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The actress also writes

October 05, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

Ellen BURSTYN has two new movies. "The Elephant King" opens Oct. 24 in L.A., and Oliver Stone's "W." opens Oct. 17. She published a memoir, "Lessons in Becoming Myself" in 2006. Of the Stone biopic of the president, she says: "I think he's tried his best to not inject his own political point of view but to just tell the story."

The previews of "W." pretty much make our president look like a reckless, drunken frat boy.

Well, I think he was when he was younger! Then he had his religious conversion. And he changed! But I think in his youth he was pretty reckless.

What did you find in being Barbara Bush?

Well, she was, or is, a very strong woman. The family refers to her as the enforcer, because she was the one that administered all of the discipline. She's a true matriarch: That is a huge family. The children, the grandchildren, the cousins -- when that family gets together, it's a strong village.

It's funny, she's so unknown to us in many ways.

Well, I think that she is probably -- what's the word I want? You know, a kind of masked figure. I don't think she means to wear her heart on her sleeve, you know. I think she has a carefully constructed social personality.

Perhaps you'll hear from her!

Perhaps. I certainly didn't try to make her a witch. I respect her for doing the job she did. She was a very effective first lady and a very popular one, after Nancy [Reagan], who was not so popular and not so well loved, and I think the country was relieved to have a grandmotherly first lady, and I think she played that role very well. I have respect for her. I didn't try to show her in a bad light -- but as truthful as I could make it be.

I've been watching clips of the 1986 "Ellen Burstyn Show" on YouTube.

Oh, my God! I didn't know that was still around. . . . . It was a very difficult experience, one of those experiences where the team -- it was like a bad marriage. The team didn't really come together in a good way. It was sort of doomed.

That happens in TV land.

Yeah. I'm afraid so. I have two pictures opening on the same day [in New York]! I have another feature called "The Elephant King" that is by a first-time director, Seth Grossman. It's a film I like very much. I don't think in all of my over 50 years I've had two pictures opening on the same day. It's fun, being on a film by the great Oliver Stone and a first-time director.

You also have a movie, "Lovely, Still," with Martin Landau, directed by a very young man --

Another first-time director! We had several screenings at the Toronto Film Festival, which were very well received. I'm hoping it'll get a buyer soon.

You were president of Actors' Equity in the early '80s. Do you still keep up on the politics?

Somewhat, yeah. I'm also co-president of the Actors Studio with Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. That keeps me pretty involved and busy and takes up all of my extracurricular time.

You have a room full of diaries. What more will you do with them, if anything?

Oh, I don't know. Once I published the book, I just put them all in a big box.

So you're not writing anything now?

Oh, I am writing a screenplay at the moment. It's a World War II story. That's been the province of men, I know. The main character is a woman, she's a historical character, and I've long wanted to write something about her. I'm in it now, and I'm researching World War II. It's an absolutely fascinating and absorbing study. . . .

I'm hoping to get the script done by the end of the year. Do you know who Deepa Mehta is, who directed "Water"? She's interested in directing it. I'm hoping that I finish it in a way that she continues to be interested.

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