by Nicki Gostin
Long a romantic-comedy mainstay, Drew Barrymore has recently broadened her horizons beyond Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon laugh-fests, directing her first full-length feature, "Whip It!" and appearing in the HBO film "Grey Gardens," based on the life stories of Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith ("Little Edie"), the aunt and first cousin, respectively, of Jackie-O. A cult 1975 documentary of the same name has inspired designers, singers such as Rufus Wainwright and countless drag queens (read actor-writer Alan Cumming's take on why the film is a hit in the gay community here). In the HBO docudrama, Jessica Lange plays Big Edie opposite Barrymore's heartbreaking and hilarious Little Edie. NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin spoke with Barrymore about the project, directing her first film and her relationship with her own mother.
Gostin: Were you obsessed with the documentary like everyone else?
Barrymore: I liked it, but I wasn't obsessed like my friends who quote the movie.
So why did you do this movie?
I read the script and absolutely loved it. I called to meet the director and I was told he didn't want to meet with me; he had other actresses in mind. So I thought, "Well, I like a challenge, nothing has come easy to me," so I begged and pleaded for a meeting. When I finally got one, I came with an annotated script full of research and I told him I'd do whatever I could to get the part. I've never studied so hard to be a character in my life. I took dialect lessons, wore different teeth and contact lenses. I cut myself off from my life.
You're a big-time producer and actress. Surely you haven't heard the word "no" in the last few years.
Oh, yes, I have. That's why I started producing, so I could create roles for myself. The phone does not ring as often as you think.
Do you think the Beales were mentally ill? The state of their house really disturbed me.
Well, they would say they weren't crazy, just eccentric. But yes, the garbage neck-high and the cat feces and pee aren't normal.
The movie is about a mother-daughter relationship. You've had a tumultuous relationship with your mother.
I didn't draw on my relations with my mother. The Edies were living together and couldn't live apart. I parted from my mother at a very early age. So there's nothing at all I could draw on.
You're always so happy and up. Does it ever irritate your friends?
Wow, what a weird question: "Do your friends hate you because you're optimistic?"
Not hate, just get irritated.
No, they don't and I'm not always up. That's why I wanted to do this dramatic role, to tap into my darker side, and it was very hard to do.
When you directed your first movie, "Whip It!" were you scared?
Yes, I was, but I've been preparing for this for a long time. When we were filming, I basically got three hours of sleep a night.
How did you function? I need 10.
With a lot of caffeine, but I had to stay up at night and prepare. I didn't want to come to the set the next day and the actors would look to me for guidance, and I wouldn't be prepared.
Did you laugh to yourself the first time you yelled out "action"?
I actually never called "action" or "cut." I think it turns actors into greyhounds and makes the scene be like, "Go! Act!" I talk to the actors before, and then I stand to the side of the camera. I don't use a video monitor.
You're best friends with the movie's star, Ellen Page.
I think she's the cat's pajamas. We became very close during filming.
You're a big role model for young girls. Do you feel a big responsibility?
Only in a good way. I just want to tell girls over and over to be true to themselves. To be happy with who you are. Don't try to live up to what "they" say, because who the hell are "they" and who gives a flying crap what they say.
What's your perfect evening?
Being at home, a funny movie and friends, loads of carbs and wearing my American Apparel sweatpants.
When I interviewed you last time, you had just broken up with Fabrizio Moretti and you vowed never to talk about relationships again. And then you went on Oprah with Justin Long.
Well, rules are made to be broken.