Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vogue April 05 - Drew Barrymore

Beauty and the Beast: It's a lazy Sunday evening, and Drew Barrymore and I are sitting in Mel's Drive-In, a hangout on the Sunset Strip. I know I should be asking about her upcoming romantic comedy Fever Pitch, or how she's flying off to Vegas to make Lucky You, a new Curtis Hanson movie that will show her to be a serious actress, or what it's like for the perennially youthful star to turn 30. I know I should be asking about all these things—"This is a very important time in my life," she says—but as we sit in our booth, listening to Sam Cooke sing "You Send Me," I can't stop myself from bringing up the thing staring me right in the face: the fact that she's so, well, thin.

"I guess I am," she says, looking down. "I was out the other night and somebody said, 'If you'd put on a little weight you'd look like … Drew Barrymore.'"

She gives a delighted laugh.

At 30, Barrymore is no longer the daffy-sweet girl we all think we know. As she enters a new decade, she clearly sees herself moving into a new stage of her life. And the most vivid symbol of this change is her slim new body: "Can you lose baby fat," she asks, "at 30?"

The first time we meet, we have a date to go hiking in Hollywood's Runyon Canyon, but when I pull up to our rendezvous, all I see is this svelte young beauty in a pair of flamboyant, aqua-hued sunglasses you might expect to find on Austin Powers's girlfriend. That can't be her, I think. After all, I've been watching Barrymore since she was six-year-old Gertie in E.T. (she's been making movies longer than Sean Penn!), and this woman has none of the ripe fleshiness that once led a leading New York film critic to cruelly rebuke her for being overweight. Then she turns and I see the silhouette of that famous Barrymore chin.

"D" (as she's known to her friends) gives me a hug and introduces her three dogs: hand-licking Vivian ("an Australian border-collie mutt") and the friendly brother-sister team of Labs, Flossie and Templeton. If you can measure a person's character by her dogs' behavior, Barrymore is surely a paragon of kindness.

"Drew lights up a room," George Clooney had told me recently. "When she's there, everything is just better." At the time, I thought this sheer blarney, but meeting her I instantly grasp what he meant. Even clad in jeans, blue Fila jacket, and a camo T-shirt, Barrymore exudes the same benevolent radiance she displays on-screen—her eyes invite you in. If interviewing Nicole Kidman is like playing three-dimensional chess with a grand master (she's so many moves ahead of you, it's scary), talking to Barrymore is like having dinner with your old high school girlfriend. Her manner is so warm, sensible, and good-humored that it takes a while to see the melancholy nipping around the edges, the lingering shadow of a childhood that, to this day, makes her eager to win the love of everyone she meets—"I'm the biggest fucking people-pleaser you'll ever meet in this world," she says, shaking her head.

Although Barrymore will strive to convince you that she's simple as a daisy, she is, in fact, a bouquet of contradictions. She swears like a drill sergeant, yet her highest words of praise have to do with "purity" and "joy." She adopts the carefree persona of a party girl but pushes herself like a hard-charging CEO. She serves as a sexual fantasy for millions of men, yet her most devout fans are preteen girls. Having spent her early 20s being known for her racy high jinks, she is now an icon of innocence—people lined up to see her in Never Been Kissed. And although she belongs to a group of actresses (Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst) who are a throwback to the breezy stars of thirties-screwball Hollywood—you don't find them burning to play Oscar-winning victims—her production company, Flower Films, is at the forefront of women's power in the twenty-first-century film industry.

On this crisp, clear L.A. afternoon, she's doing her best to be what fate has determined she never can be: just an ordinary person walking her dogs. The hiking trail at Runyon Canyon is one of Hollywood's great cauldrons of aspiration and envy, teeming with gorgeous, out-of-work actors and actresses (even their pets are beautiful) possessed of infallible antennae for stardom: All their eyes fall on my companion as we stride up the trail. This doesn't faze her in the slightest. ("Other people become famous," says her great pal Cameron Diaz. "She was always famous.") Barrymore just goes about her business, bellowing at Templeton to get out of the underbrush, bumping into her old friend Jesse Bochco (son of the TV big shot), and kneeling down to hug a stranger's pooch who has begun nuzzling her—"You're a lovey-butt," she coos.

