Capone chats with the lovely, talented and fierce director of WHIP IT, Drew Barrymore!!!
Published at: Sept. 29, 2009, 5:29 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here.
Drew Barrymore has been starring in movies almost as long as I've been paying attention to them seriously. And it's still difficult for me to grasp that she's only 34 and has been making films (beginning with 1980's ALTERED STATES) for nearly 30 years. As a child, she tended to get cast in genre works, including E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, FIRESTARTER, and CAT'S EYE. But when she turned 18, she discovered her on-screen sexuality and wild side with movies like POISON IVY, GUN CRAZY, BAD GIRLS, and the memorable TV film THE AMY FISHER STORY. Some of my favorite Barrymore works include her romantic comedies with Adam Sandler (THE WEDDING SIGNER and 50 FIRST DATES) as well as other lighter films like NEVER BEEN KISSED and MUSIC AND LYRICS. When Drew started up her own production company, Flower Films, she started picked interesting a wide variety of works to showcase both herself (CHARLIE'S ANGELS) and up-and-coming writer-directors like Richard Kelly, and we must honor Barrymore for being a producer on DONNIE DARKO.
This Friday Barrymore enters yet another phase in her career--directing. With her debut effort as a director, WHIP IT, Barrymore has made one of the most purely entertaining films of the season. It has its predictable moments, to be sure, by I had an absolute blast watching this film for both the roller derby sequences and the clearly personal scenes between Ellen Page and Marcia Gay Harden as a contentious mother and daughter, something Barrymore knows a little something about and is willing to discuss. This interview took place just days before the Emmy Awards, in which Drew was rightfully nominated as lead actress in a miniseries or movie for "Grey Gardens", in which she plays 'Little' Edith Bouvier Beale (she lost to her co-star Jessica Lange). In my estimation, it's the best acting Barrymore has done to date in her career.
As you might expect, Barrymore is friendly, open, and extremely easy to talk to. We only had about 10 minutes to talk about WHIP IT and a three-decades-long career--clearly an impossibility--but I attempt to make the most of it and not necessarily as the same questions every other journalist was posing on her multi-city press tour. The night before our talk, I introduced Barrymore to an eager audience, including some local derby ladies, before a screening of WHIP IT, and she made some incredibly sincere remarks about why she made the film and creating opportunities for herself and women in film through her production company.
To explain the beginning of our interview, the reason drew only introduced the Chicago WHIP IT screening and didn't do a post-screening Q&A is because she was scheduled to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the Cubs seventh-inning stretch. But since the WHIP IT screening got started late, the potential arose where Drew would do her singing and return to the theater for a surprise Q&A (the audience never had a clue she was considering this). But the game ran long, and time ran out, so no Q&A. Enjoy Drew Barrymore…
Capone: Hello, again!
Drew Barrymore: How are you?
Capone: Good to see you again.
DB: Good to see you, too.
Capone: So, it was a long game.
DB: It was so long. I was really bummed, because, you know, I really like to do Q&As. There’s no way it would have worked. And, I literally had the van ready to peel out and get back there to try and get to the Q&A, but the game went long. I was like, "No-o-o-o-o-o!"
Capone: Yeah, and I knew if you got roped into the booth interview they do after the singing that we’d never see you. The timing would have been bad. But, it was fun. The crowd loved it.
DB: Yeah, I know, it sucks, because I don’t like to intro a film, because I want to let it speak for itself, and then, I love to answer questions and engage with the audience. But, at least, they know I was there.
Capone: And, no one knew you were thinking about coming back, so no one was disappointed. And, they loved the movie.
DB: Okay, good. I wanted to surprise them by coming back, but the darn game went long.
Capone: So what’s going on with your hair [blonde tresses with black fringe at the ends]. I love it, is it for a role, or is that just for you?
DB: Yeah, it’s just me. I like to change it up and have fun, you know?
Capone: First of all, good luck on Sunday [Emmy nomimation for “Grey Gardens”].
DB: Oh, thank you. I forget about it, because I just think it’s too dangerous for the ego to let that seep in, so I will celebrate it in the moment. I haven’t thought about it. And, then, I will move on afterwards.
Capone: I forget, was "Grey Gardens" something you produced as well?
DB: I did not produce that.
Capone: You did not, okay. I did think it was interesting that between WHIP IT and “Grey Gardens,” you’ve made these two films where the centerpiece is this mother-daughter dysfunctionality.
DB: With the “Grey Gardens” thing, I didn’t really have a lot of personal…you know, where I could bring a real pain and joy and all these things to Little Edie that I felt and experienced in my real life. But, I’m sort of the opposite. I’m, like, an ‘out there’ people person. I’m not a hermit like she is, and I’m not stuck with my mother. We basically shook hands at seven, and we’re, like, It’s not gonna work. So, there wasn’t a lot for me to pull from that. I just loved that movie, and I loved that story.
But, for WHIP IT, the mother-daughter relationship was a lot more personal for me. And, I worked with the writer really closely on what that relationship was. In movies, the amazing thing is that you can sort of change the ending of the story. And, mine and my mother’s is yet to be seen. But, there was a lot of personal stuff that I put in the movie, because I think that relationship is just such a sort of crucial one. And, I loved even getting to write the line of dialogue of “You just make me feel so guilty.” And, I just think that’s so true of a mother-daughter dynamic, as you’re sort of trying to claw your way to becoming your own person and wanting your mother’s acceptance. And, it’s hard if your mother has sort of like a different path designed for you in her own head.
