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SYFY WIRE The Exorcist

Why Did Ellen Burstyn Come Back for The Exorcist: Believer?

The Exorcist: Believer officially hits the big screen Friday, Oct. 13.

By Josh Weiss
Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

For almost half a century, Hollywood had been trying to woo Ellen Burstyn (90) back to the world of The Exorcist with boatloads of cash. "I’ve said no every time," the actress told The Hollywood Reporter last summer. A person's gotta have convictions, after all.

When Universal Pictures, Blumhouse, and Morgan Creek Entertainment asked if she'd be interested in reprising the role of Chris MacNeil in their forthcoming reboot from director David Gordon Green — subtitled Believer (opening in theaters everywhere October 13) — she still said no. That is, of course, until they doubled their offer.

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"I said, 'OK, let me think about this,'" Burstyn remembered. "I thought, 'That’s a lot of money. Let me think about it.' The next thought that came to mind was: 'I feel like the devil is asking my price.'"

Ellen Burstyn's One Condition For Starring in The Exorcist: Believer

Rather than add the generous windfall to her own bank account, the actress instead requested the studio and production companies fund a scholarship program for talented young actors studying at New York's Pace University (where she teaches pupils in the The Actors Studio M.F.A. program). "So I then went back and upped their up and ended up getting what I want. And I’ve got a scholarship program for young actors."

Speaking with Empire about the film's first trailer, Green  — who also co-wrote and executive produced the movie — stated that the second factor in getting Burstyn onboard for the soft reboot was delivering "a story that gains her trust and invites her into it."

The rest, as they say, is history. And much like Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the filmmaker's recent Halloween trilogy, a world-weary Chris MacNeil returns to face a profound evil that changed her life forever decades before.

Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

"The character that we were designing is ... someone that’s evolved over the last 50 years based on the events in Georgetown in a way that rhymes with the way that Ellen’s career and personal life have evolved over the last 50 years since the film was released," Green told Nancy Tapia of LRMonline. "So, we were able to be able to feed off the authenticity a little bit or a lot and inspire each other, and a real privilege for a filmmaker like me to be able to work with a profound talent like her."

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He continued: "We would do rehearsals, and I got so excited that I ended up just inviting our sound mixer to come to rehearsals so that I could have, for my selfish nature, I wanted an archive of the conversations that I would have with her. So, I have these wonderful audio recordings of just her and I talking in tangent — sometimes about the characters, sometimes about the world, sometimes about her career. I know she’s written her autobiography, otherwise I would raise my hand and say, I would like to write her biography book."

The Exorcist: Believer officially hits the big screen Friday, October 13.

A sequel — officially titled The Exorcist: Deceiver — is tentatively slated to open on April 18, 2025, Variety confirms. The title and release date (tentative or otherwise) for the third movie have not been announced yet.

Want more demonic thrills in the meantime? The Exorcist III and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist are now streaming on Peacock!