Drew Barrymore’s success
We know what you’re thinking: What can this young woman tell us about breaking into showbiz? Her very name is synonymous with showbiz. (Go on, look it up. The entry reads SHO-biz: Barrymore, as in John, Ethel, Lionel, Diana, John Jr.) She was born with a silver boom overhead. She couldn’t break out of showbiz if she tried. Right?
Wrong. There’s much in 25-year-old Drew Barrymore’s up-and-down-and-up-again saga that resonates with aspiring limelighters. She’s been suffering for her art since she was 11 months old, when she tried out for a Puppy Chow commercial. ”My mom tells me this story,” says the star, from the set of her upcoming flick, Penny Marshall’s Riding in Cars With Boys. ”I went in and the dog bit me on the nose and everyone got freaked out and panicked, but I started laughing and I got hired.”
Her E.T. audition was a little less painful. She instantly took to director Steven Spielberg, who would become her lifelong friend and mentor: ”He was the first person who made me feel good about being myself or living out my imagination.” A scene-stealing turn in one of the most popular films of all time, a father figure in Steven Spielberg — sounds like nothing but daisies and development deals from here on out, right? Wrong again. To paraphrase the old New England weather adage: If you don’t like your career in Hollywood — or even if you do — just wait five minutes. Only eight years later, Barrymore was sweating bullets in a hellish audition for the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. ”Martin Scorsese will never call me. He probably thinks that I’m dog doo-doo,” she says, recalling the awful weekend when she had to strut her stuff not for Scorsese or his casting director, but for an assistant — hardly what you’d call star treatment. ”I never act, I just become people,” explains Barrymore. ”But I really wanted to impress him, so I acted all over the place and it was just the biggest disaster of my life. I remember walking out of there just so humiliated. I don’t even know if they responded. And do you know what? They didn’t have to.”
So she didn’t end up with Robert De Niro’s thumb in her mouth — so what? But, at that point, there was more at stake than a plum role. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the apple-cheeked moppet of E.T. and Firestarter became the troubled, drug- and alcohol-addicted teen on the cover of People magazine. It looked as if the last scion of the storied Barrymore clan might be suffering from an incurable case of child-star meltdown.
Even after she achieved sobriety, though, it took her years to find her bearings again. There were the infamous Lolita roles in Poison Ivy and television’s The Amy Fisher Story, the forgettable mid-’90s movies (Mad Love, anyone?), the unforgettable experiments with exhibitionism (David Letterman’s desk will never be the same), and, finally, the regenesis via Scream, the Cinderella tale Ever After, and the Adam Sandler hit The Wedding Singer.
So what’s the secret, Drew? How did you do it? And, more importantly, how can we?
”You have to believe in yourself,” says Barrymore, and the conviction in her voice transcends the cliché. ”I get extremely insecure, but my belief in myself makes me capable and brave enough that I can go in there and prove myself.”
In other words, familiarize yourself with the individual who’s in the best position to support you: Yourself. So, Barrymore took matters into her own hands by launching Flower Films (with partner Nancy Juvonen), which enjoyed a swift efflorescence thanks to the success of 1999’s $55.5 million-grossing Never Been Kissed. Next stop: the troublesome and talked-about project of the year, her screen version of Charlie’s Angels. ”There are many different reasons why producing is so wonderful,” says Barrymore of her new role. ”Most of all, to create your own work, and work for other people, and to protect everyone along the way, is so important.”
But as every Hollywood vulture knows, power corrupts, and the young are especially susceptible. So how does a twentysomething star-cum-producer keep her head about her when all around her are losing theirs? ”I don’t think about the word power because it seems like a greedy word to me, and it scares me,” says Barrymore warily. ”I also think if you screw one person over, that will come back to you — you’ll never get any work by pushing someone aside.”
Her solution: Keep things light — in person and on screen. ”I personally truly love comedy the most, and the more I grow up, the more I appreciate it,” she says. ”I actually would really love to do a movie with Tom Green.” When she speaks of her manic fiancé, she doesn’t even bother to suppress a girlish giggle that belies her stature as a big-time movie star and producer.
Come to think of it, if you’re looking for Drew’s secret to showbiz success, it just may reside in that indomitably sweet, spontaneous giggle. It says, there have been disappointments, there have been compromises, and there have certainly been Puppy Chow commercials — but despite it all, the sheer joy of doing what she does shines through. It can’t be faked, or hyped, or surgically implanted. Or, for that matter, inherited.