Living off the wild side Actress: With 'Scream,' Drew Barrymore's life, career take a sweeter direction.

December 26, 1996|By Ron Dicker | Ron Dicker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"I wanted her to be deliciously sweet," Drew Barrymore says of her doomed sweater chick in "Scream," the Wes Craven homage to slasher flicks now in theaters. "You never want to see bad things happen to a sweet person."

Just then, a call comes through to her Manhattan hotel suite. The eeriness of the timing isn't lost on Hollywood's oldest 21-year-old: Her "Scream" character's ordeal begins with a phone call.

"Hey, isn't that ironic," she says, then bellows: "Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!"

The playful scream could probably be heard out on 57th Street, 43 floors below. But that's about as outrageous as Barrymore gets these days. Her breast-flashing, table-dancing days are over, she proclaims.

"It was never for shock value or exhibitionism," she explains. "I have had just the greatest time being free and condoning freedom, and taking the risks in being who I am. I'm just in a different place in my life."

That place comes with a career in post-rehab overdrive and a mate she can "trust and respect and love."

Along with "Scream," Barrymore appears next month in Woody Allen's new musical, "Everyone Says I Love You." Her Skylar is an Upper East Side preppie who falls for a lawyer and bursts into song over him. (Barrymore was the only actress who did not sing her part, feeling that her throaty pitch would contradict the sweetness of Skylar.)

At the executive end, her production company has two green lights -- one she describes as a "Pygmalion" meets "Wizard of Oz" fantasy, the other about a hermaphrodite.

Barrymore loves playing producer. She shows up at 9 a.m. at her Los Angeles office, reads scripts and watches movies. "Basically I educate myself all day," she says. "There's something really amazing about not sitting back in my home and waiting for my agent to call me and say we have this and that."

Her boyfriend, a young actor whom she won't identify, has given her an emotional stability she has craved. God and Tinseltown know she deserves it. As long as there have been Barrymores -- and they've been around since the dawn of the talkies -- there has been enough dysfunction to make "Melrose Place" look like "Leave It to Beaver" by comparison.

A drinker by age 8 and drug user by 11 who's been in recovery for five years, she continues to be shackled by the family legacy. She is estranged from her mother, Jaid Barrymore, best known lately for talking dirty with shock jock Howard Stern. And although Drew has developed a relationship with her father, John Barrymore Jr., it's not typical parent-child loveliness.

John Jr., who hasn't acted in years, reportedly has drifted in and out of homelessness because of alcoholism. (Drew, a neo-New Agey sort, joked recently that now that her dad wears shoes, she doesn't.)

"Basically my family life has been no family life," she says without a hint of wistfulness. "I am very much an orphan in the way that I have completely brought myself up. How could I not make mistakes along the way? I think I did a decent job. I had to be an adult as a child, and now that I'm an adult, I get to be a child. So there's a reversal that sort of works."

Enter Mr. Right. He's got Barrymore blushing. He's got her thinking children: "My age is young, but my soul is old," she says. Her perkiness gets perkier when he is mentioned.

Barrymore already has endured marital messiness, having wed a Welsh bar owner in L.A. so he could get his green card.

She's also done the rock-star thing, taking up with Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson. Now she wants the real deal.

"I always knew I wouldn't have a family until I had my own," she says. "I'm preserving all the lessons I've learned for my children and my family."

Barrymore's baggage didn't scare off "Scream" director Wes Craven, of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame. In fact, it was her presence that persuaded him to helm one more slice-and-dice as his swan song to horror movies.

"With Drew aboard, I had zero problem getting people to come in and read," he says. "There were things about this [project] I was afraid of; I was afraid it would keep me in the genre forever. If I had cast an unknown, [the movie] would have been very different."

Barrymore, a natural brunette, camps it up splendidly as the blond girl next door, home alone with nothing but a set of butcher knives. It was her job to get the Santa Rosa, Calif.-shot horror flick off to a screaming start. Craven, who has seen his share of actresses shriek their way to gory glory, was impressed, both with Drew the actress and Drew the human being.

"She was very warm and very committed," he says, confessing he was a bit wary of her tattooed persona before meeting her.

Barrymore knows her blood-and-guts. Off the top of her head, she recites the names of 10 movies that influenced her, particularly Sam Raimi's 1983 "The Evil Dead."

"There's an enormous amount of comedy in it," she remarks.

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