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Really busy. That's how busy Drew Barrymore is. So busy that she keeps a writer waiting three days for a much-needed and long-promised interview to talk about life, love, and her new movie, He's Just Not That Into You. But when it looks as though our meeting is never going to happen, I get the call to come to a nondescript film-editing facility that's in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Hollywood. I'm still not sure she's going to show. But when 33-year-old Barrymore sails through the door, her 1,000-watt grin lighting up the room, I immediately forgive her for making me sweat these past three days. It is the strangest sensation -- I feel as if I already know her, even though, of course, I don't.
Apparently I am not the only person to fall prey to what should be known as the "Barrymore Effect." Her He's Just Not That Into You costar, Ginnifer Goodwin, had the same experience: "She seems so damn happy," Goodwin says. "That energy is contagious. Every woman wants to be her best friend, and every man wants to date her. Drew is the kind of person you want to curl up with at a slumber party, eating pints of ice cream and watching Hannah Montana."
Although the Hannah Montana tween crowd might be a little young for Barrymore's new movie -- which is being produced by her own company, Flower Films -- Barrymore says, "I want to make films that attract mothers and daughters and that still impress and invigorate 13-year-old boys and make them laugh. I don't want anyone to be turned away." And that's been Flower Films' mission since day one, says her business partner, Nancy Juvonen, who helped her start the company in 1994, back when Barrymore was just 19 years old. "It all began with, 'Let's watch movies and make a list of what we love,' including who wrote them and who directed them, down to production design, cinematography, even catering," says Juvonen. While Barrymore was busy acting, Juvonen hunted down scripts, pitched them to Barrymore, and figured out how to produce them. One thing led to another and Charlie's Angels became Flower's big commercial breakthrough, in 2000. A Although the company's films have reportedly grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, words like commercial and business don't seem to sit comfortably with Barrymore. "My company is definitely not a 'company,'" she says. "It's a place where we understand that the rules of business apply, but we are in it to tell stories that we can relate to and that inspire us."
He's Just Not That Into You is a love-from-all-angles saga that was adapted from the best-selling self-help book by two Sex and the City scriptwriters. Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, and Barrymore play a group of friends whose love lives intersect. The movie is packed with plenty of cringe-inducing scenes of plotting girlfriends, men cheating on suspicious wives, insecure women stalking their prey in bars or desperately waiting by the phone. But Barrymore hardly seems the sit-by-the-phone type. So why did she choose to take on this particular film?
"I think the majority of people are obsessed with trying to figure out how relationships work. So a movie about that is totally up my alley," says Barrymore. "I've done so many romantic comedies. I love happy endings and believe in them most of the time. And hope is everything, but reality needs to be there, too. The film wraps up a couple of story lines, but it doesn't put everything in a Hollywood package with a big red bow." Barrymore's character, Mary, is perhaps one of the more subdued roles in the film, but it's a delicious part. She's a straight girl who works at a gay newspaper and is looking for love in all the wrong places -- literally and virtually. Exhausted from trying to keep up with the tempo of romantic text messaging, Facebook -- friending guys and online boyfriends, she's ready to wave the white flag on any chance of finding love in the digital age. And that's something Barrymore can relate to all too well. "I'm at the bottom rung of technology -- even text messaging freaks me out," she admits. "So I wanted my character to express how difficult it is to navigate modern technology in a relationship. When I first started dating, it was like the Pony Express. We had to be frickin' patient. And now everything is instantaneous. It's too much! Where is old-fashioned romance and a little bit of mystery?"
You can hardly blame Barrymore for being sentimental, though it is a little surprising. After all, this is a woman who has had two very short-lived marriages: One to Welsh bar owner Jeremy Thomas lasted less than two months; the other, to comedian Tom Green, less than six months. Then she took up with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, whom she was with for five years -- an eternity in BST (Barrymore Standard Time). More recently she was linked to Justin Long, the guy in the Mac commercials, who was also her costar in He's Just Not That Into You. When asked about finding love on the set of a film about love and then going through a very public breakup, Barrymore becomes terse. "I'm not going to comment on it," she explains. "I know, it sucks. But I don't feel comfortable sharing it. It's so deeply personal." Eventually she offers: "It was very light and fun and lovely for a moment." But like so many of Barrymore's relationships, it just wasn't meant to be. And while she was spotted smooching Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick at a New York club last fall, she is quick to add that she's been single for the past six months -- which might be a record for her.
So what does love mean to Barrymore, who has had a lock on the topic after starring in such films as Ever After, 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer, and Music and Lyrics? "It's that feeling that you're not alone in this world and that life makes sense," she says. "Love is something that evolves over many years, that is without judgment and requires a lot of patience, nurturing and enabling of great things...." Then she pauses, lets out a hearty laugh and adds: "I've never really pontificated about love. I'll get back to you on that one!"
With no man on the horizon for now, Barrymore is just happy being present in her life. But that self-focus isn't narcissistic. Those who know her say that she is probably the most generous, benevolent actress in town. "Drew is both worldly and grounded, an old soul filled with child wonder," says Scarlett Johansson. "She brings light to every room she enters."
Adds Goodwin: "She's not someone who's jaded. She puts herself out there all the time."
Indeed, Barrymore has a reputation as a committed do-gooder. She is an active supporter of many causes and has given a share of her profits to philanthropic organizations, most notably the United Nations World Food Programme, to which she donated $1 million last year. "I think it's so important to contribute outside of yourself," says Barrymore. "I think hedonism, escapism, laughter, and fun are paramount, but as you grow up, it's not enough to be happy and laugh. There's something missing in your make-up if that's all you're about. I love the lighter side of life as much as the next person, but I've become less and less afraid of the heavy stuff."
Barrymore has found a new purpose and passion in fighting childhood hunger in Africa. As a World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger, Drew Barrymore has gone on two trips to Kenya since 2005 and has witnessed firsthand the impact a healthy school lunch can have on a child. "You see how something so small can make such a significant change in someone's life, " she says. "Through food, you can help educate kids because, without it, their brains can't function or focus as well. It's an incredible cycle."
Moved by what she learned and the people she met, she is making a documentary about her experiences with the World Food Programme. She used some of the footage she shot to produce Drew's Trip to Africa, a short film viewable on her own Web site, drewbarrymore.com. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity to help, " says Barrymore. "The more I go, the more I want to get involved." To learn more, go to wfp.org.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.