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Drew Barrymore: The Return of Drew

barrymore-poison-ivy

A few celebrities kept showing up on the cover of Movieline magazine every couple of years.  Why?  Because they gave good interview.  Drew Barrymore did six covers for the magazine between 1992 and 2003.  This is the first of those interviews from the Young Hollywood Issue.  At the time, Barrymore was staging a comeback after years of being known as a troubled, hard-partying child actor.  In this interview, Barrymore dishes on the casting directors who mocked her, the rivals who took all the good parts, the father figure who abandoned her and her then-current crush.

Barrymore starts out by reliving one of her real-life nightmares for me. “I walked into that audition and the casting director just sat there laughing,” she recalls. Apparently this woman didn’t even bother to hide her disdain for the kid who had seemed to metamorphose overnight from America’s sweetheart star of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial into a troubled, boozy, cokey, bloated tabloid princess.

Drew tells me she could almost hear the casting director’s unspoken digs. In fact, smiling venomously at me in imitation of the powerful Burbank bitch exec, she utters out loud what were silent slurs that awful day: ‘”I can’t believe you have the balls to walk into this audition, Little Miss Drug Addict. Right, like we’re really going to give you this job.'”

After a few beats, Drew shakes off the memory. For an instant, she looks almost disoriented, surprised to be sitting across from me in a funky Mexican restaurant. It’s a great moment, beautifully played: She’s one of those vintage movie dames snapping out of a harrowing flashback sequence in a show biz biopic about a career gone haywire. Call it I’ll Cry Again Tomorrow, say, or Love Me or Leave Me II. “I was blacklisted, bigtime,” she says, throwing back her head to blow a perfect row of smoke rings to heaven.

“I had two, three years of casting directors telling me I’d never work again in this town. Even after I’d do a good audition, they copped an attitude like ‘Well, you’re not going to get this film, but you’re not as bad as we thought you were gonna be.’ That shit only made me angrier, made me put that much more into my work. But I’m a little termite. You cannot get rid of me. I am a person without pride, someone who will do what it takes to get a film. I swore to all those people who made me eat it: Someday, you’ll want me. And, through pure ambition, I showed those sons of bitches that I can do it. Success is the best revenge in the world. And I’m back.

Drew did have somewhere to come back from. When she wasn’t starring in such movies as Firestarter, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, or Irreconcilable Differences, she was, very much in the tradition of her illustrious grandfather John, great-uncle Lionel, and great-aunt Ethel, swilling champagne. That was at age nine. At 10 she was out clubbing with her attractive mother and smoking pot. By 12 it was coke. She attempted suicide at 14. Thereafter came the trips in and out of rehab for addiction problems. And, when the gossip papers blew her cover, she cowrote . heart-wrenching memoir, Little Girl Lost, that became a New York Times bestseller. It was certainly enough to make a casting director snicker.

These days, though, it’s Barrymore who’s doing the laughing. With starring roles in three new movies due this year–Poison Ivy, Guncrazy, and Sketch Artist (for Showtime)–the sons of bitches are asking her to read for parts. No wonder. For starters, there are her looks. With a Cupid’s bow mouth painted a singular shade of umber, skin like bone china and dreamy blonde locks, she is nothing short of a lollapalooza. When she strides across the room to replenish her stash of Marlboros, every patron in the joint swivels his head in awe. The girl can’t help it. She covers her face when I ask how it feels to lay an entire room to waste and says, “I’ve never been one of those people who looks in the mirror and goes, ‘Hey, foxy, you’ve got it goin’ on.’

But, in the middle of doing Poison Ivy, the whole industry was saying, ‘You gotta see Drew Barrymore. She’s got a decent bod, she’s pretty, she’s got long blonde hair, she can act, and she knows how to shake it.’ I was very flattered, on the one hand; on the other, I wasn’t, because I immediately got offered every overboard sexy role around. So, when I was getting ready for my second audition on Guncrazy–in which the girl is going to find cool because she’s so uncool–I thought: ‘What if I’m just sexy with all the hair? And what if the producers think I can’t do the role because I have long hair?’ So, I took scissors and cut it all off.”

Barrymore needn’t have worried. What she’s got, scissors won’t touch. If you haven’t caught her act since the cute, sullen poppet years, brace yourself. In Poison Ivy, out next month, she hauls the ashes of 58-year-old Tom Skerritt on the hood of a red Corvette, helps Cheryl Ladd do a fatal swan dive off a balcony, and, for a rip-roaring finale, deep-tongues Sara Gilbert, the “Roseanne” daughter. The releasing studio describes it as “Lolita meets Fatal Attraction.” Barrymore sells it better. “I mean, in most movies, it’s like ‘Ooooooh, did you hear she takes off her top in it?'” she says, clasping her mouth and batting her lashes in mock horror. “Well, we cross so many boundaries in this little number, it’s going to shock the shit out of America.”

And what attracted her to the piece that she calls “a total art film”? “It says on the first page of the script that Ivy, my character, has a tattoo of a crucifix with ivy growing through it,” she explains, rising slowly from her seat, sliding her right leg across the table, lifting the hem of her skirt and dropping her ankle into my hand. On it is the very same tattoo. “It symbolizes pain, death, life and love,” she says, laughing throatily, very Lola in The Blue Angel, pretending to ignore the rapt attention she’s attracting from onlookers as she sits back down. “I figured it was meant to be. Besides, it’s every girl’s fantasy to be that person who walks into a room, awes everybody with her presence, and can manipulate any person with the blink of an eye.”

