ET induced Drew Barrymore a starring at seven, but addiction and rejection followed. She talks about rehab, divorcing her mom and why goofiness is underrated
Imagine you were a Hollywood producer pitched the following notion: a baby daughter born into an acting dynasty is put to work in a puppy food commercial at the age of 11 months. At seven, shes a film star pouring Baileys over her ice-cream, at 11 she develops a drink problem, at 12 shes a drug addict, at 13 she cuts her wrists and is hospitalised, and at 14 shes legally divorced from her mothers. Of course, you wouldnt make the movie. Too far-fetched. Theres only so much disbelief that it is possible to willingly suspend.
But youve not heard the half of Drew Barrymores narrative. Unemployable as an actor at 15, cleaning toilets at 16, she was twice marriage and twice divorced by her mid-2 0s. Now she has written a volume called Wildflower, a not-quite memoir; low-key essays that travel back and forth in time, telling tales of her outlandish life. Theres a lot of hippy-dippy philosophising and sugary existentialism, but its also very moving. More than anything, its a book about the lost, loveless girl who finally sees a family and love.
Barrymore is now a youthful 40 diddy( 5ft 3in ), fairly, exuding good health. She is wearing jeans, a stripy top and flat sandals, and has a bottle of brew in her hand. Cheers, she says. We clink bottles. She has just raced through a photoshoot in downtown Manhattan with turbo-charged efficiency. OK, you want happy, sad, stupid, funny? Her face changes by the second. In the book, she talks about the ways she has changed since having children. Before, she was no respecter of day, invariably late for appointments. Today, shes still half an hour late, but apologetic and keen to make amends.
Reading Wildflower, I thought of Never Been Kissed, the first movie Barrymore stimulated with her production company, Flower Films, and one of her most successful. In it, she plays Josie Geller, an aspiring publication novelist given an undercover reporting undertaking: to pretend to be a high school student to find out what modern schools are like. Josie returns to school and is quickly reminded of its horrors as a girl she had been a cack-handed clever clogs, ostracised by the cool crowd, taunted by the sons, and known as Josie Grossie. When she returns undercover, little has changed. But, as is the way with romcoms, the underdog wins the day.
Never Been Kissed became the modern-day fairytale for a generation of teenage daughters. An admission: it has been the soundtrack to my family life for the past 15 years. Virtually every time my elder daughter, Alix, invited friends round, they would watch the film. Now aged 23, and a educator, she tells she has watched it more than 50 times.
Barrymore smiles when I tell her this. Wow! I love that. I am Josie Grossie. If you say that to your daughter, shell understand. She talks about her feeling of not belonging, her clumsiness, her fixation with words, her overeagerness to correct others.
But the younger Barrymore was ridiculously cute. Although her peers might not have liked her( she tells she could never relate to other children ), movie-goers, young and old, adored her. She made her debut at five, in the Ken Russell sci-fi horror Altered States, but it was Steven Spielbergs ET, two years later the fourth most successful movie of all time that constructed her famous. In a movie of cuties( the little boy Elliott, ET himself ), Barrymores pigtailed, open-mouthed Gertie out-cuted them all, her initial terror evolving into something approaching sibling love.
In the years immediately after ET, she started get into difficulty. Theres a famous clip of her being interviewed by Johnny Carson around this time. She is seven going on 27, wearing fake front teeth to cover up the milk teeth she has just lost, which she speedily discards and dumps on his desk. She is precocious, funny, and outrageously flirtatious with the middle-aged chatshow host.
What we didnt know at the time was that her father, the actor John Drew Barrymore, was a violent alcoholic, and her mom and director, Jaid, who was born in a displaced peoples camp in Germany to Hungarian second world war refugees, was herself a wild child with little notion of parental rights. After her parents divorced, when Drew was nine, Jaid took her to Studio 54, where she was introduced to drugs and encouraged to dance with famous young men.
