HBO Films

Grey Gardens


Lonely Girl

Drew Barrymore gets in touch with her anti-social side

America is used to watching Drew Barrymore as a sweet and self-deprecating girlfriend, an if-looks-could kill spy - even a little girl who hangs out with space aliens. But a debutante-turned-recluse who holes up on Long Island with her equally eccentric mother, aging spectacularly in the process? Not so much.

From the moment Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale appears waving a flag almost maniacally through the opening scenes of Grey Gardens, it's clear this is not the Drew Barrymore you've gotten used to seeing. In fact, it took the actress a while to get used to the idea herself. "For the first few weeks of shooting," she says, "I was like, 'I've never been this scared.' I just wanted so bad to become her. She would obsess on the fear of things. And I was obsessing on the fear of this. I just felt like if I failed this test that the stakes were just too high for me."

To understand a woman whose leap from the pinnacle of New York society had already inspired myriad news articles, a documentary film and a Broadway musical, Barrymore began by seeking a similar sense of isolation, unmooring herself from her own life for the three months of production. "I wanted to understand what it was like to have a life where you didn't have anybody," she says. "My life is full of people, it couldn't be more opposite. So I just figured, if I cut everybody off, then I would understand what it was like to have nothing and nobody."

The experience was hardly pleasant: Reading Edie's journals while watching nervously as her own writing veered onto a strangely gratifying parallel, along with a year working with a voice coach to nail down Little Edie's unique accent - an affected blend of Long Island, Boston, English and pretty much anything else the girl had ever heard.

"It's just so different than mine," Barrymore says. "It took me so long, because I talk, you know, like an 18-year-old Valley girl, out of the side of my face. I studied every scene in the documentary and learned how to do each one pitch perfect, according to her attitude and intonations. But then the hardest part for me was doing her voice at 18 and 36, because I wanted it to have threads and colors of the person who we were to grow into."

The exhausting work has prepared her not only for the role, but for the scrutiny her film will surely receive from a cult following who's already fallen in love with its previous iterations. "That was always a factor in the big fear of all of this," she says. "But mostly I just didn't even know myself if I could pull it all off. So I was harsher to myself than I think anybody possibly could be. Trust me - nobody could do to me what I haven't done to myself already over this."