But, I also really understand that…and wanted to show it from the mother’s point of view that maybe it’s not right for her daughter. But, you know, she really is just trying to give her daughter the best chance possible. And, I’m old enough now to sort of see both sides of the spectrum, and, direct scenes and think about the parents’ side of it, and not just look at it from the young girl’s perspective.
But, I always thought family dynamics were done so well in John Hughes’ movies. Growing up, they sort of had the room…He either created these great fathers that you just kind of like wished your dad was like that, or he’d create, like in SIXTEEN CANDLES, Paul Dooley’s character was just so awesome. He was such a great dad, you know? And then, in something like PRETTY IN PINK, you know, the relationship between her and her father was so, like, raw and honest and emotional and sort of tender and beautiful. And, I just loved the way he handled families. I loved the way he handled young girls, and yet, he brought all this sort of comedy, but also reality and drama and relatability. He was just such a hero to me, growing up watching his movies. He had such an authenticity. And, I don’t understand how a grown man understood young women so much [laughs]. But, God, he really did.
Capone: Yeah. I will say--and I swear I’m not just saying this because you’re here--that I remember…I was E.T when he came out, and I remember thinking at the time, that I wanted just to get to the science fiction part of the story, and the family stuff was getting in the way. At the time, I didn’t get that, but as I got older, it's the scenes with the family that really blows me away. Knowing a little about Steven Spielberg’s growing up and that that meant a lot to him. Now, when I watch that movie, I think, Wow, that family is fragile, with a single-mother at its core. And, I see it now much more now as a coming-of-age thing than I did at the time.
DB: Yeah, I think it’s so important for me to have movies that have action and comedy and love stories and all these, like, fun, action-oriented, splashy musical elements. But at the same time, I think you really have to just stop and take moments to have elements of real, hopefully, compelling emotion, because we experience those in life, too. And, I just wanted to put all those sort of colors into this movie.
Capone: Our web site is based in Austin. And, I’m down there, like, three or four times a year, so to see this movie represent some of its finer locales was pretty great.
DB: I loves me some Austin! [laughs]
Capone: It’s like such a love letter. Tell me what your connection is. What do you dig about it?
DB: Well, it was so fun, because we had to shoot in Detroit, in Michigan, because of the tax incentives. But, then, we got to go and shoot in Austin for exteriors for three or four days. And, I was like a maniac. I had the city so mapped out on everything that I wanted to shoot. And, we actually shot the Bat Bridge, but I ended up cutting out that portion of the movie. But, I really wanted to shoot Austin in the way that is the way I live there or like a derby girl would, which is…I didn’t want to do a drive-by of the capitol. I wanted to shoot the Alamo Drafthouse…
Capone: I saw that.
DB: …and Waterloo and South Congress and, try and get…like, I wanted to shoot at the Spider Café and, just really sort of get the essence of that city, which I just think is such a real city. I think it’s creative, it’s eclectic, it’s music-driven. It’s very arty, and it’s got sort of like a great bullshit detector. And, I also love a good college town where I just think there’s this sort of hopeful vibe of these people, who are going to go out and sort of like dictate our future, and yet they’re out to have a good time and enjoying themselves right now. And, I always think that sort of vibe is so interesting to a city, especially when it’s right in the heart of it.
Capone: Yeah. This is not just a great female cast, but a really great group of eclectic actresses. I mean, Zoe Bell almost casts herself in this movie, because she has no fear of pain.
DB: [laughs] Yeah.
Capone: But, I wanted to talk about Kristen Wiig in maybe the most dramatic role I’ve ever seen her. I was really floored by her and what she pulls off here.
DB: Thank you. I say ‘thank you’ because I would sit with her, and we’d be just having a glass of wine, and she’s so natural and real in real life. And, she’s got this great sort of calmness about her, and I’d be sitting around with her and I’d just be, I really want to show this side of you. Everyone expects you to be on and performing all the time, and you’re just a really great girlfriend and a really, sort of normal, natural, easy-going, beautiful friend. And, that was what the character called for, so I wanted her to be funny and bring comedy to the movie, but I also really wanted to show the more sort of calm, natural side of her, because she really is just a cool girlfriend. So, I was really excited to show that side of her and to be sort of blown over by how good of an actress she is, and how natural she really is on camera. Because she’s that way when you’re sitting around and having a girlfriend conversation with her, but then, sometimes you turn a camera on, and people aren’t the same way. She really has amazing skills.
Capone: Yeah, and she’s a great surrogate mom character, too, for Ellen's character.
DB: Yeah, it’s sort of like the moment of the greatest love of all. You can be in your car with your parents and rolling your eyes and wanting to jump out of the window. And then, yet, when you’re out with your group of friends out karaoke-ing, all of a sudden it feels right. And, it’s fun. That was sort of like a little metaphor to me. And, yeah, she does become the sort of older sister and new female figure in Ellen’s life in the movie. So, I wanted that character to be grounded. How did the screening go last? I’m so curious.
Capone: We didn’t stick around during the screening, although we did pop back in at the end just to gauge the response. And, people were clapping, and people were screaming. So, yeah, everyone dug it.
DB: Yeah, you had seen it.
Capone: Yeah, and we had to have our phones out to keep track of the game.
DB: I know. I’m so sorry, although I’m thrilled the Cubs won, I didn’t want to be a bad-luck charm. I wanted to come back so badly it was killing me. I was, Omigod, I want to be here, but I want to be there. I was just can I please split myself in two and be in both places at the same time.
Capone: No, it went great, as far as I could tell, it went great. People were just loving it.
DB: I’m so glad to hear it. Thank you so much for putting that on. And, I love you guys at Ain't It Cool News; I’m super-psyched to be working with you. Thank so much.
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