Ellen Burstyn: ‘Awards shows damage the brain’

Actress Ellen Burstyn has “divided feelings” about walking the red carpet at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards in September (16).

The 83-year-old screen legend is nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her work in Netflix’s political drama House of Cards, in which she plays Robin Wright’s mother.

And although she has received several trophies throughout her decades-long career, Burstyn simply can’t get used to walking the red carpet at high-profile prizegivings.


“I always have divided feelings,” she tells Variety. “On one hand, it’s fun to see other people. When I won (an Emmy) for Political Animals (in 2012), Louis C.K. was there and I had just done his show (Louie). He was nominated and it was fun, after we worked together, to be at the same awards.”

“I’m not a party-goer or someone who likes crowds and the events, I’m a person who prefers to have dinner with a few friends,” she continues. “It’s always a little bit of a strain to pretend like I’m having a really good time. There’s something about the ‘look at me’ aspect – ‘whose dress are you wearing?’ – that has a kind of false ring to me. But on the other hand, I’d rather be nominated and be there than be home watching on television wondering why I wasn’t.”

Ellen picked up her first Emmy nomination in 1981 for her role in TV movie The People vs. Jean Harris, and when she walked the red carpet at the event that year, she enjoyed a veiled conversation with Hollywood It-Guy of the moment Michael J. Fox about life in the spotlight, with a conclusion that still rings true for her today.

“Being on the red carpet with Michael (J. Fox), standing next to each other, and a billion flashbulbs popping in our face, so we were blinded,” she recalls of the spectacular moment. “I said, ‘I don’t think this can be good for our brains, do you?’ And he said, ‘I’m sure not.’ We had that conversation underneath our smiles for the cameras.”

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