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Drew Barrymore on Grey Gardens

Published April 16, 2009 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of HBO
Grey GardensGrey Gardens

Grey Gardens is Drew Barrymore’s second biography. Riding in Cars with Boys is based on the life of author Beverly Donofrio, whom she played. In Grey Gardens, she plays Edith Bouvier Beale, cousin of Jacqueline Onasis, which was a much greater task of transformation.

Barrymore Plants Grey Gardens


“Training for Bev Donofrio was great because I spent a lot of time with her,” Barrymore said. “I didn’t have the benefit of spending time with Little Edie. I had to really just change everything about myself. I have facial paralyses and talk out of the side of my mouth. Edie talks very forward. All the lips go forward. She has no R’s. She has a completely different accent, completely, because she talks like a little girl. Everything is different and I had to learn to do all of that. I didn’t know if I was capable of that, but that fear drove me to go to my vocal coach everyday for a year and a half. I worked my ass off to do this because I didn’t want to screw up the best opportunity that ever came my way.”

She so immersed herself in “Little” Edie’s world that she gave up modern luxuries. “I didn’t talk on a cell phone, or watch television, or read anything, listen to anything, which she didn’t do. I read ‘The Marble Faun,’ I only listened to her music, and I only watched old movies that she loved. That was only on weekends as a treat to myself. No newspaper. I went to a total monastery. I didn’t speak to one friend for three months. That was very hard to come out of. I not only went without a cell phone but I didn’t speak to one person, including my best friend and partner, Nancy Juvonen, who I had spoken to everyday for 14 years, Chris Miller, who I work with at my company and is like my brother I did not speak to one person for three months.”



Isolation from Hollywood helped Barrymore get into the role of Edie, but also led her to take on some of Edie’s more dangerous habits. “I was isolated from everything. I only went out on Saturday nights and had a couple of cocktails to ease the pain. Then on Sunday I would watch an old movie that was of her liking. I knew all the movies that she loved. That was a really big treat for me because I wasn’t allowed to watch anything. The thing that really changed my life was not having anything to watch or listen to, just to be in the head of someone all the time, which was like living in a crazy monastery. The level of focus I had was so amazing. I had never had that kind of focus during a job before. I’ve done a lot of acting and producing so you are meant to be all over the place. This was the opposite. This was putting the horsy blinders on and shut out the world.”

Perhaps this foray into the method school of acting will influence Barrymore’s future roles. “You just think a lot more in terms of focus. You don’t have the distractions of the radio, or the television, and you just really reflect on your day. You have a lot more minutes and hours to think, ‘What did I do here and what am I going to do there?’ I think you work harder and prepare yourself better professionally. You aren’t thinking about other things. You have one thing to think about. It makes you go a little crazy. Sometimes distractions are a good thing.”

Indeed, both Little Edie and her mother, “Big” Edie, were crazy. “Are you kidding? My God, I think they are madder than a hatter. Absolutely, but the thing about portraying them for Jessica [Lange] and I was that they were not just crazy and they were not just depressed. They were not just angry. They had a real point of view, a real love for each other, and I decision to close out the world. To walk that fine line, make sure that they didn’t seem bitter, or feeling sorry for themselves, was really important. That’s not who they were.”

Grey Gardens premieres Saturday on HBO.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of HBO
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