Drew Barrymore keeping it real

ELLEN CONNOLLY
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Drew Barrymore ET

OVERNIGHT SENSATION: Drew Barrymore was 6 when her godfather, Steven Spielberg, cast her as Gertie in the 1982 Academy Award-winner ET.

Drew Barrymore
Getty Images
HER OWN WOMAN: "Everybody is looking like a catfish at the moment ... I'm desperate not to get on that hamster wheel from hell," Barrymore says.

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For someone who was a child star by the age of 6, a cocaine addict at 13 and in rehab by 14, Drew Barrymore seems remarkably grounded, balanced and, dare I say it, ordinary.

It's the way the 39-year-old actress prefers it these days.  

"I'm real. I'm just a normal person," says Barrymore, who arrives for our interview wearing no make-up, her signature locks hanging loosely and framing her smiling face.  

"I just want a quiet life," the former wild child turned queen of domesticity says convincingly.

"I've been doing [show business] 38 years and you just get to that point - it's silly to fall prey to expectations of people you will never see, or meet or care about. It doesn't matter what people think."

Refreshingly, the mother-of-two also refuses to adhere to Tinseltown's obsession with thinness ("I simply love food") and cosmetic surgery.

"Why is everybody fighting it?" she says of the obsession to never age.

"Everybody is looking like a catfish at the moment. I'm desperate not to get on that hamster wheel from hell. It looks psychotic."

Barrymore was not always this pragmatic, admitting there was a time when she felt enormous pressure to be stick-thin, perfectly preened and wrinkle-free.

"I would actually make myself so unhappy to try to fit a mould that I do not fit into," she says, in a subtle reference to the diet merry-go-round she endured in her 20s. 

"This is the body God gave me," she says. "Why fight it? I don't want to get up at 5am in the f...ing morning and go to the gym."

We're in a hotel suite at the Four Seasons in New York for a round of interviews Barrymore is doing for her latest movie, Blended, a romantic comedy in which she co-stars with her regular sidekick, Adam Sandler.  

The film, shot mostly in South Africa, is about two single parents who, after a disastrous blind date, end up on holiday with their respective children.  

Barrymore, whose family joined her during the film shoot, says it was an incredibly fun movie to make with long-term friend Sandler - their on-screen chemistry is infectious. 

"We have been close for 20 years," she says. "We both still really care about the films we do and try to bring out the best in each other. We have sort of done a movie [together] every 10 years."

Barrymore giggles as she recalls how her first two movies with Sandler mirrored her own life.

The Wedding Singer was filmed when she was in her early 20s and still navigating the path to love, having divorced bar owner Jeremy Thomas in 1994 after an eight-week marriage.

Fifty First Datesf was filmed in her late 20s after another short-lived marriage, to comedian Tom Green, in 2001. It lasted five months.

Barrymore is thankful the role of a single mother she plays in Blended is far from reality. Happily married to art consultant Will Kopelman, they have a 20-month-old daughter, Olive, and in April welcomed daughter Frankie. 

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"Olive has a new little sister, and everyone is healthy and happy," says the proud mum. 

Barrymore met Kopelman in 2009 through mutual friends and they dated a few times before going their separate ways. But they reconnected two years later and were married in 2012.

Barrymore says a huge part of her attraction to him was his strong family values. 

"His parents have been married 43 years and are the best people and that was so important to me," she says. Her sister-in-law has taken to calling her "Jew Barrymore", in reference to her embracing their Jewish family traditions. 

"I do Passover," Barrymore says, "and my daughter [Olive] was born at the height of Yom Kippur [a Jewish holiday]."

As for converting to Judaism, Barrymore says she is considering it.

"It's nice to be near family because I've never had that," she says.

"Growing up, I never had family or family dinners. We didn't sit around the dining table."

Her family life was indeed chaotic. Born into one of the most famous theatrical dynasties in America (her grandfather John Barrymore was a screen legend of the 1930s), Barrymore's mother, Jaid, a struggling actress, took her daughter to nightclubs, including the iconic Studio 54, when she was just 10.  