When I tell Drew that her Ivy had guys howling like Arsenio Hall groupies at a marketing screening I attended, she says, “Tell me more,” vamping over the table, at once betraying and satirizing the insecure kid she used to be. When she was puffed-up and drugged-out, she tells me, she used to torture herself by plastering her walls with stupendously gorgeous poses of model Paulina Porizkova. Some of those old “Am I a pretty girl, Mama?” wounds must have reopened when her Poison Ivy producers hired a body double for one of the movie’s four sex scenes in which appear big, fat closeups of breasts.

“Those breasts are not mine,” she announces, cupping her hands over her mouth, and leaning into my tape recorder.”  I was a little nervous about doing it in the first place and the company just felt it would be better. Those shots were only supposed to be for European distribution, so I thought: no problem. But now they’re in both versions and, well, no offense to the girl, but I have prettier boobs than she does. I’m pretty bummed that America’s gonna think those are mine.”

Still, the things that are indisputably Barrymore’s in the movie may set America’s collective jaw agape. I mean, how will audiences cotton to seeing their little Gertie grinding and grinding and grinding her bad-girl high heels into the crotch of Skerritt’s pleated trousers? And the spontaneous combustion she created playing one of Stephen King’s creations was a brush-fire compared to the scene in which, buck-naked, she and Skerritt (a long way from Alien and Top Gun) merrily engage in a position you’ll find in no safe sex manual. “All that grunting, grinding, crotch-rubbing, that’s all me,” she says, ice-cool, laughing, between noshes on a cheese burrito.

It’s also all Drew in the kiss scene with Sara Gilbert that had guys at the preview I attended slumping down in their seats.”  Sara and I are really close friends and both adventurous girls,” she says, grinning slyly, letting the innuendo ring around our table. “The director was paranoid to ask me and Sara to do the kiss, but we were like, ‘So, what’s wrong with that? Lots of girls kiss, you know.’ I got totally excited about doing it, thinking, ‘We’re going to shock every man in the audience to pieces.’ After a couple of takes, the director said, ‘I have a really hard time asking this, but could you get more into it?’

Next take, I took Sara’s face in my hands and started licking her lips and suddenly she opened her mouth and I stuck my tongue in. A full tongue, major kiss. And the crew went wide-eyed. I mean, I don’t know a lot of actresses who would stick their tongue down another girl’s mouth on-screen, do you? When the director asked for another take, we went at it even more and I could feel the crew cringing. Sara and I watched the playback on the monitor, we were like: ‘Oh, my God, that’s us kissing and it’s hot.’ Two women kissing–and I don’t think any man will disagree with me–is the ultimate fantasy.” She takes an old time movie star-type drag on her cigarette and drawls like a bull dyke from a women’s prison movie, “I suppose now I’ll walk into auditions and it’ll be like, ‘Check out this lesbian.'”

Barrymore, who once donned boy’s drag for a magazine photo spread and who cuts a dashing figure in the vintage men’s suits she sports around town, can throw off sophisticated, androgynous heat worthy of Marlene Dietrich. Now, anyone who’s read a tabloid or newsweekly in the last five years knows her history of rifling through such young lads as both sons of Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti, one of the De Laurentiis kids, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Leland Hayward, with whom she lived for almost a year. She’s even sent a very favorably-received mash note to Jason Priestley.

But could she ever see herself being with a woman?”  I mean, I loooove men,” she observes, spewing more smoke rings. “I’m utterly fascinated by them. But I think I’m even more fascinated by women because I’ll never truly understand a man. I can totally see how women fall in love with women because it’s like exploring yourself. I’ve wished sometimes that I could be a man, so I could take a woman. I don’t know if that’s why I’m always in men’s clothes. I really have a male mentality. Sometimes my mother says I was really meant to be a boy–that it starts from my name and goes to the clothes, right through to my whole mental outlook.”

Such candor might help explain why Barrymore, who calls herself “a very old soul with a young heart,” and such important figureheads in her life as Steven Spielberg, her forever young, forever presexual godfather, may have come to a fork in the road. More about him later. It’s near midnight now and Barrymore, racing us down streets in her new black BMW, is talking about the importance of family to her. In her book, Little Girl Lost, she poignantly describes growing close to her movie coworkers but, then, when the productions ended “being torn from them without any consideration of how much I needed their companionship.” It’s easy to read her life as a search for parenting. When she mentions William Hurt, with whom she made Altered States, her first movie, she says he was “like a father to me.”

George C. Scott and Martin Sheen on Firestarter were “uncles.” Ryan O’Neal (whom she loved) and Shelley Long (whom she didn’t) on Irreconcilable Differences were like “nightmare parents, who constantly fought.”

Right now, though, Barrymore is talking about her real father. We’re zipping along in her car, bucking stinging cold headwinds, and, though I take it she usually pays little attention to such details as red lights (we’ve run two) and stop signs (who’s counting?), her driving betrays her runaway emotions. John Drew Barrymore–the handsome, volatile son of the greatest Hamlet of his day, who was also the star of Grand Hotel and Twentieth Century–began an abortive movie career in 1950 while still in his teens, and later landed in jail for drunken driving and marijuana possession. Though Drew’s mother Ildiko left him before she was born, Drew as a tot suffered at her father’s hands–like the time he hurled her against a wall. For years, Drew and her father didn’t speak. Clearly, it’s taken a lot of therapy for her to admit, “In a flash, I can be an incredibly sour person for all the stuff I’ve had to go through at such a young age–for all the pain I got from my father, with whom I’ve had an impossible battle my whole life.”

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Posted on March 7, 2017, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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