She’s perhaps the most laid-back overachiever you could meet. We chat with the actor, producer, author and businesswoman whose career – and life – is only just coming into bloom.
As a working mother, Drew Barrymore has gotten into trouble in the past for saying that women can’t have it all, but the entrepreneur and actor would like to set the record straight. “Let me rephrase it, ladies,” she says. “You can’t do it all at the same time! I believe that women can do everything and more, as I’ve gotten to. But I think you have to give yourself permission to realise that you can’t give 100 per cent to everything at the same time.”
The star of new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet has just emerged from one of the most “interesting” (translation: frantic) seasons of her career. In addition to shooting the aforementioned black comedy, Drew had two businesses to run: she’s the founder of both Barrymore Wines and cosmetics line Flower Beauty, a role which recently involved a research tour around Asia, testing snail face masks in the Philippines and caviar face masks in South Korea. “I was lucky because I was so happy at work,” says Drew. “If I wasn’t, I think it would have been a bit of a sh*t show because I did have a lot of plates that I’d set up still spinning. A lot of people took on more at Flower Beauty whilst I was on [set]. Now I’m literally sitting with trays of lab testers in front of me. Sometimes things have to fall away or go on the backburner. Or, things move around. It’s a beautiful dance.”
“I believe that women can do everything and more, as I’ve gotten to. But I think you have to give yourself permission to realise that you can’t give 100 per cent to everything at the same time.”
During her illustrious career, the 42-year-old has starred in more than 50 movies and, after founding production studio Flower Films in 1995, has chalked up 21 producer credits to her name. In 2009, Drew made her directorial debut with the film Whip It about an all-female roller derby team. She has a long-standing relationship with Hollywood studios and Steven Spielberg is her godfather. But it was streaming giant Netflix that tempted her out of her recent acting hiatus. “I’d done everything I could not to go back to acting for a while,” she says. “I wrote a book. I started a beauty company. I wanted to be a mum. But [after receiving the script] I said I’d meet with the writer and creator. I was totally screwed after I met him. I knew I had to do it because I loved it so much.”
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And in a bizarre way, Drew’s Santa Clarita Diet character, Sheila – a suburban real estate agent who becomes a flesh-eating zombie – is surprisingly inspirational. She’s a play-it-safe mother living in a white picket-fence town. In the first episode she complains to her husband, “I wish I was bold” and things take a strange turn. One gory scene later, Sheila is reborn as an undead version of herself, now driven by her ‘id’ – the part of the mind that, according to Sigmund Freud, works to satisfy our instincts and urges – with the confidence to live out her unusual desires.
In turn, she and her husband face the challenge of keeping their marriage together amidst dramatic change.
“They’re willing to work through things that would destroy most families and couples, and they do it with a smile,” says Drew of the show’s characters. “They’re always dealing with things but in a way that’s not mean-spirited, no matter how much the walls are caving in on them or how much hell’s broken loose… They don’t take it out on each other… they just grab onto each other’s hands and start running.”
“The word ‘ambition’, to me, I always think of fangs and foaming at the mouth. I can’t relate to someone who’s calculated.”
Apart from the casual cannibalism, having courage to chase your desires, even when others disagree with your choices, elicits some admiration. It’s also how Drew has approached her long career since becoming a household name at the age of 7 for befriending an alien in E.T the Extra-Terrestrial.
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“I’ve always tried to follow my heart,” says Drew. “I’ve never had a broad vision or tried to do something just because I’ve thought it would be another step. The word ‘ambition’, to me, I always think of fangs and foaming at the mouth. I can’t relate to someone who’s calculated.”
So what appealed to her about working with the (relatively) new kids on the block, Netflix?
“You could tell that you get to do a lot of things that would be questioned in the studio system,” says Drew, who filmed the series over several months. “I mean, they put the word f**k in the trailer. They’ve got balls! And they’re so creatively current.” As a producer herself, she also admired the Netflix crew’s storytelling ability. “I like all-age parties,” says Drew. “What’s cool to granny shouldn’t be a total turnoff to a teenage boy. Somehow Netflix is making things very cool across the board. That’s what good storytelling should do – be appealing to a lot of different generations.”
“I’d never write a book my children wouldn’t read one day. I’ve lived a life that has been an open book, whether I choose it to be or not. But I know how to keep that veil of class.”
The single mother-of-two, who has her daughters’ names, Olive and Frankie, tattooed on her wrist, says parenthood has affected her career in the best way possible. “You have kids and everything seems trivial all of a sudden,” says Drew. “‘I can’t and don’t care!’ You end up doing the things that are really, really important and so much falls by the wayside. You’re never the same after kids. You’re still you, but a new you. It’s so foreign and beautiful.”
