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BURSTYN: It’s a process. It’s one of those things that the more you do it, if you’re really approaching it from the point of view of wanting to get better and better, then you’re always learning. I tell actors that where you start out from is just the beginning.
AP: Did any advice you received have a dramatic influence on you?
BURSTYN: The most important thing was connecting the character and myself emotionally so that I could understand on an emotional level what was happening to her — that I wasn’t just saying words.
AP: Do you still immerse yourself so much in a character?
BURSTYN: It’s just that some characters are more available than others. I don’t have to go very far to understand them. And then some of them are strangers to me and I have to go deeper to find a place where I align with them.
AP: Your character in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” was one close to you. What’s one that was a stranger?
BURSTYN: Well, I did a film in Greece with Melina Mercouri (“A Dream of Passion”) where I played a character who was in jail for killing her children. It was a Medea theme. That really took a lot of work for me to be able to go there. I don’t mean that I wanted myself to be able to kill my children. (laughs) But I had to find the thing in her that allowed that. I did get to that point where there was a maniacal fury. I found that what she was doing was hurting her husband in the best way she possibly could. It wasn’t about the children. It was about her fury with him.
AP: With quite a few of your characters — “The Exorcist,” “Requiem for a Dream” — that meant going quite dark places. Did that ever wear on you?
BURSTYN: The act of doing a good job is thrilling and pleasurable. If the act is to play a horrible person, the result of it is that you feel afterward that you did t