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SUMMER SNEAKS : Drew, We HArdley Knew Ye : The littlest Barrymore finally seems back on track in solid film roles. Though she's already lived several lives, her future looks bright. After all, she's only 20.

May 14, 1995|Bronwen Hruska | Bronwen Hruska is an occasional contributor to Calendar.

NEW YORK — One minute, a pixie-like Drew Barrymore is hunched over her iced tea at a sidewalk table at Pete's Tavern. The next, her faded brown T-shirt is up around her ears.

The cherubic 7-year-old from "E.T.," now 20, is flashing her unencumbered bosom to her lunch guest (in addition to restaurant patrons, pedestrians and motorists who happen to be passing). She's demonstrating exactly how easy it was to bare her breasts for David Letterman on national television a few weeks back.

"It was definitely the most exhilarating minute of my life," says Barrymore, who's enjoyed more infamy than fame over her long and uneven acting career. Her bleached hair is slightly mussed, darker at the roots, and her face is makeup-free except for a layer of sickly chic brown lipstick. There is not one earring in any of the eight holes in her lobes. Plastic-tipped baby safety pins secure a pair of dime-store sunglasses.

"Any woman who tells me she sat next to Dave's desk and didn't want to get up and dance for him, they're lying--or just really different than me and I can't understand them," says Barrymore, who has also been stripping recently at New York's trendy Blue Angel club.

Letterman, who was legitimately surprised by the birthday present, may have put on his classic mock-shock expression for his fans, but he recently confided a slightly different take: "I guess an argument can be made that it was in bad taste, but I have to say from a professional standpoint and also from a personal standpoint, it was certainly one of the delights of my adult life."

Besides, says her friend Nancy Juvonen, who makes up one-third of Barrymore's year-old production company, Flower Films, "She's really good at it." This, apparently, is a compliment.

Barrymore's pale, luminous skin doesn't redden at today's display. In fact, she hardly notices she's given everyone on 18th Street a free show. "I'm so comfortable in my skin," she coos, lighting a cigarette. "If you ever are lucky enough to get to that place in your life--and I had to go through tons and tons of (expletive) to get there--you have to take advantage of it. It's not about exhibitionism. That's where it goes wrong, when it becomes about wanting to show yourself, instead of just being able to."

Now, with her performance as the boy-crazy and ultra-likable Holly in this year's "Boys on the Side" under her belt, and her coming summer performances in "Mad Love" and "Batman Forever," Barrymore has forced Hollywood to give her a second look--even when she's fully clothed.

According to "Boys on the Side" director Herbert Ross, Barrymore rediscovered herself in the role of Holly.

"Drew recognized something in the role that hadn't been tapped before. There was humor, wit and bravery--in addition to sweetness and goodness--all of which exist in Drew," says Ross. "I had no idea she was an actress of the quality she is. I think this picture has done her a great deal of good. She'll be taken seriously now."

Her "Mad Love" and "Batman" co-star, Chris O'Donnell (whom she affectionately calls her "apple pie"), says Barrymore's confidence surprised him. "Drew is not self-conscious at all. She's very sure of herself--opinionated even," he says. "She doesn't sit and think about things, she knows what she likes and where she wants to go with her character. That makes her seem much older than she is."

Barrymore's mother, actress and recent sex-tips book author Ildiko Jaid Barrymore, says her daughter came into the world that way. "Drew was always very self-possessed," says Barrymore. "She knew who she was and what she wanted in life--to a spooky level. At 4 she knew she wanted to be an actress. She was autonomous, independent, always focused on her goals and how to achieve them. Whatever I taught her by example was basically to allow herself the freedom to discover and the freedom to take risks."

Juvonen describes her friend as "a cross between an 8-year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman," who will wrestle and playfully "suck on" her buddy O'Donnell one minute and make cool-headed business decisions the next.

"Age has never had anything to do with it," says Barrymore, her tweezed eyebrows giving off a look of surprise and disdain at once. "I learned that lesson really young, thank God. People who are wrapped up in age are closed off to a lot. It's a very shallow way of thinking."

Barrymore decided years ago that sex was the way to change her public image, which had gone from pigtails to party girl in no time. She started drinking at age 9 when her mother took her along to L.A. clubs and parties. She was smoking pot and snorting cocaine by 12, and at 14 she attempted suicide. Rehab soon followed, as did her tell-all book about her addictions, "Little Girl Lost."

Though she finally sobered up, she was also washed up as she reached her early teens. No directors would give her a chance--until she snagged the role of a villainous teen-age sexpot in 1992's campy "Poison Ivy."

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