Spending her own childhood in the spotlight and endless make-up chairs, Drew has developed a passion for the way beauty is portrayed to the next generation – and the negative effect it can have on a woman. “As a mum, when I look in the mirror in front of my girls, I don’t grimace,” she says. “I could look at myself and think, ‘You look like the f**king Crypt Keeper because you have two young children and no eye creams are working.’ But I don’t do that in front of them. I look at myself, I shrug my shoulders and giggle. Then we all move on about our morning.”
In 2012, frustrated by the subliminal messaging in some beauty advertising, Drew launched Flower Beauty, a cosmetics label that aims to empower women (slogan: ‘You’re already beautiful, now let’s play’). Drew co-owns the brand with the Maesa Group, a US$170 million manufacturer of exclusive and private label beauty products (the company’s 250-plus staff create 5,000 products a year for 80 clients, managing product development through to manufacturing, packaging and marketing for brands including Zara, Michael Kors, Benefit, Avon, Pottery Barn and Pull&Bear). The process took 18 months, or as Drew puts it, “527 days in development, 243 meetings and 1,682 conference calls”.
As a brand, Flower doesn’t pay for advertising (targeted Facebook ads for their new site in 2017 being the exception). Instead, Drew, who also reduced her share in profits during development, uses her public profile to promote Flower, which allows the brand to invest two to three times more than mass-market brands into creating premium formulas and packaging. Launching with just over 180 cruelty-free products, Flower’s products are sold at an affordable “prestige en masse” price point, generally between US$9-$20.
“It’s very aspirational but also very realistic,” says Drew, who serves as the brand’s creative director. “It’s about being the best ‘you’ but it’s really joyful and inclusive. I have two daughters and I’m a woman. I want to be constantly in the discipline of trying to appreciate, improve and be who I am. Not be upset that I’m not enough or thinking that I should be something else.”
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Before launching Flower, Drew spent five years as an ambassador for CoverGirl, which she says was like getting a college degree in cosmetics. And while Drew’s make-up range was originally sold in 2000 US Walmart stores, February 2017 saw expansion into 300 Mexican Walmarts and the launch of an e-commerce platform. Further market penetration is on the cards, with retail sales estimated to total US$30 million this year. The brand’s range will no longer be limited by bricks-and-mortar shelf space thanks to direct-to-consumer sales, while international expansion into countries such as Australia, where Walmart affiliates are potentially given first right of refusal to sell Flower, has been floated by Drew.
Hoping to grow Flower into a lifestyle brand, Drew has also developed a range of sunglasses, Flower Eyewear, where every design is named after a character she has played. And her wine label, Barrymore Wines, in partnership with California’s Carmel Road Winery, was launched in 2010.
With what seems to be a personal mantra of ‘work hard, be nice’, Drew’s success has never been limited by any industry, and she’s far from finished yet. For one, she’d love to write another book. She wrote her first, Little Girl Lost – a coming-of-age memoir following several tumultuous years of partying and addiction since being exposed to drugs at 11 years old – when she was just 14.
Her second memoir, Wildflower, released in 2015, is a collection of autobiographical essays which made headlines for its uncensored honesty, notably detailing the day she divorced her mother at age 14. “It’s no secret that I had to part ways from my mother because we’d driven our relationship into the ground,” she writes. “She had lost credibility as a mother by taking me to [infamous nightclub] Studio 54 (so wrong, but so fun) instead of school.”
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Drew’s honesty has been her calling card since the beginning of her career and writing Wildflower was no different. “It was my heart on a page,” she says. “But I know about boundaries and tone. I’d never write a book my children wouldn’t read one day. I’ve lived a life that has been an open book, whether I choose it to be or not. But I know how to keep that veil of class.”
Drew relished the regularity of life as an author. “That was a great time,” she recalls. “I was at home every day with my kids. I’d duck out for two or three hours a day, two or three days a week for nine months. That was very organised for me but was the only way I could tick a book off the bucket list.” If time allows her to write another tome, she doesn’t yet know what it would be about. “I’m still realising it,” she says. “That book was a wonderful experience because I was looking in the rear mirror whilst being more in the present than I’ve ever been. Now I’m sort of looking in the present and the future. So [the next book] is a question mark.”
It’s this element of reflection and looking outwards that parallels the empowerment of Drew’s character, Sheila. “You lose perspective of what’s on the periphery, what’s possible, because you’re just putting one foot in front of the other,” she says.
For now, Drew, an ambassador of the United Nations World Food Programme who has donated US$1 million to the organisation in the past, is constantly inspired by the women that surround her – her daughters, her colleagues, her friends. “I feel like I’ve always had girls and women in my life who aren’t chasing vanity,” says Drew. “Most of my girlfriends aren’t crazy Botoxers. They’re just living their life, smiling with their big faces and smile lines. All of the women that I’ve followed are doers. They aren’t constantly stopping in the mirror, beating up on themselves or saying, ‘I’m not doing enough’. They’re just marching on.”
This article first appeared in Collective Hub Issue 44. Buy it here.