As we walk, she pats my arm to make her points, grabs my sleeve protectively when she thinks I'm about to tumble down a rocky slope ("I'm trying to anchor myself," she graciously lies), and through it all chatters away about how she quit smoking a month ago, adores the movies of Alexander Payne, and had a blast producing and starring in Fever Pitch, in which she's the businesswoman girlfriend of an obsessive Boston Red Sox fan played by Jimmy Fallon. "Jimmy is so good in the movie!" she says, as if letting me in on a great secret. (It's not for nothing she's a producer.) "I mean, we always got to see him being so funny on Saturday Night Live. But here you see him explore love and intensity and drama."

In fact, she's right. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, best known for There's Something About Mary, this charming movie marks a breakthrough for both its stars. As the Red Sox-mad schoolteacher, Ben, Fallon makes a quantum leap in his acting—he has some of the funny, self-deprecating ardor of the young Tom Hanks. And her role is even more striking. Ambitious yet loving, the career-crazy Lindsay may be the closest thing to the real Drew Barrymore the actress has ever played.

"This isn't a girl she's playing," insists Peter Farrelly. "It's a full-fledged woman you're seeing on-screen. And I think it will be a turning point in Drew's career. It's her Jane Fonda moment—like that moment when Fonda went from doing Barbarella to being in movies like The China Syndrome and Klute."

We sit down on a rock and gaze down at the city, beautiful in the golden light of magic hour. But Barrymore is not one who finds it easy to sit still. "I wake up and want to do things," she says, and begins talking of her dreams for the next decade, when she hopes to take everything she learned in her 20s and apply it to her 30s—"but not allow myself to have a carbon-copy decade."

It's as if in streamlining her body, she has grown even more focused on what she hopes to accomplish. She wants to act in and produce lots of movies. She wants to learn to paint. She wants to write a short story. She wants to bring out a book of her photographs. She wants to work in fashion ("I used to tape Helmut Newton pages to my wall when I was eight!"). She wants to write a children's book and become a travel writer for glossy magazines. Having made a documentary about voting that aired on MTV, she now wants to make short films and then maybe start directing features. Oh, yes, and along the way, she also wants to make more time for kicking back with her friends.

Barrymore rattles off this wish list so blithely that I'm inclined to laugh ("Oh, so you plan to live forever?"), but the more she talks the more I realize that I'm getting a vision of the Barrymore normally obscured by the public image of the insouciant flower child. This is the smart, driven Drew who wants to travel everywhere and meet everybody, the Drew who puts aside scripts to read The Iliad and The Odyssey—just to know what's in them.

The desire to know and do everything is one of Barrymore's defining aspects, says Nancy Juvonen, her friend and partner in Flower Films. "Leaving school at such a young age," Juvonen tells me, "made her think she hadn't learned enough. It put her on a constant learning curve. Being educated didn't end when the diploma got there, because the diploma never got there."

Seen from this angle, Barrymore's whole life can be viewed as one grand attempt to play catch-up—to recapture the pleasures and lessons that she didn't get as a child. Indeed, the great paradox of this actress known for her youthfulness is that she never really had a childhood.

"You know," she says as we arrive back on the mean streets of Hollywood, "I've always been an adult."

She could have been born into an ordinary family somewhere in the Midwest and grown up like one of her nice-girl characters, the unhappily engaged waitress Julia Sullivan in The Wedding Singer or pristine journalist Josie Geller in Never Been Kissed. But she entered the world as the scion of two celebrated theatrical clans: the Drews, whose fame went back to the early nineteenth century, and the Barrymores, as fabled for their self-destructiveness as for their talent. The family name put its claim on her from the beginning—she had to shoulder the burden of expectations and fame—and it's surely one of the most delicious ironies of Hollywood history that, 30 years after her birth, the only Barrymore most people have ever heard of is Drew.

Of course, by the time she was born, in 1975, the Barrymore clan was in decline. Drew's Hungarian-born mother, Ildiko Jaid Barrymore, was a struggling actress. Her father, John Drew Barrymore (who died last year), was a watered-down version of her grandfather John ("The Great Profile") Barrymore—he inherited his father's troublesome proclivities but not his charisma. Neither were what you'd call ideal parents—they lived in what Drew calls "a total crack den of a duplex" in Hollywood—and their daughter did her first acting job, a dog-food commercial, before she turned one. By the time E.T. made her a kiddie superstar, she was already a seasoned pro. And a fretful one.

