Drew Barrymore was in Chicago recently filming segments that have been airing throughout the month on her daytime talk show “The Drew Barrymore Show,” including stops at Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, in Millennium Park. Why feature Chicago? “It’s just a really important city for me,” she said. “I feel like I have a history with it, growing up in (filmmaker) John Hughes’ world. He shaped so many of us and was such an important storyteller for so many of us growing up.”
And then of course, there is Barrymore’s own Chicago-set movie, the romantic comedy “Never Been Kissed.” Barrymore’s career as an actor is a long one, stretching back to her breakout role at age 6 in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and her credits in the years since include everything from “Fever Pitch” to “50 First Dates” to “Charlie’s Angels” to the Netflix horror-comedy “Santa Clara Diet.”
When asked about a worst moment in her career, the story she told was a recent one.
My worst moment …
“We were launching the talk show, so this was September of 2020. There was no audience because of the pandemic, so it was a skeleton crew and everyone was in masks. We were all terrified. And we were doing it live, instead of taping episodes ahead of time.
“There was someone who worked on the set who would direct where everyone was supposed to go. And because it was live, there was not a lot of time to mess around and sometimes this person would yell at me to get from somewhere to another point. And he was yelling because he probably felt under pressure, he wasn’t trying to do anything wrong. But there were times when I would literally burst into tears, and then they would be like, ‘And we’re live in five, four, three, two …’ and I would be like, ‘Oh my God.’ The more you get close to going live, the more the avalanche (of tears) comes.
“And so, instead of having it out with this person in front of everybody, I decided to say, ‘Could you come into this quiet area with me off the set?’
“And I said: ‘Listen, literally every time you yell at me, I’m going to burst into tears and I don’t know how to transition. I’m not fake — I can’t go from feeling yelled at to smiley and happy. It’s really messing with me, so can we talk about how we have our process together? Because I really like you and I want to figure this out, but I need help.’
“And because of that, we got to know each other better and became better friends from it. He realized, oh, she needs a gentler approach. I think we also had a wink; if he started getting kind of riled up again, I would just look at him with wide eyes and he would know, like, I gotta calm it down. In live TV it’s like scuba, you create all these signals for ‘Please don’t do that right now, I can’t handle it,’ or ‘Remember what we talked about!’
“And I swear, we just became much better friends and had a really good time working together after that, because we had been through something and came out stronger, closer, more honest and better on the other side. Avoiding it is what makes it way worse.
“And I could have sworn — I’ll never know because I didn’t do it this way — if I had talked to him on the set in front of everybody, it just wouldn’t have created the same connection.
“I’ve done this throughout my life, but there was something that was so impactful about this time. Sometimes it’s better to just take people aside. Do not discuss things in front of other people. People get defensive, they get clouded, it gets taken in a different way. And it just reminded me that there is a time and a place to speak quietly and one-on-one with people in business situations.”
That’s a thoughtful approach for someone who’s the boss
“Well, I haven’t always been as graceful. And I’m scrappy and rebellious and I’m sure I’ve had incidents where I’ve probably been like, ‘What the hell?’
“But I hate that ‘my show’ stuff. I swore to everybody when we launched that I will never call this ‘my show.’ This is our show. It’s ‘ours’ and ‘we,’ not ‘my’ and ‘I.’
“I’ve heard people over the years talk about their show as ‘my show,’ or I’ve even heard producers say, ‘That’s my show.’ And I’ve always thought it was such (expletive) because I’m like, you realize it takes a lot of people to do that, why would you use the ‘my’ and the ‘I’?
“So I definitely don’t think of the situation as ‘I’m the boss.’ I hate ‘boss lady.’ I hate that boss (expletive). It’s such hierarchy ego-feeding crap. I think the more we respect each other and work as a team, we’re so much better for it.
“I realized that really early on as a kid. And when I started our production company, Flower Films when I was 19, I was like, we will never run sets like that because I’ve seen everything. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen every right, wrong and in-between approach known to man. I’ve seen every scenario possible. And people fail, people struggle, people have moments — it happens. You’re all working together for crazy amounts of time and crazy hours a day and nobody’s perfect. But if you keep repeatedly losing your cool, then no thank you — that’s not acceptable. You can’t make everybody else susceptible to your lack of ability to control yourself.”
Has Barrymore ever been on the receiving end of that?
“That’s the thing, I’m pretty tough (laughs). I think I just don’t seem like someone to mess with. But yeah, I’ve definitely dealt with big personalities or people who are yellers or throwers. And I would just be sitting there thinking, yuck. I never think, well, yeah, sometimes people have to do that. I’m like: Nope, they’re being a (jerk) and everybody here thinks it, so try not being one. We can help each other be better people by not indulging bad behavior.”
The takeaway …
“Talk to people in private sometimes. We’re all in big rooms and working by committee and there’s a lot of people around and sometimes it’s important to choose your battles and take a little extra time and go into a private area with someone and just speak in a way that isn’t embarrassing and doesn’t make you worry about what everybody else is thinking and just think about it for yourself.
“I would never delegate this to someone else to fix. Oh God, no. That doesn’t happen in my world, I’m a very straightforward shooter. The thing I’ve learned in life, the more you sweep things under the rug, the more toxic the situation becomes. You have to be in charge of your life and accountable and honest with people, and I hope to God that they’re like that with me.
“Being a producer is very invitational, because I get to hear everything. I’m not just some actor who needs protection on the sidelines for my creativity. I like being in the mix. I like problem solving.”