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Drew Barrymore's Fractured Fairy Tale

At 23, She's Lived a Life With More Plot Twists Than Most of Her 29 Movies

July 19, 1998|HILARY DE VRIES | Hilary de Vries' last article for the magazine was a profile of TV talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell

Five minutes into our meeting, Drew Barrymore starts telling me about her watch. It's bright blue--plastic, of course, since Barrymore is an ardent vegetarian and won't wear leather--and was a promotional item from the company that makes "Otter Pops." * "Otter Pops," she says politely, because Barrymore is the kind of person who will say "bless you" when anyone within earshot sneezes. "They were so big for me in the '70s, those long stick-kind of Popsicles that had names--'Alex the Grape,' 'Little Orphan Orange.' I talked about them once on the 'Today' show and they sent this to me." * Barrymore rubs the face of the watch with her sleeve and smiles at the memory of someone, unbidden, sending her a gift. She is big on acts of kindness, rescuing animals--including her three adopted dogs, Flossie, Templeton and Highla--and people, like her once-famous father, John Barrymore Jr., the troubled scion of the legendary Barrymore clan, who until recently lived in his daughter's guest house. That same free-spiritedness lets her see weird but happy coincidences in her life--such as Anjelica Huston, daughter of famed director John Huston, agreeing to star with

her in the new film "Ever After: A Cinderella Story." "I got so into the idea of Huston and Barrymore working together, our ancestors looking down on us," she recalls, "I was like, 'Let's go!' "

"Ever After," a post-feminist retelling of the classic fairy tale, is the 29th film Barrymore has made in her 23 years, a career that extends from "E.T." to "Scream." What happened between those films--drug addiction, rehab, marriage and divorce, as well as a couple of career comebacks--could fill a book. In fact, Barrymore wrote her autobiography, "Little Girl Lost," before she was 16. Now she has landed another potentially career-shaping role, playing a New Age Cinderella, and 20th Century Fox is positioning the film, which opens next month, as one of its bigger summer releases--"a sleeper," predicts the studio's chairman, Bill Mechanic. Although several actresses had lobbied for the role, Mechanic gave the film the nod only after Barrymore was attached. "It didn't seem new or interesting until Drew came along," he says. "She's edgy, and she's not a victim."

"Ever After" is the first film Barrymore will attempt to carry. Hollywood considers the actress reliable but unproven as a box-office draw. Now the industry is watching to see if the latest Barrymore comeback story will have its own fairy-tale ending, if the cherubic blond with the tattoos and tragic past will emerge not just as a survivor but a genuine star.

*

Even by hollywood standards, Barrymore has lived a much-scrutinized life. The granddaughter of acting legend John Barrymore launched her career at age 6 as the pudding-faced Gertie in "E.T." Three years later, in 1984, she played the eerily willful girl in Stephen King's "Firestarter," becoming arguably the most famous child star since Shirley Temple. But Steven Spielberg's godchild grew into a teenage 12-step graduate who spent a year in a mental-health facility when she was 13, attempted suicide when she was 14, posed topless for Playboy at 19 and was married--albeit only for three weeks--and divorced by 20. As her autobiography's much-quoted jacket copy read: "I had my first drink at age nine, began smoking marijuana at ten, and at twelve took up cocaine."

"Drew had lived Judy Garland's life by the time she was 12," says director Joel Schumacher, who has known Barrymore since she was a teenage regular at Helena's, a hip Hollywood hangout where she accompanied her mother, B-movie actress Jaid Barrymore. "She lived that life," Schumacher says, "and had gotten to the other side by the time she was 14."

Seven years ago, after legally wresting control of her career from her mother, who was then her manager, Barrymore began making restitution to Hollywood. Against all expectations, she turned in a riveting performance as Amy Fisher in "The Amy Fisher Story," a made-for-TV movie. She played more bad girls in the films "Poison Ivy" and "Guncrazy," but off camera, in numerous articles written about her improbable comeback, Barrymore was all good girl. "I was blacklisted for living that wild period of my life in the public eye," she told me when I first met her four years ago. "I'd walk into casting offices and get laughed at."

Now, with her Lolita days behind her, Barrymore is the new darling of the Gen-X crowd. She makes a reported $3 million a film and has her own production company, Flower Films, and a first-look development deal at Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox. She has a house in one of L.A.'s celebrity-cluttered canyons and a new boyfriend--Luke Wilson, her co-star in the upcoming "Home Fries" and is in demand with directors such as Woody Allen and producers, including Miramax President Harvey Weinstein, who tapped her for the 1996 blockbuster thriller "Scream."

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