Say no more

Say no more

Kevin Maher chats to Drew Barrymore about her wild reputation, upcoming friendship dramedy and prioritising motherhood over acting

Let’s get this straight from the beginning – Drew Barrymore is not retiring. The 41-year-old actress, E.T. star, former wild child and current mother of two, is just, well, giving it up. For now. And for the next few years, at least. And possibly a few years after that. And after that? Well, don’t hold your breath.

‘By no means am I abandoning acting,’ she says, early in our conversation, on the subject of work–life balance (her daughters are two and three). ‘Nor am I pretending that I don’t love acting, but I just can’t do it right now, not with my children. My universe revolves around my children, and the hours keep me away from them too much, and I’m not willing to do that. I’ve had this life for 40 years, but it’s wonderful now to invest it in motherhood. Any acting roles will be few and far between until my kids are older, and by then, who knows what I’ll want to do?’

Which is curious. Because we are here today, in a central London hotel suite, to discuss Barrymore’s new movie, the cancer weepie Miss You Already, in which she presents her strongest and most understated performance in years. She plays Jess, straight-arrow environmentalist and best buddy of giddy hedonist Milly (Toni Collette). When Milly is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jess leaps into action, sweeping all personal plans aside for the sake of her friend, but ultimately to the detriment of her own happiness. Cue plenty of raging arguments, irreverent chemo comedy, tear-streaked screaming matches and the agony of the inevitable end.

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Naturally, when Barrymore read the script last summer – in the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, Will Kopelman, who is an art consultant and son of the former CEO of Chanel, Arie Kopelman – she freaked. ‘I was holding my newborn girl in one arm, and feeding my other girl in her highchair, and turning the pages with my free hand, and I was furious that I liked it so much,’ she says, in-between hungry slurps of a takeaway smoothie.

Barrymore, as you may expect from someone with a feel-good back catalogue that runs from Mad Love to The Wedding Singer to Charlie’s Angels to Music and Lyrics, is hyper-affable. She exudes a chirpy, round-faced, girl-next-door charisma (her nickname, she says, is Dinky) that is balanced and perhaps even defined by hints of wickedness.

She’s wearing a blue woollen Chanel dress (‘It’s going back to the store because I don’t own it – it’s just a loan’), but she says she prefers Topshop. And, after our interview is over, she promises she is going to hit the hotel gym: ‘I’m getting on that elliptical [trainer] and I’m going to sweat my butt off.’

For now, though, she’s busy remembering her fury at the Miss You Already screenplay. ‘I was so mad. The timing was all wrong, but I thought: “I have two girls and this is being made by a female writer [Morwenna Banks] and a female director [Catherine Hardwicke], with two women in front of the camera. It’s a woman-driven thing, and I want to make it for my kids.”’

She’s quick to add that this is not some syrupy disease-of-the-week flick, nor is it ‘overly sentimental, or maudlin, or aggressively emotional’. In fact, she claims Hardwicke – a no-nonsense Texan whose films include Thirteen and Twilight – often intervened when her two leads started to sniffle on-camera.

‘Toni and I would get really moved sometimes and start welling up during our scenes,’ Barrymore says. ‘But Catherine would say [clicks fingers and barks]: “No! You will not cry here!” And it was tough, but it was good. Because I hate those films. If everyone else is crying, I don’t have room to cry. It’s when people aren’t breaking, and they should – that’s what kills me.’

The movie, in other words, is not your typical so-called ‘women’s film’ (such as Fried Green Tomatoes), and it’s a lot better for it. It’s fantastically unsentimental, gruelling (hello, double-mastectomy scene) and compassionate in equal measure, and it features two layered and complex central performances. However, given that Collette’s is the showier of the roles (and a possible contender at awards season) and that Barrymore is clearly the more powerful star, did she never think of nabbing it?

‘Toni and I did discuss it,’ Barrymore says, ‘and originally she was cast as Jess. But, when the time came to do it, I had just given birth to my second daughter and was in love with the idea of being about the creation of life. Plus, I’ve been like Milly at times in my life. A tornado. Selfish. And kind of wild. So, for a while I did think: “I bet people will think we’re playing the opposite of each other.”’

Ah yes, the tornado years. Where to begin? Perhaps with the seven-year-old Barrymore, scion of Hollywood’s performing dynasty (actor John Barrymore was her grandfather). She was already a jobbing actress when she was catapulted suddenly, via TV commercials and movie bit-parts, into global stardom as the adorable, alien-loving child character Gertie in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Almost immediately, it went bad, with booze at nine years old, New York club-hopping at 10, cocaine at 13 and rehab by 14. These events, she shrugs, are just ‘stuff that’s rehashed and that everybody knows about. “At this age, then at this age, then at this age!” We all know that. But they were not the most defining moments in my life. There are so many other moments that are quieter, and some that are louder, but that nobody knows about.’

She does admit that one of the questions she loathes the most is: ‘What are you going to say to your children when they google you?’ She says, ‘Well, I would never pretend that my life didn’t exist in every increment and moment and situation that it did. But the pillars of appropriateness are so important to me now, as someone who wants to be a good, wholesome mother to her daughters, that maybe this is the journey that it took to get me here.’

Post-rehab, at 15, Barrymore legally ‘emancipated’ herself from her allegedly hard-partying mother, Jaid Barrymore (her parents divorced when she was nine). ‘I got my first apartment. I was like a legal adult,’ she says. ‘I’d separated from my mom and got out of an institution and started my life over again. And no, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together.’

She bounced back quickly enough, with the 1992 sexploitation thriller Poison Ivy, the teen murder drama Guncrazy and the all- women western Bad Girls. Yet it wasn’t until a barnstorming cameo in 1996, as the first victim in the postmodern horror smash Scream (remember, ‘Do you like scary movies?’) that the movie world was reminded that Barrymore had some serious, if seriously underrated, acting chops. ‘I carefully chose to play that one scene,’ she says. ‘It was such a strong scene and so well written that I could tell it would become a classic if handled the right way.’

Barrymore has done a ton of work since, making her name in romcoms (50 First Dates, Fever Pitch) and even as a successful producer (Charlie’s Angels, Donnie Darko) and director (Whip It). She also produces her own cosmetics line, Flower, and has written a book of autobiographical essays, called Wildflower, published in October last year.

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Off-screen she’s bounced from two marriages (to Jeremy Thomas, a Welsh barman, which lasted two months; and the comedian Tom Green) to relationships with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, and actor Justin Long. She met Will Kopelman in 2011 when, she says, she was, ‘gearing up for motherhood. The past five years, actually. I’ve just quieted my life down. I’ve made a lot of changes. I’ve made a lot of choices. And it’s all been very conducive to having the kind of family that I want to have.’

Which brings us back to the big ‘R’. As in ‘retirement’. So, just to clarify, she’s not looking for any movie roles after Miss You Already comes out? She thinks about it and answers carefully, politician-style: ‘Right now, there is nothing I want more than to be with my kids.’ She pauses. ‘But, maybe, through this film some other opportunity will come up and who knows?’

So, she is working again? ‘No!’ she says, chuckling now, before announcing triumphantly, ‘I’ve got it! How about you end off this whole piece with a big, fat question mark?’

Text: Kevin Maher/The Times/The Interview People; Photography: Greatstock, Greatstock/Splash News, Gallo/GettyImages
April/May 2016

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