Her alcoholic father, John, also an actor, left before she was born and she did not see him until he was dying of bone marrow cancer in 2004, aged 72.  Barrymore made her screen debut while she was still in nappies, starring in a television commercial for dog food at 11 months of age.

A cookie advertisement followed and then her first film, Altered States, aged 5. But it was a year later, when she was 6, that Barrymore became an overnight sensation after her godfather, Steven Spielberg, cast her as Gertie in the 1982 Academy Award-winner ET.

At the time, People magazine dubbed her the "hot tot" and, aged 7, she became (and remains) the youngest host of Saturday Night Live. "I feel like I came out of the womb and was punted - there you go, out in the world!" she has said.

Barrymore's meteoric rise came at a cost, however, and behind the scenes the youngster was spiralling out of control. She started drinking at 11, smoked her first joint at 12, and by 13 she was a cocaine addict. At 14 she entered rehab, but lasted only two weeks. A suicide attempt followed soon after, forcing her back into rehab.

By the time Barrymore was 15 she was living in her own apartment and had been granted "legal emancipation" from her mother.

They remain estranged, and raising the topic leads to one of the few times in our interview when Barrymore's sunny disposition changes.

"It's only been, like, 25 years that we've been estranged," she glares, explaining that she has no contact with her mother.

Barrymore describes their relationship as complicated.

"Of course it's hard. It's very difficult. Yep. I will keep it at that so it doesn't gain any more headlines."

She later alludes to the neglect she suffered from her parents while growing up.

"I'm glad I had film, because it was something that really saved me and was a wonderful family for me and a great outlet and structure for me. I will provide my kids with structure and family and consistency, so hopefully it won't be anything of a similar situation."

She says the thought of her daughters drinking and taking drugs at a young age seems unfathomable and shocking.

Asked what she would say to Olive if she wanted to become an actor, Barrymore says without hesitation: "I would tell her when she's 18 she can absolutely do that. I will support them in anything they want to do when they are adults; they will not have the same lack of support that I did."

Luckily, Barrymore, who was openly bisexual in her 20s, found a role model in Spielberg (who famously sent her a rug with a note "cover yourself up" when she posed nude for Playboy).

The director encouraged her to branch out beyond acting. Barrymore did just that, setting up a production company, Flower Films, in 1995. And last year she launched a line of affordable cosmetics, also called Flower. Then there is her wine label, Barrymore Pinot Grigio, created in 2012, and this year she added "photographer" to her resume with the release of Find It in Everything, a book of photographs she took of heart-shaped objects that made The New York Times best-seller list.

"I was shocked," she says of that success. "When my publicist told me, I thought: ‘Oh, it must be No 72 on the list.' But it was 17!"

Barrymore's business ventures keep her busy, but she says her No 1 priority is her family. Learning to cook new dishes, spending quality time with her husband and daughters and attending family gatherings with the Kopelman clan are what she cherishes.

"I try to be a good shiksa [non-Jewish] wife," she says. "We spend every weekend together and we don't have a babysitter."

Barrymore tries to keep her privacy, but is still harassed by the paparazzi in Los Angeles, where she lives.

"[I've realised] it just doesn't matter at the end of the day. It's your life. There's so much more shit going on in the world. It just isn't real. Anything people say about me is so minor when you compare the real issues affecting our world.

"It doesn't mean that when people say nasty things it doesn't hurt me. Of course it does. I'm f...ing human."

Barrymore says her greatest pleasure is sitting around the dinner table with her family eating great food, before climbing into bed with her husband to watch television. "My life is so boring. Why is anyone photographing us?"

At 39 and having chalked up more than 50 films, would she consider retiring?

"Well, I'm only making a film every three years at this point, so that's a good pace for me right now. I just know I can't raise kids and be on a movie set all day. I don't want to miss it. I don't want to regret that I was not there enough. I'm at that point where nothing else is important."

And with that Barrymore disappears to meet her husband and daughters.

Blended is in cinemas on Thursday.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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