that The Exorcist: Believer has premiered and reviews have started flowing in, there is the question of if Burstyn made the right call to re-enter the franchise with this movie. Unfortunately, The Exorcist: Believer hasn’t managed to differentiate itself from other installments in the franchise in terms of reception. As of this writing, its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at just 23%, making it the third lowest-rated movie in the series. While it hasn’t done terribly at the box office, its opening weekend was slightly less than predictions estimated.
At the same time, Green’s statement indicates that prospects of success didn’t lead to Burstyn’s decision to return. Instead, her main concern was that The Exorcist: Believer respected the original movie. Not only have other films in the franchise been ill-received, but some haven’t respected the source material at all. For example, Exorcist II: The Heretic was directed by someone who despised the original movie and the novel it was based on, trying to take the franchise in a new direction with terrible results. Considering this, it’s not surprising that she appreciated how much Green valued her opinion.
While critics had negative things to say about The Exorcist: Believer, one thing they couldn’t accuse it of is desecrating the franchise’s legacy. Many singled out The Exorcist: Believer’s respect for the franchise and desire to return to its roots as one of the few positive aspects. Though some felt that the movie wasted Burstyn, others felt her presence helped drive home its purpose of paying tribute to the original. Ultimately, The Exorcist: Believer isn’t perfect, but the quality may not have mattered as much to the original star as knowing her opinions and role in the franchise were valued.