Ellen Burstyn's True Face

The Oscar-winning actress talks about embracing her essence, a love of Sufi poetry, and her scorchingly honest new memoir.

At 74, Ellen Burstyn has had a rich career of stand-out roles--from her breakout performance in 1971's "The Last Picture Show" to Linda Blair's mother in "The Exorcist" to a widow in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. She's also made recent turns in "Requiem for a Dream," "Wicker Man," and "The Fountain."


In her new book, "Lessons in Becoming Myself" (2006, Riverhead Books), Burstyn reveals that her ability to bring depth and dignity to her characters—and her six Academy Award nominations—has been hard won. She documents an abusive childhood, three troubled marriages, and many years of career struggle; she didn't have her breakthrough film—or even current name—till her late 30s. It was around that time that Burstyn began to delve into the spiritual realm, coming under the tutelage of Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan; he gave her the spiritual name Hadiya, which means "she who is guided" in Arabic.


Now the still-busy actor calls Jesus her "guru" yet embraces other deities, meditates, and has a strong Sufi connection. She recently talked to Beliefnet about dropping the masks that have veiled her true self, the common thread in all religions, and why she makes "Thank you" her first words every day.

Your book is so candid—an incredibly rare feat in the celebrity memoir genre. How did you keep yourself so honest?

On writing honestly
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