“You’ve got to remember that I didn’t become a movie name until I was 42. Not at all like the old days when people like Lauren Bacall became stars at 19. So I take my movies very seriously.”

That’s Ellen Burstyn talking, the actress who sprang to prominence with her Oscar-winning performance in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” in 1975--and that same year walked away with a Tony Award for the play “Same Time Next Year.”

So, yes, she takes her movie work--and her theater and TV work--very seriously indeed.

This is the actress who, five years ago, went out and battled to try to save “Resurrection,” a movie she cared desperately about. And, a year later, did the same thing with “Silence of the North.” The first had limited success; the second, none at all.


But she kept on plugging away and now she’s doing the same thing with her new movie “Twice in a Lifetime” in which she stars with Gene Hackman and Ann-Margaret. Writer-director Bud Yorkin’s tale of a 30-year marriage that’s on the rocks got good notices in New York but only lukewarm ones here. And that got Burstyn’s hackles up.

“It’s a wonderful movie” she said passionately. “It just needs special handling--and that’s what Bud Yorkin’s doing. I was so disappointed in the reviews.”

Burstyn tends to get fine notices whatever she does (“brilliant,” said some critics of her performance as the mother of a missing teen-ager in this week’s CBS-TV drama “Into Thin Air”). But that’s not enough for her. She wants her projects to succeed. And succeed well.

“I saw both ‘Resurrection’ and ‘Silence of the North’ killed by a studio through lack of support so I believe in getting out there and talking about my movies,” she said. “It’s hard enough finding good material without seeing movies just thrown away.”

Burstyn, who stepped down this year as the first woman president of Actors Equity and is now artistic director of the Actors Studio in New York, has had an intriguing career. Formerly a cabaret dancer known as Kerri Flynn, she actually began her acting career under the name of Ellen McRae. Two of the movies she made under that name--”Goodbye Charlie” and “For Those Who Think Young”--still crop up from time to time.

“I did my first Broadway play, ‘Fair Game’ in 1956, as Ellen McRae,” she said. “But when I realized I wasn’t the kind of actress I wanted to be I began studying with Lee Strasberg and killed off Ellen McRae.”


She’s less depressed than some of her peers about the lack of good roles for women--”because it’s better than it was,” she said. “When I made ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ that was the only woman’s picture that year as far as I remember. Now, Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange and Jane Fonda and Goldie Hawn are landing good roles so, yes, it is better.”

Of all the works she’s done, she says, it was “Resurrection”--about a housewife who finds she has healing powers--that most affected people.

“It was my least successful movie in terms of commercial success,” she said. “But it seemed to have a huge impact on those who saw it--and that made it worthwhile. Now, I just want people to give ‘Twice in a Lifetime’ a chance. It’s already broken records in New York at the Beekman. So, I am encouraged.”

STILL THERE: Those intrigued by the recent interviews of Sir Laurence Olivier on PBS will be encouraged to know that the frail old fighter is still working--playing a cameo role in a new British miniseries. Alas, now he has to use cue cards. “My memory isn’t what it used to be,” says the actor. “It’s such a bore.”