Drew Barrymore I don’t pretend to be perfect
From child star and teen rebel to successful producer and businesswoman – actress Drew Barrymore talks with Rebecca Nicholson about the ups and downs she’s faced – and how her daughters have changed her life.
Drew Barrymore walks into the hotel room in Berlin flanked by assistants, caked in heavy television make-up and wrapped in a brown fluffy jacket that makes her look like a very glamorous teddy bear. Within seconds, the entourage has disappeared, she’s wiped every scrap of foundation from her face and is rummaging around underneath her dress, a kind of earth mother hippy smock, regretting her decision to wear tights on this sub-freezing day. “Why does anyone wear pantyhose?” she exclaims, barefaced, faux exasperated, shifting in her armchair, trying to get comfortable. “They’re so f***ing sadistic! They’re not even control pants,” she says, conspiratorially,
“but I’m forcing them to be.”
For many women, especially those who grew up between 1982 and the early 2000s, Drew is a particular type of icon. She’s the accessible rebel we wanted to be or be friends with.
She’s the child star of E.T. The Extra
Terrestrial who hit the skids early and hard, and not only survived, but went on to be one of the most popular (and bankable) female stars of the past three decades. Drew has appeared in – and often produced – movies that are vital viewing for teens, from the taboobusting Poison Ivy to the triumphant high-school romcom Never Been Kissed, to the moody angst of Donnie Darko.
In her 20s, Drew seemed to hang out with the best bands and go to the best parties. She was the manic pixie dream girl before it became an indie film stereotype. The memoir she wrote in 2015 is fittingly called Wildflower.
Drew looks genuinely pleased she holds such a place in people’s minds and decides that “if anyone has any goodwill towards me”, careful not to sound arrogant, it’s because she extends goodwill to other people. “Not in an annoying way, but just, like, being in people’s f**king corners.”
It’s this combination of soft and sharp, wrapped in that Valley Girl lilt, that has carried her through life. “I want people to be happy, but happiness has to be fought for. It’s a warrior trophy. It’s not hippy,” she insists. “I’m like, fight, fight to the death to be happy and don’t kill anyone along the way.”
We’re in Germany to talk about
Santa Clarita Diet, the new Netflix series which has brought Drew back into the spotlight at 42. It’s a warm and occasionally gross comedy about Sheila and Joel, estate agents who have been together since school and whose marriage is tested when the amiable Sheila develops a sudden taste for human flesh.
“I stopped working to have kids, take care of them and raise them, so I was nervous about working again,” Drew says. “I was going through a dark time in my own life. And then I read [the script] and I liked it. Now what am I supposed to do? I can’t do this right now, it’s terrible timing, my whole life is falling apart.” She ended up executive producing and starring in the series.
That her life was falling apart out of the spotlight was a new thing for Drew, who had played out most of her life in a very public sphere.
I was nervous about working again. I was going through a dark time in my own life.
“No one’s talking about my life,” she says. “I mean, yes, I had a divorce, but even that was real quiet.”
Drew broke up with actor Will Kopelman, the father of her two children, Olive, four, and Frankie, two, at the beginning of 2016, but recently posted an Instagram of him running the New York marathon and her there, with their daughters, to support him. “It was like, ‘Oh, they didn’t work out, I wonder why? Oh, my God, they seem like such good friends and so amicable, I guess we’ll stop giving a s***.’ I was so happy about that,” she says, breezily.
In the midst of Drew’s divorce, Santa Clarita Diet was a transformative experience. “Ironically, it wasn’t the worst timing,” she says. “It was great. It was really happy. My daughters and I got to go out to California and I got three days off a week.”
Just as becoming a proto-zombie saves Sheila from the numbing boredom of domestic life, Drew went through her own kind of rejuvenation.
“I feel like Sheila. I feel like maybe I was dead inside,” she says, cheerfully, blowing her nose. “I was in a place in my life where I’d gained a lot of weight and been in a place of fear and sadness, and I felt stuck. I don’t think that’s so much unlike the character.”
Until she took time away from acting to have kids, Drew had never not worked. She began her career at 11 months in an ad for dog food, becoming the main breadwinner for herself and her mother, Jaid, who raised her alone. Her father, John Barrymore, of the famed acting dynasty – “The great line of loonies from which I come,” as Drew puts it – wasn’t around much.
Her extraordinary youth was public and well-documented. Her breakout role in E.T., at six, was followed by an outlandish few years of boozing and drug-taking, rehab and institutions, and the sense that, at 14, she was washed up, career over.
Yet it wasn’t. Drew moved into an apartment by herself, got a job in a coffee shop, learned how to do her own laundry and, eventually, clawed her way back into the business, defeating the curse of the child actor. She has said her 20s were a kind of delayed adolescence. Now, in her 40s, she’s had a lifetime’s worth of parties and says she doesn’t miss it at all.
“I don’t worry about who the hottest band is or that I’m not at that show,” Drew says. “I don’t care if the latest trend is passing me by.”
Her idea of a good time is taking the girls to Disney World, or “setting up movie nights for the kids in my daughter’s class. I just watched Home Alone and all the moms and I were crying at the end. Oh, my God, it’s so good! I appreciate it now much more than I did when I was younger.”
She is too classy to be drawn into any child actor comparisons – it would be “patronising, annoying, no thanks,” she says, nicely but firmly – but we talk more broadly about celebrity scandals.
“Everyone goes up and goes down. That’s life. Nobody wants all of it probed. However, if you put yourself out there, then be prepared for that to be examined,” she says. “So for people who are like, ‘Don’t look at me’ – you
put yourself out there!”
Is there any way to avoid being examined? “Not in this day and age. You just try to manage things in the healthiest way you can. And, by the way, you won’t all the time. So f*** up, then pick yourself back up. But be nice and kind, humble and gracious, and have a sense of humour. And don’t pretend to be perfect.”
Little girl lost
Drew dealt with her own mess-ups in a memoir, Little Girl Lost, which she calls, “The mea culpa book I wrote when I was 14.” She appeared on Oprah with her mother to promote it and to go over what went wrong. You can watch the clip on YouTube; Drew’s 15 going on 35.
Yet the book has a cult following because it makes the partying she did as a child sound adventurous. “Yeah! It’s like an 80s cult tragedy book, which is super-cool and wrong and fun all at the same time,” she says. “It’s a little ‘riot grrrl’, you know?”
There’s a section of the book in which Drew describes being hauled off to an institution at her mother’s behest and she is furious at the star-struck guards. “‘God, you’ve just yanked me out of my house with cuffs on,’ I thought, and now you’re asking me what it was like to meet E.T. What jerks,” she writes. Even at 14, she had a disdain for celebrity. “Still do,” Drew says now.
Today, she says, she’s simply “dull”. “I’m just so quiet and boring,” she declares, not entirely convincingly.
This is Drew Barrymore, after all, who talks with the hunger of someone always on the lookout for something new, whether that’s being a mum, a businesswoman, or playing an estate agent who eats bad people.
“I’m pretty boring,” Drew insists. I tell her I don’t believe it. She smiles slyly and leans in. There’s a rebel in her still. “I’m not sure I believe it either.”
In 2010, Drew won her first Golden Globe Best Actress award for Grey Gardens.
With daughters Olive (left) and Frankie Kopelman in 2014.
Drew stars in Santa Clarita Diet with Timothy Olyphant.