From the age of eight, she called herself a party daughter, going out with her mother and her moms friends up to five times a week. But she soon couldnt cope. By the age of 12, she had already been in rehab and was supporting Nancy Reagans Just Say No campaign. She fell off the wagon again, and at 13 find herself beginning an 18 -month stint in hospital, where she was treated for alcohol and drug addiction.
I ask Barrymore whether her 14 -year-old self would have imagined being able to tell such a positive life story at 40. She takes a swig from her bottle of Corona. Half no, in that I was so scared of not knowing where I was running. I truly had a fear that I was going to die at 25. And half yes, because no matter how dark shit get, I always had a sense that there should be goodness. I never went all the route into darkness. There were so many things I could have done that would have pushed me over the leading edge and I simply knew not to go there.
But Barrymore couldnt have come much closer. What was her nadir? When I was 13, that was probably the lowest. What happened then? She seems away. Just knowing that I truly was alone. And it felt terrible. It was a really rebellious period. I would run off. I was very, very angry.
What was she most angry about? Silence. Thats the thing. I dont know. And once I actually asked myself, What are you angry with? I fell the fury. If you search deep down in me, its like, why am I so angry, man? And its like, OK, cos my parents werent there, who devotes a shit? Lots of people dont have mothers. They were gone, they couldnt handle any of it, and I get it.
Yes, lots of mothers are not there for their children, I tell, but few are quite as run as yours were. She grins. They were pretty out there! But I realised, candidly, yeah, my mom locked me up in an institution. Boo hoo! But it did give an amazing discipline. It was like serious recruitment training and boot camp, and it was horrible and dark and very long-lived, one and a half years, but I needed it. I needed that whole insane discipline. My life was not normal. I was not a kid in school with normal circumstances. There was something very abnormal, and I needed some severe shift.
I have heard Barrymore refer to this institution before, but have never been sure what it was exactly. Was it an institution for the mentally ill?
Could you leave or did you have to stay?
Oh yeah. No get out for a year and a half.
Was there any warn from your mother that this was coming?
No , no , no. I would have run away. I would never, never have let that happen to myself.
Did she come and visit?
Yeah, occasionally. Occasionally.
Its a disturbing story. She talks about life in the dormitories, how she is still friends with one daughter who is kooky, but great, how they tried to narcotic her and she defied. I was like , no, thank you. I wanted to clean out. I didnt want to be a cliche.
Did you ask your mother why she sent you there?
Of course, but I got it. Then we liberated. We divided after that. I legally became an adult.
Did you ever think you were mentally ill? No. No. I merely knew that I was off course.
Did the doctors say what they thought was wrong? She giggles. Oh, they definitely guessed I was off course!
In the end, it was the institution that suggested she legally separate from her mother and be proclaimed an adult at 14. Barrymore says the experts there believed that if she were to go back out into the world, shed be better off on her own. Today, she has no unhappiness about her hour there. It was a very important thing to experience for me. It was very humbling, very quieting. Maybe it was necessary, because I came out of there a more respecting person. And my parents didnt teach me that, and life wasnt teaching me that. I came out in a very different style but I still was me.
I ask Barrymore if she enjoyed any of her child stardom. She says shes not sure. I dont suppose I understood what was good, or pleasurable, or bad. I was likely chasing exhilaration, but I dont think it was the real exhilaration. I was just too young to know.
Did you feel exploited by your mothers? Nooooo. She starts again. I entail, well, yeah, I guess with my mother it was definitely too out there. But my father , no, he was just unavailable.
The newly independent 14 -year-old was a Hollywood pariah. A has-been. Shed attend auditions and casting directors would laugh at her nerve for even turning up. To have such a big career at such a young age, then nothing for years people going, youre an unemployable catastrophe thats a tough trip to have by the time youre 14. To have access to so many things, then to nothing.