"My father was never around," she says, "and my mom and I both worked jobs to pay the rent. I never felt that feeling that I imagine you have when you're a kid and think that your parents pay the rent and put the food on the table. I was always afraid that if I didn't work we wouldn't eat and we'd lose our house. I sort of had that 40-year-old-male mentality of 'I need to provide for my family'—when I was three or four or five years old."

By ten, Barrymore was leading the kind of double life you find in pulpy novels. During the day, she was a breadwinner, impressing industry grown-ups with her preternatural maturity. Ryan O'Neal, who costarred with her in the 1984 Irreconcilable Differences (about a girl who divorces her parents), tells me that Drew was "one of the most delightful and professional young actresses" he ever worked with. But off the set, things were going kerflooey. At an age when her peers would be thrilled to sneak into a PG-13 movie, she was living the Hollywood wild life.

"All my friends were adults. That's why I wanted to grow up so fast and go to clubs and parties. That's what I saw adults doing, so I thought I should be doing it, too." She shrugs. "But it was sort of scandalous because of my age."

Given her messy childhood, Barrymore might have easily have wound up in a "Where Are They Now?" column or turned up on The Surreal Life, sharing a bunk with another washed-up celebrity. But belying her soft appearance, she has always been startlingly resilient. Bit by bit, she began to rebuild her career—and her life.

Her rehabilitation didn't always go smoothly, and during her late teens, she seemed to confirm her bad-girl status with a series of jailbait performances in movies whose titles said it all: Poison Ivy, Guncrazy, and TV's The Amy Fisher Story. Precociously curvaceous and sultry, Barrymore was actually quite good in these roles, which drew on both the chaotic darkness of her upbringing and a streak of exhibitionism. "I definitely went through a vampy, risqué period," she recalls, "where I just felt very free and wasn't self-conscious at all." I'll say. One has to be remarkably unself-conscious to flash a prude like David Letterman.

Barrymore could have milked the sex-kitten role for several years—the makers of the vile Showgirls wanted to cast her in the lead. But rather than take that road, some instinct of survival told her to pull back. In 1994, at the venerable age of nineteen, she made the most important two decisions of her professional life: She created Flower Films, a production company intended to let her take control of her own projects, and on a hunch, she asked Nancy Juvonen, then in her late 20s and with no producing experience, to be her partner in the journey. In fact, Juvonen remembers, she didn't simply ask. Barrymore left a message on her answering machine that went, "I dare you to come start this company with me."

Famously informal (she prefers JanSport bags to designer fare), Juvonen proved an inspired choice, eventually providing Barrymore with the most stable and lasting adult relationship she'd ever known. (They had their ten-year "anniversary" last November 1.) Blessed with good sense and a preternatural sense of organization—she loves making to-do lists and filling up Post-its—Juvonen quickly became more than just a partner. She's Barrymore's buddy, guidance counselor, surrogate sister, consigliere, coconspirator, and college roomie. In fact, chatting with Juvonen can be eerily like chatting with Barrymore. Both are enthusiasts who talk with the bounteous brio of a bebop sax player—their words come out in ecstatic scads. "We can talk about movies all night," Juvonen says, and one pictures their giddy conversations resembling some fabulous pajama party where the girls drink, laugh, declare their crushes on various actors, then wind up making pure and joyful decisions about $90 million movies. Indeed, the two are famous for heading into pitch meetings armed with charts, lists, notebooks, collages, and video compilations—bubbly chicks who, not by accident, just happen to be prepared to the teeth.

For its first two years, Flower Films made nothing. Instead, Barrymore says, "we learned how everything is done." Even as they insisted that work should be like play—including wearing exactly what they wanted, no matter what anyone said—the pair proved to have very sharp instincts for the kind of work that would transform Barrymore's image. She appeared in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, did The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler (Barrymore's still the only actress to shine in one of his movies), and starred in the Cinderella story Ever After, a movie so popular with preteens that Jimmy Fallon jokes to me that "it's The Godfather for little girls." Showing a refined eye for the Zeitgeist, Barrymore took a role in the smash hit Scream but was savvy enough to turn down the uninteresting lead. Instead, she got murdered in an opening scene that became a horror-film classic.

In 1999, Flower Films finally made its first film, Never Been Kissed, which promptly became a huge hit and reinforced the image of the new, wholesome Drew, an idea fans and critics were eager to embrace. Next came the juggernaut Charlie's Angels, a pressure cooker of a picture that the media had pegged as a disaster. Looking back on it, Barrymore says the whole thing was a blast.

