At age 88, Ellen Burstyn has been a combination class act and locomotive for over a half-century (and over 60 years if you count her TV work). She shifted into a big-time film career after her performance in Peter Bogdanovich‘s The Last Picture Show, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on 10.22.21, and she’s managed to star or costar in mostly cool, tasteful, adult-angled dramas (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Resurrection, Requiem for a Dream, W., Pieces of a Woman) over the succeeding decades.
And now, God help her, Burstyn has been sucked into costarring in David Gordon Green‘s $400 million Exorcist trilogy.
Not because she’s even vaguely interested in revisiting the character of Chris MacNeil, the Hollywood actress whose daughter turned into a demon in William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist (’73), but because she can’t turn down the huge paycheck. She has to take this gig in the same way that Lionel Barrymore had to allow Edward G. Robinson and his gangster goons to stay in his Key Largo hotel — he couldn’t say no to the money.
Key passage from Brooks Barnes’ 7.26 N.Y. Times story about Universal + Peacock spending over $400 million for three new Exorcist films from director David Gordon Green (“Hollywood Head Spinner: Universal Spends Big for New Exorcist Trilogy“):
“Universal is not remaking The Exorcist, which was directed by Friedkin from a screenplay that William Peter Blatty adapted from his own novel. But the studio will, for the first time, return the Oscar-winning Ms. Burstyn to the franchise. (Two forgettable Exorcist sequels and a prequel were made without her between 1977 and 2004.) Joining her will be Leslie Odom Jr., a Tony winner for Hamilton on Broadway and a double Oscar nominee for One Night in Miami. He will play the father of a possessed child. Desperate for help, he tracks down Ms. Burstyn’s character.”
Odom: “Excuse me…are you Chris MacNeil? My God, it’s you! How are you? Are you good? I’m asking because my daughter’s been possessed by Pazuzu and I’m wondering if you’re up for kicking that demon’s ass like you did back in the early ’70s.”
MacNeil: “I’m fine, thanks, but I didn’t do anything. I persuaded a Jesuit priest named Damien Karras to exorcise the demon, and he asked an older priest, Father Merrin, to help him. I didn’t do a thing. All I did was scream and weep and plead for help.”
Odom: “Yeah but you know all about demons and shit, right? You know how to deal with the moving beds and green vomit and all that. You’re experienced.”
MacNeil: “I don’t know anything. I just went through a horrible ordeal a half-century ago, and now I’m almost 90. Find your own exorcist.”
Odom: “But I need your help.”
MacNeil: “Fuck is wrong with you? Look at me…what am I gonna do?”
Barnes: “The $400 million-plus megadeal for a new Exorcist trilogy [signals] a sudden willingness to compete head-on with the technology giants that are upending entertainment industry economics.
“Donna Langley, the film studio’s chairwoman, teamed with Peacock, NBCUniversal’s fledgling streaming service, to make the purchase, which is [said to be] in the vicinity of the $465 million that Netflix paid in March for two sequels to the 2019 whodunit Knives Out.
“The Knives Out and Exorcist deals — both negotiated by Bryan Lourd, the Creative Artists superagent — solidify a new streaming gold rush. The eye-popping talent paydays of 2017 and 2018, when Netflix scooped up big-name television creators, have migrated to the film world.
“The proliferation of streaming services and their scramble for subscribers has driven up prices for established film properties and filmmakers. At the same time, traditional movie companies are under more pressure than ever to control those same creative assets; moviegoing has been severely disrupted by the pandemic and may never fully recover.”
Pazuzu to Odom and Burstyn: “Keep away! The sow is mine!”