She stops, and tells maybe that should have felt terribly unjust, but it didnt. She simply accepted it, had no ego about it she couldnt afford to have. One of the few useful lessons her father teach her, she tells, was about how ruinous expectation can be. My dad once said to me that expectations are the mother of deformity, and I do not expect anything. Expectations always got me in difficulty. What do expectations really do? They attain other people feel like shit, then let you down eventually. Far better, she says, to get on with things and fight back. So “shes working” in restaurants and cleaned lavatories and told people that, yes, she used to be Drew Barrymore and still was.
As she talks, I look at two tattoos, one on each arm. On her left, the word BREATHE, vertically, in stencil-like capitals( Youre never worse after a deep breath, she tells ); on the right is a tiny bird. When she was a little girl, she asked her mom if Steven Spielberg, who directed her in ET, could be her godfather. Spielberg agreed. Did she call on him for advice in her toughest periods? I didnt want to show him certain things. He has always inspired me to be my best, so I didnt want him to ensure me at my worst. I could have easily gone to him, he was never closed- door or unwelcoming. But I was like, Ill figure this out over here, I will be back, excuse me for a minute!( After she posed naked for Playboy, aged 19, Spielberg sent her a large quilt with a note attached that read, Cover up .)
She finishes her beer, and for the first time appears somewhat uneasy. By the style, we are talking about all these things that arent in the book. She says I am focusing on the unremittingly bleak, and the book talks about precious, private moments of hope. Such as? Being on a barge and asking the universe not to give up on me. Or how I felt walking away from my mommy at 14, and what that first year was like. It was weeeeeird . I had no idea how to operate an apartment at 14. There was fungus growing everywhere, it was a disaster. It was in a dangerous neighborhood and I was so scared to sleep. I had bars on the window and alley cats fucking 30 feet away. I was so terrified.
To be honest, her positive moments dont sound much less bleak than anything else weve talked about. But, she tells, in the book she deliberately didnt go into explicit detail about past problems. This was aimed at my kids read it one day, so theres a demure quality to it. Her daughters, Olive and Frankie, with husband Will Kopelman, are three and one. Does she want to protect them from her past? She cringes. No, its not denying anything. Ive been caught off guard when people run, What are you going to do when your kids Google you? and Im like, God, that is so accusatory. Im not going to pretend I am not who I am. Im going to show them how it got me to where I am now.
We get a couple more beers. I ask how long she was a Hollywood untouchable for. Ages, she tells, maybe eight years. Im sure it wasnt that long. So she counts on her thumbs, and is astounded to discover she was only persona non grata for around three years. By persons under the age of 17, she was back with Poison Ivy, playing a character close to her own public image sexy, trashy, dangerous. Over the next six years she made 16 more films, including Bad Girls, Woody Allens musical Everyone Says I Love You, the blockbuster Batman Forever, the horror movie Scream and The Wedding Singer, the first in a series of romcom partnerships with Adam Sandler. At 20, she joined forces with Nancy Juvonen to start Flower Films, producing and starring in Never Been Kissed three years later.
She was tired of playing bad girls; had never really considered herself as one. It gave her the scope to prefer her own portions whether the misconstrue Cinderellas of the romcoms or the kick-ass heroine of Charlies Angels.
She found her 20 s liberating working hard, partying hard, enjoying huge success and a belated adolescence. At one point, she went on David Letterman, jumped on the chatshow hosts desk, dedicated him a table-dance, flashed her breasts and jumped back into her seat grinning like crazy, wondering what the fuck is she had just done. You couldnt tell whether it was with dishonor or pride, but it was noticeable that, at 20, she seemed younger than the seven-year-old who had appeared on the Johnny Carson prove all those years ago.
She says her 20 s and 30 s more than made up for her teens. Twenty to 35 was a blaaaaast . I supposed, how am I getting away with this? Im genuinely being quite playful, yet still doing a lot at work.