"I got this call from her out of the blue," recalls Diaz. "She said, 'Come and play with me.' And play they did, beginning a close, exuberant friendship that continues to this day. In fact, a few hours after our hike in Runyon Canyon, Barrymore set up a girl's-night-out dinner at the L.A. restaurant Capo that would include Juvonen and fellow Angels Lucy Liu and Diaz (whom she calls, respectively, Pussy and Poo). "We're like a litter of puppies," Barrymore giggles. "We're always draped all over each other. We can complete each other's sentences and we can cry on each other's shoulders and we can kick each other's asses to be the best friends and workers we can be. And I love that."

Coming on the heels of Never Been Kissed, Charlie's Angels was the proof that Barrymore could actually thrive on both sides of the camera—as an actress and a shrewd, hands-on producer. Years later, Liu still praises her for her courage in casting a Chinese-American actress in the movie. "She brought a minority into Americana. She's very progressive in the way she thinks and does things. Just look at Donnie Darko."

There are those who'd say the company's greatest achievement to date was finding the $5 million to make Richard Kelly's surpassingly weird little film about teen alienation (starring Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal), which quickly became a cult hit. Donnie Darko is one of the great indie movies of the last fifteen years, and Barrymore sees such films as part of their mission. "If we have the chance to get something out there, and no one else is willing to take on that risk, that's so cool. Let's do it."

Despite Flower's commercial and artistic success, Barrymore never stops hustling, convinced that, because of her checkered past, she must struggle for every single thing. ("I don't want to sound like a hippie," says Juvonen, "but I think Drew's karmic plight is that she's going to always have to Prove It.")

Barrymore fought for the role of Penny in George Clooney's film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind—she's a great admirer of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman—and stole that movie by bringing soulfulness to a chilly tour de force. When Sony wanted to cast another actress in 50 First Dates, a movie Barrymore had been burning to make for years, she wrote a long, heartfelt letter to Adam Sandler. The letter worked. So did the movie. Watching 50 First Dates six years after the two appeared in The Wedding Singer, one was struck at how much deeper both actors had become in that time.

Still the industry's never been quite sure how good an actress Barrymore really is—she's seldom talked up for the kind of "classy" roles that go to Paltrow or Kidman—and she herself now seems eager to discover just how far her gifts can take her. Lately, it has been part of Flower Films's master plan to steer her away from romantic comedies and challenge her with more demanding roles. Not that she needs to convince those who've worked with her. "She's a great actress," Clooney says, and Farrelly seconds that: "She's phenomenal. She's completely in touch with both ends of her emotions—the laughing and the crying."

All of Barrymore's big choices are carefully considered. Just as she and Juvonen freely acknowledge they spent several years trying to get her on the cover of Vogue, so they tell me they've spent equally long trying to land her a role like the one in Lucky Me, in which she plays a struggling lounge singer who gets involved with a professional poker player. For her, the movie's great selling point is the chance to work with a top-drawer director like Curtis Hanson, who not only won the beleaguered Kim Basinger an Oscar for L.A. Confidential (while making Russell Crowe a star) but coaxed a superb performance out of non-actor Eminem in 8 Mile.

"I feel her emotional and dramatic potential has yet to be realized," says Hanson. Part of that potential lies in what Hanson sees as a timeless classicism that brings her back full circle to the great tradition of the Drews and the Barrymores. "More than any other actress in her age group," he says, "Drew projects a movie-star quality reminiscent of the Golden Age of the Hollywood studios. A lot of actors feel mired in their time, but she really seems like she could have been a star back then."

It has always been part of Barrymore's allure that she has a personal style all her own. On the evening we meet at Mel's Drive-In, she's dressed in a frayed dark Balenciaga shirt with missing buttons, a short white skirt with dangling threads ("I cut it off myself!"), and black boots over what she calls "cheap black tights." She wears this as confidently as a more conventional star might wear Marc Jacobs. Even in the chintzy light of a diner, over a plate of onion rings she's ordered more out of habit than appetite, she has a glow that makes you understand why so many have fallen for her, both on-screen and off-.

