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Chatting With Drew Barrymore 

Wednesday, Oct 28 2015

Drew Barrymore is 40. That fact alone will surprise anyone who remembers watching her charm Johnny Carson as a 7-year-old, or who followed her highs and lows through her precocious (and lengthy) wild years. She's now written a memoir of sorts called Wildflower — although she'd prefer to call it "a collection of stories" — and she'll be coming to the Castro Theater next Thursday, Nov. 5, for a reading, a Q&A, and a conversation with Lydia Kiesling of book blog The Millions.

Considering the strained relationship Barrymore had with her father, and her descent from generations of famous actors stretching back to the 18th century, I asked her if she saw any resonance between her ancestry and the eccentric Bouviers and Beales of Grey Gardens fame. (Barrymore and Jessica Lange took on the roles of Little Edie and Big Edie in HBO's 2009 prequel to the 1975 documentary.)

"They were such recluses, and so determined to stay in that house and stay together. My family is spread apart and my father was, like, homeless," she said. "[As] a legacy of a family, like a dynasty of a few generations, I guess, but I never really correlated it. I wish I had Little Edie's fashion sense."

I countered that she was being a bit modest. Hasn't she had a singular personal style through her entire career? (She's on the latest cover of People, in any case.)

"I don't know, do I? My friend looked at me the other day and was like, 'You look nuts.' I was wearing an old kimono, an old T-shirt, and sweat pants. I was like, 'What? This is cool!' He was like, 'No, not cool.'"

In her fifth decade in film, Barrymore picks projects where she can "work with an old friend or do a film that's fun for girls." Or, noting that her main criterion has always been to do things that bring people joy, something where she "believed in that first-time director." She might be actively soliciting fewer roles now that motherhood occupies her attention, but she is adamant that she hasn't said sayonara to the entertainment industry.

"I'm by no means quitting," she said. "I hate when people quit! I'm like, 'Why?' First of all, why tell anybody? More importantly, why close the door on that and never give yourself the opportunity to follow it up again? That's a bit silly. But there are other things I'm very interested in: writing, I have a beauty company, and I make wine. I've always wanted to live a few lives in one life, and in film, you can. Maybe I'll always make movies, but I want to try some other things, too."

One thing she has almost quit, though, is music festivals. She has told prior interviewers that she was "too old" for Coachella, so I pressed her for specifics.

"Well, it's changed so much," Barrymore said. "It's social media. It used to be this festival out in the middle of nowhere, now it's a scene. That's really good for this generation. That's what people want to be doing, so I don't look at it negatively, but I feel like I might be a bit old for that now. But I'm still glad it's going on. I love Bonnaroo and A.C.L. and Coachella. They made me so happy."

I asked Barrymore for highlights, and she hesitated for several seconds before a litany of fond memories poured right out of her, among them a mention of a band — The Strokes — whose drummer she dated for five years.

"Oh my God, seeing Ghostland Observatory in Austin was super awesome," she said. "I got to see Amy Winehouse at Coachella on a small stage. Watching The Strokes was amazing. Arcade Fire, Blur, Björk. Going from MGMT to TV on the Radio to Bruce Springsteen to seeing some tiny band that's up-and-coming, seeing Edward Sharpe at two in the morning — they hadn't made an album yet. They were completely unknown, and I was like, 'Oh, yeah, this is going to be a thing.' Music was a big part of my life for many years."

Barrymore is technically the godmother of a legendary rock progeny, 23-year-old Frances Bean Cobain — whose godfather is R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe — but the relationship with the only child of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love didn't endure.

"I think Courtney named me that many years ago, but I haven't been in either of their lives in some time," she said.

So music is increasingly a thing of the past for Drew Barrymore. Coincidentally, her newest film, Miss You Already (co-starring Toni Collette) comes out the day after her book tour brings her to the Castro Theatre, but after a unique career arc that spans cult favorites like Donnie Darko, harmless fluff like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, rom-coms like The Wedding Singer, and, of course, E.T., it's writing and wine that occupy most of her attention. She's working on a rosé that will be released in the spring and has already produced a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir. (The latter, incidentally, is widely considered to be a challenging grape to grow.)

And there is Wildflower. Nominally, Barrymore has one autobiographical title to her name already, but Little Girl Lost came out when she was a teenager.

"It couldn't be more different," she said. "I also didn't write that one. It says on the book: 'With Todd Gold.' I probably wouldn't have known how to write a book at 14. If I was forced to figure it out, I definitely could have, but this one was just me in a room. With Wildflower, I cried while I was writing it, so if anyone picks up a molecular aspect of that, I'll be so thrilled."


About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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