During this time, she briefly wedded for a second hour, to comedian Tom Green( she had previously been married, at 19, to Welsh bar proprietor Jeremy Thomas ), and had a number of relationships, including a long-term one with the Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti. Is playful a euphemism for sex, medications and rocknroll? No, she says. More like travelling, really fun periods with friends, relationships, sure. But I truly lived, and did what I wanted to when I wanted to. If I felt like doing something, I simply did it. And it was pretty liberating. I wasnt like a nun who went to sleep at 10 pm every night. I had fun!
Its interesting, I say, that despite your earlier excesses, you went on another explosion. A different character might have become abstemious. She could never do that, she tells. I cant have more severity in my life. I guess Ive had a lot of severity, and its not for me. I like moderation or balance.
In 2009, she directed her first full-length feature film, Whip It, a typical Barrymore romcom about a teenage misfit who discovers herself by signing up to a roller derby squad. The movie received generally positive reviews( critic Roger Ebert wrote, While it may not reflect the kind of female empowerment Gloria Steinem had in mind, it has guts, charm, and a black-and-blue sweetness ), but it wasnt a box-office success.
What has given her the most gratification professionally: acting, rendering or directing? Having a hand in it, being part of the process, has given me tremendous gratification. I dont like simply showing up Ive never been good at, Hope it all goes well. I want to be a part of why it goes well. Im not blind when I walk into things. Ive done my homework. I like to be part of something. I care. I care about the details.
She is extremely proud of her acting lineage seven generations of actors, including her celebrated grandpa John Barrymore, who eventually drank himself to death( alcoholism is another family trait ). But while she loves acting, she is dismissive of her own abilities. In Wildflower, Barrymore suggests she has pretty much always played herself so when she was lovelorn and misunderstood she was perfect for the romcoms, but now shes a contented mother shes fit merely for playing contented moms, and they are pretty dull roles. She refers to the majority of members of the characters she has played in recent years as panting labradors. She pants enthusiastically to depict what she means. Like a labrador, panting on the floor. Its eagerness. Eager to please, eager to be loved.
Barrymore insists she has neither the time nor inclination to play demanding roles these days. This year she starred in the comedy drama Miss You Already, with Toni Collette, about best buddies who have shared everything, including boyfriends; last year she played opposite Adam Sandler in the twee romcom Blended. She admits she has only ever genuinely stretched herself once as relevant actors, in the 2009 HBO film Grey Gardens, playing Edith Bouvier Beale, the reclusive cousin of Jackie Kennedy.
Grey Gardens was a big buy for me. It was like, right, were done for a while, because I went so cuckoo on that. I got to do the dreaming. I got to have 17 layers of chicken skin on my face. It took four hours a day in order to be allowed to attain me look like this woman. I didnt talk to anyone for four months, and only spoke like her. I wouldnt be allowed to do that now. What am I going to tell my kids? Sorry, I cant speak to you for four months, because Ive got to be Edie Beale. She says it was hugely important for her, because she wanted to prove to herself and the film industry that she could do serious. The director didnt even want me for that movie. He was like, Oh no, please not her , not the romcom daughter. And I was like, I can do it! I caaaaan do it. She has such a distinctive voice those creamy California vowels stretched to breaking point, as if talking while chewing on treacle.
Barrymore says that since having infants, her priorities have changed. Without pissing on what Ive done, I believe I truly did have a desperation I felt that everything I did in film mattered. It was my whole world. Now its children, friends, marriage, work, health. I dont want my daughters to grow up saying, Oh wow, yeah, she truly worked hard, but I didnt consider her. I want them to be like, I dont know how the hell she was there for all those things, and she still ran!