Ever since her disastrous five-week marriage to a bar owner when she was nineteen, Barrymore's headlong love life has been played out in public. After spending much of the nineties going through a series of boyfriends, including Jamie Walters of Beverly Hills 90210, Eric Erlandson from Courtney Love's band Hole, and actor Luke Wilson (with whom she starred in Home Fries), she fell for comic Tom Green. The two met on Charlie's Angels, got married in July 2001, and filed for divorce five months later—but not before her Beverly Hills mansion burned down in a fire that began while they were sleeping.

She's most recently been involved with the Strokes' Brazilian-born drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, and true to form, their romance has been the stuff of continuous tabloid frenzy. Shortly before we first meet, the gossip columns were reporting that Barrymore had been seen out shopping for a wedding dress. A few days later, "Page Six" was declaring that, au contraire, Moretti had been "drummed out"—Barrymore had written him a letter giving him the kiss-off.

When I bring up her relationship with Moretti, she gives me a look that isn't so much wary as weary. Barrymore been here many, many times before. But part of turning 30 is recognizing that her own past garrulous openness is somewhat to blame, and she hopes not to repeat the mistake with her new man.

"I want to try to stop talking about my relationships publicly," she says. "Believe me, I'm never going to hoard my information. I'm not, like, 'You can't know anything about my personal life.' But it does get annoying and tedious. What I'd like to say is that I love this person, and he knows I love him, and everybody that's important to me knows I love him. But I don't want to feel strange and vulnerable because I've exposed details about things that, when they're kept private, feel so much more delightful."

Beyond this attempt at reticence, which does not come naturally to her, Barrymore's new maturity involves taking better care of herself. "I no longer have this sort of sixties-wildflower mentality when it comes to my physicality," she says. "None of the fast-track, sex-drugs-rock-'n'-roll parties exist in my world."

Although Barrymore's fame means that the world has long been privy to her fluctuations in weight—an endearingly human quality to which countless women relate—she insists that she's never worried about how she looks: "If I weigh ten extra pounds or my arms aren't defined, that's not going to be the meaning of my life." At the same time, as she moves into her 30s, she also knows that she has to be in good condition to feel comfortable in her own skin. And this has altered her habits and her appearance.

"I get so shy when I think people are looking. But I guess I was a lot heavier before and didn't notice the change as much 'cause it's me. Except for when I find my old pants." She laughs. "I saw a test screening of Fever Pitch, and I was like, 'Holy shit, my shape is different.' And I was happy with what I saw. The thing that really changed is exercise," she explains. Barrymore doesn't have any special regimen—no pilates, no personal trainer. She just runs (and walks those energetic dogs). "I didn't exercise before. But ever since I started, my body has really, really changed. So it turns out that those assholes who say, 'exercise is good for you' are right." She shakes her head, laughing. "I hate that."

If Barrymore feels more comfortable with herself than ever before, this is largely because, after a lonely, chaotic childhood, she has finally created her own safe haven. She has a stable partner in Juvonen, lots of friends, a staff famous for their warmth—"these are the world's nicest girls ever," gushes Fallon—and a groovy Sunset Boulevard office that brings together all the parts of her life. Her walls are lined with paintings, "Misfit" sketches by her artist pal Jon Rosen, placards for the Charlie's Angels sound track, black- and-white photos of her grandfather John Barrymore hamming it up, and a poster for one of her great-aunt Ethel Barrymore's pictures. As Diaz pithily puts it, "She has created her own family."

As we wait for the check at Mel's Drive-In, we're approached by a tiny Latino girl, perhaps eight years old, who just stands there without speaking. "May we have an autograph?" her mother says shyly. They don't have any paper, so Barrymore digs into her purse, pulls out a sheet, and signs it, giving the girl an encouraging smile. Moments later, we're approached by a second little girl, this one all alone, who asks her to sign a cardboard pop-up from a book. Barrymore asks her name and obliges. Then a third little girl comes up.…

"Your fan base," I joke, and she laughs.

"You know, I don't ever want to get to the point where I'm taking it all too seriously. I'd rather be the court jester than sit on the throne."

We say our goodbyes, and I watch her walk to the parking lot and get into her long, black, unfashionable car. Giving me a quick wave, she pulls onto Sunset—roughly clomping both her front and back wheels over the curb.

I pick up my cell phone, and before the first ring is finished, a voice says, "Hello, John Powers."

"Hello, Miss Barrymore," I reply. "I just wanted you to know I saw that excellent piece of driving."

"Of course you did," she giggles. "I've spent my whole life wanting to be able to make a graceful exit, but somehow I never can."