EXCLUSIVE: Ellen Burstyn has signed to make her feature directorial debut. The Emmy nominee will star in and direct Bathing Flo, a character piece she fell in love with that is inspired by events in the life of Thruline manager-producer Danny Sherman. It’s a New York-set story that centers on a man in need of a place to live, who’s given the chance to house-sit in exchange for free rent. He discovers the house is occupied by the man’s elderly mother Flo, who is part of the deal.
Given her remarkable career, it seems surprising that it took Burstyn this long to get behind the camera. Aside from winning the Academy Award for the Martin Scorsese-directed Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, winning an Emmy last year for Political Animals, and being nominated tonight for her work in Flowers In The Attic, Burstyn has spent the past 40 years teaching at the Actors Studio, where she is Artistic Director and works alongside Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel in running that institution.
She chalked it up to a change in the way that women are regarded for behind-the-camera opportunities, which is better than the first time she nearly directed what proved to be a landmark film in her career.
“A long time ago in the '70s, when AFI initiated a directing workshop for women, I was in the first one,” she told Deadline. “I made a nice little film and thought I should direct, but I was so busy acting, and every time I’d bring it up, it was something that was always sort of discouraged for women. It’s easier now, and when they sent me this Bathing Flo script to act in, I began picturing scenes I just loved. And they loved the way I pictured it, and I just thought, ‘Why am I not directing this?’
“Back in the '70s, the idea of a woman directing was pretty unheard of,” she said. “When I brought Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore to John Calley at Warner Bros, he asked me then if I wanted to direct it. I said I didn’t feel I was ready to act and direct at the same time. AFI made me more confident, but somehow it never came together and I never got asked again the way that John asked me. And I never found something I really felt I wanted to direct, until now.”
With a resume that includes unforgettable roles including William Friedkin’s The Exorcist to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream and The Fountain, Paul Mazursky’s Harry And Tonto, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, and having just worked with Christopher Nolan in Interstellar, Burstyn has watched a lot of strong directors ply their craft. Is she nervous about finally doing it herself?
“I’ve taught actors for 40 years, and I became a still photographer and had showings of my work at galleries, and between working with actors the way I have and the still camera and making movies, it isn’t really all that daunting to me,” she said. “I’m really turned on by the whole experience.”
Bathing Flo was written by actress/first-time writer Lauren Lake, along with Danny Brocklehurst and Sherman. Erica Steinberg is producing along with Lake, and Sherman, under Thruline’s production banner Tagline Pictures. UTA is selling the film.
Burstyn, who in her career has won the Oscar, Tony, and Emmy, doesn’t sound all that nervous about tonight, either.
“I won last year and would be very surprised to win two years in a row,” she said. "So I’m not expecting to win, but I love racking up the nominations." Reminded that only the Grammy has eluded her, Burstyn said, “I was once nominated for a Grammy but didn’t win, but I do hope to add that to my list and have that EGOT,” she said. "Just one more to go."