Did she worry about what she would be like as a mother? No. I knew I would not repeat the mistakes of my mothers. I knew I would never do that to a kid. I wouldnt not be there, or put them in too-adult situations. I knew Id be very traditional, or I would not do it. I would never have had infants unless I was incredibly stable, and willing to set them first. As she explains the wonder of motherhood, the words tumble out so quickly, she trips over them. It really is the most clever, smart, capable, patient, caring, creative, agile thing you will ever do when youre alive. Its amazing. So I just wanted to be present for that. I also waited. I knew I wouldnt do it till I was ready.
How would she feel if her girls wanted to become infant movie star? I would regrettably have to risk them hating me. You wouldnt let them do it? No, I wouldnt. That doesnt entail I would ever shit on the profession of acting. I think its wonderful. I guess films saved my life. I mean, I come from a family that has done acting for 400 years. But film sets are a bizarre world. For me, it was better than my circumstances. It was a saviour. For my children, it will not be better than their situations. They are going to be so safe and so loved that they wont require a film set to make their life better.
After Barrymore announced that she would rather stay at home with her children than is currently working on movie defines( albeit still focusing on her successful beauty product business ), she experienced a backlash. From whom? Women! For saying, you cant have it all. But I didnt mean it like that. I think you most certainly can do anything you want, I just think I cant do everything at once. It isnt going to warrant a good outcome and isnt actually possible. And that really pissed people off. Was she upset by the response? No, but I felt it was misunderstand. I guess women know how much I am for women and about girls, but I do have an issue with, You can have it all. Its an impossible expectation to put upon yourself. And what does having it all actually mean? It sounds very greedy, you know, I can have it all. I cant have it all.
We talk about gender inequalities within the film industry pay, the fact that women are often written off as love interests by their mid-3 0s. Yes, Im four years past my prime! She grins. She says she knows there is still discrimination, but her experience has largely been positive. I feel so lucky for the opportunities I did have. I mean, I was 23 when I made Never Been Kissed, that was our first movie as Flower Films, and “its all for” Fox and they took a risk on me. I literally ran in in corduroy pants and a backpack, in the age of the power suit. We did not fit the component, and we are trying to do it our way, and they let us. Sony let Nancy Juvonen and me construct Charlies Angels, a giant fuckin franchise movie, and they let us make a second one. And we got to construct 50 First Dates, and someone gave us financing for Donnie Darko. I feel weve had the best operated ever.
Its three years since she marriage art consultant Kopelman, when she was six months pregnant with Olive. One of the most touching parts of Wildflower is her realisation that she ultimately has the family she has always wanted. And not only one family. Theres her work household at Flower Films, the family she has started with Kopelman, the extended family of her in-laws, her joy at taking part in their Jewish rituals.
Its 11 years since her father succumbed, a destitute junkie, and Barrymore rarely speaks to her mother. Her parents are largely absent from the latter stages of her volume, and we are left wondering if there is any forgiveness, let alone love, for them. But in the final lines of the acknowledgments, she writes: And to my mother Ildiko Jaid Barrymore. Thank you. I am ever so pleased to be on this planet! And to my father John Drew Barrymore. Watch you again some day.
She appears delighted when I tell I procured this the most poignant bit in the book. I truly didnt know how to feel about my mom for so many years. And its painful to have conflicting impressions about the woman who gave birth to you. But its like Ive finally passed through something which has attained me OK with everything, even if I dont understand it all and might never, never resolve it.
As we leave, she signs a DVD cover of Never Been Kissed for my daughter, and we talk about why the film had such a huge impact on so many daughters. Its strange, she tells, how you can strive to be profound, but in the end its the simplest things that end up mattering. You try so hard to do something important and meaningful. But when you strike the universal chord of goofiness, its far more important. And, goddamnit, we all beat the fuck up on ourselves, going, wed better do something important and meaningful in this world, and make an impact and a difference, and change something and in the end its like, did you make anyone feel like they werent alone? That might be the coolest thing you ever do with their own lives. I close my eyes, and its no longer Drew Barrymore in front of me, its Josie Grossie, all grown up and confident and freakishly wise.
Read more: www.theguardian.com