The new Drew's a mild child

By Jeff Hayward.

Drew Barrymore is such a survivor it's hard not to admire her. Has any other actress been through so much in her first 23 years?

A star at the age of 7 in E.T.; introduced to nightclubs and drugs by her mother, Jaid, before she was a teenager; dumped by the studios and into drug rehabilitation in her teens; posing for Playboy and disrobing on live television
to the dismay of David Letterman ...

The "wild child" label seemed made for Barrymore, a product of Hollywood's most publicly dysfunctional family - the legendary stage and screen actor John Barrymore was her grandfather, the less-legendary, troubled and often homeless John Barrymore jun is her father.

But after all the exhibitionism and excess there was a career comeback that has so far brought her total of film roles to 29

The wild-child image lingers - six tattoos are a reminder - yet she comes across as unassuming by Hollywood standards.

She's remarkably chatty, to the point of a gushing stream of consciousness. And what she wants to say is that she's left the wild days behind.

Barrymore has steadily put together a credible acting portfolio, with Scream and The Wedding Singer lending her box-office clout with the studios which once shunned her as trouble.

She's consciously seeking to reshape the bad-girl image, as is evident in the roles she now chooses.

She popped up in Woody Allen's musical Everybody Says I Love You, played a sweet-natured teenager in The Wedding Singer and now features in the romantic costume drama Ever After, a clever revamp of Cinderella.

She's also turned herself into a surprisingly savvy Hollywood player, with her own production company. These days Barrymore can command up to $NZ6 million a role.

What appealed about the Ever After project was that it's so different from anything she's done before.

It might deal with some serious themes - mother-daughter relationships, self-worth, wish-fulfilment - but she says it's still "a remake of the classic fairy tale, with a hip heroine."

The director is Andy Tennant, who directed Barrymore in the television film The Amy Fisher Story.

Angelica Huston plays the cold-hearted stepmother, Rodmilla, and Barrymore dons a reddish-brown wig and frumpy clothes for Danielle, the unloved, orphaned daughter.

The setting is now medieval France, the stepsisters are attractive, and the Cinderella character is as much a rescuer of the prince as the reverse.

Huston gives a wickedly campy treatment to the villain of the piece while Barrymore's Danielle is strong and assertive. This time the magic comes from within, not from an old lady with a wand.

"This is one tough Cinderella," enthuses Barrymore.

"She does many things a man does, whether it involves physical strength or brain-power. She's not a character who gets shut down."

The actress says she loved the positive role-model, tailored very much for a new generation.

"I always thought of Cinderella as so girly and I wanted to get rid of all those cliches. I wanted a contemporary sensibility for this fairy-tale world."

And the fairy-tale ending is given a sharp dose of reality.

"We are supposed to live happily every after," says Prince Henry (Scots actor Dougray Scott).

"Says who?" flashes back Barrymore's Danielle.

The character blossoms from an awful childhood of servitude into a self-assured adult, and the actress brought a degree of understanding to that.

"She [Danielle] needs a family just like I've always wanted a family. I never had the dad thing. Because I didn't have a man giving me that male energy I had to embody it myself from early on.

"I'm closer to my parents now, but no one in my family is really going to be there for each other. It's too late."

Still, things are better than they used to be.

Barrymore says she's not completely estranged from her mother, and her father recently lived in the guest house of her home in the hills above Los Angeles.

All that youthful energy which Barrymore once channelled into being rebelliously self-destructive is now focused on her film career.

"I think if I have any ability it's to embody other people. That's why I never want to look the same from one movie to the next, because I want to play a range of characters, physically and emotionally.

"I've already been through plenty of pain and anguish. Now all I have to do is feel it."

Instead of the drugs and night-clubs there's a stable home life with boyfriend Luke Wilson. When she's not filming she works at her production company, Flower Films.

"I'm now obsessed with work and with growth. I think there are many ways you can find what you want without being self-destructive. I think anyone can do anything as long as they keep focused and try to be a good person."

Being an inhabitant of what New Yorkers call Crunchy Granolaland (take out the fruits and nuts and you're left with the flakes), some Hollywood-speak is to be expected from Barrymore. Take her morning wake-up routine.

"I try to stay in bed for 10 minutes to get my surroundings going. I like to ponder my place in the universe. Then I wash my face and tune into my psyche. I check my karma and get my balance for the day. Then I go out into the universe with a positive attitude and a strong shield of love."

Seems like it's working.

Who: Drew Barrymore

What: Ever After

When: From tomorrow

Where: Cinemas nationwide.

Pictured: Drew Barrymore in Ever After

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