Hold on one second,” Drew Barrymore says for the first of several times.
You hold, and listen to a small voice whimpering in the background, then to Barrymore – her voice so familiar, from as far back as 1982’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial to as recently as a Today show appearance last month – singing.
“Baby, you,” she sings to her 18-month-old daughter, Frankie. “I got what you need.”
“OK,” Barrymore says, after everything and everyone has seemingly settled down.
It’s a theme now for Barrymore, after a life seemingly lived on impulse. Partying as a child, rehab at an early age, posing for Playboy, two marriages that each lasted about a year. She even flashed David Letterman on American national TV.
Now, at 40, Barrymore is married to art consultant Will Kopelman and is the mother of two daughters, Olive, three, and Frankie, 18 months.
Last month, she released Wildflower, a collection of autobiographical essays. Barrymore started to write after she scaled back her acting and work with her production company, Flower Films, to spend time with her daughters.
Work was “a bad man trying to take me away from my kids”, she tells me. But writing, well, she could do that anytime – and the time felt right.
“It felt like a good midpoint, if I may be so lucky,” Barrymore says of writing the book. “I am definitely feeling the most grown-up that I have ever felt, incredibly content with my kids.
“It doesn’t mean that I am perfectly calm and knowledgeable,” she adds. “I still feel birdbrained, trying to figure things out. But that quest to find things was gone.”
She landed on the idea of writing little stories; a fun format that she could manage in just two or three hours a day.
“I could think of a story, really focus on it, paint a picture of it,” she says. “I always wanted to write, and so I think that was the first big intention. To write in an unchronological, shuffled deck of cards. I didn’t want to write a memoir. I wanted it to be emotional.”
The stories are heartfelt and funny, written simply and honestly. There are no big revelations that aren’t already known: Her single mother, Jaid, raised her Bohemian-style in West Hollywood, where Jaid studied under acting icon Lee Strasberg, and took her daughter to class. Over time, Strasberg’s wife, Anna, became Barrymore’s godmother.
Jaid also took her daughter on auditions, and at six she was cast by Steven Spielberg in E.T. The director is her godfather – and acts the part. In an essay titled “The Blue Angel”, Barrymore writes that when she posed for Playboy, Spielberg sent her a copy of the magazine doctored to look like she was wearing 1950s-style dresses, along with a quilt and a note that read “Cover up”.
And when Barrymore had her first daughter, Spielberg’s wife, Kate Capshaw, sent her a pink leather journal, with a note encouraging her to write every day. She does.
Barrymore’s father, John, was a barefoot mess who drifted in and out of her life before she finally found herself sitting beside his deathbed. Her mother isn’t part of her life, but Barrymore supports her, just as she did when she was a child.
She didn’t hesitate to share anything about her background, or her family.
“If anything, there are probably worse messages out there about them,” she says. “I thought this was more intimate and flattering and nice.”
She didn’t write anything about ex-boyfriends “or too much about my past”, she says. “This was the in-between moments and silly moments and surprising moments and those that influenced me more than I realised at the time.”
If anything, she says, she is more private than ever.
“I feel very old-fashioned about the way we put ourselves out there, and that goes for everyone,” she says, fretting about the effect social media will have on young people.
“I am raising two daughters, and it is a very tricky time. And so I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this book is going to be archaic and old-fashioned’, and I was nervous about talking to the media.
“But I think it’s a nice respite from that kinetic energy. I was writing a love letter to my children.”
Earlier that day, she found time to get away to a kickboxing class, “and I got completely beat up by the instructor and it was super fun. Me and other middle-aged women with instructors asking them to play this part because it gets the job done.”
She is excited to do a book tour, something different from the usual movie junkets. Real people, real questions.
“I am going to do a reading at each one,” she says. “A little piece of the book, and they can hear my voice and the tone and everything.”
She isn’t sure who will come out to see and hear her, however.
“It will probably be a couple of weirdos and a folding table,” she laughs. “And me there with a Sharpie.” – The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service