Hopeful Romantic

Photo: Cliff Watts/Courtesy of Warner Bros.

You know, sometimes I worry,” says Drew Barrymore, on the eve of yet another romantic-comedy premiere. “I think, Am I working in a trade that fools people, especially girls, into thinking that this is what real life is going to be like?

Well, of course she is—and she’s cool with that in the end.

“I do weirdly think that life can be like that,” she adds. “I think the best thing in the world is ‘the run’ in a movie, where a man realizes that he wants the woman and he runs toward her. That run to me is like—that happens in real life. I mean, it doesn’t happen in two hours. You still have to figure out how to work through each day, but I do think there are moments in my life when it’s been like the exact epitome of a great love story.”

Barrymore speaks on the verge of breathlessness—as if she’s mastered the jazz musician’s art of circular breathing and made a kind of verbal bebop out of gushing and rhapsodizing. And, yes, she’s raving about love only shortly after her breakup with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, which doesn’t seem to have dimmed her legendarily sunny outlook. “I live in a tiny, crappy old prewar bachelorette apartment, and I love it,” she says. “I tried the townhouse for a minute, and it wasn’t my speed—now, I’m just very happy running around. Being single in New York is a whole new world for me. Life is really, really good.”

Set in Manhattan, her new film, Music and Lyrics, stars Hugh Grant as a washed-up eighties pop star—basically, the other guy from Wham!—who performs at college reunions in too-tight pants until a young pop star recruits him to write her new hit. Only, Grant can’t write the words. Enter Barrymore, his bumbling plant waterer (spoiler: She spills the pitcher), who just happens to have a natural talent for couplets. The two fall in love, fight, get back together, and make for a very-odd odd couple: Barrymore’s all sparkly-eyed enthusiasm and hobo purses; Grant’s a narcissistic mess of thwarted vainglory. In other words, both play slight adaptations of their offscreen personae. “He’s a super-morose guy,” Barrymore says of Grant. “He’d make fun of my cheery disposition. He said I was annoyingly optimistic.”

It was their first time working together, though Barrymore had once written Grant a letter of support, shortly after he was caught with a prostitute in 1995. “I’m so not a Hollywood Bob, but I thought he was so charming with the gracious, humorous way he handled the whole thing, having been through some public scrutiny myself,” she says. (When Grant publicly apologized, he noted, “I’m not one to go around blowing my own trumpet.”) “He wrote me back, and me and my roommate kept the letter on our fridge for years. He said only two people had written him. The other was Francis Ford Coppola. I mean,” she trills like a mall rat, “ran-dom!”

So perhaps the two survivors were meant for one another, just like the film says. The Teflon don of actresses, Barrymore has weathered child stardom, addiction, high-profile breakups, various breast-related controversies, Duplex, and an underemployed stint spent working at coffeehouses without ever seeming the slightest bit embarrassed by any of it. And as the unsinkable Drew has evolved—taking control of her career through her work as a hands-on producer at her company, Flower Films—it’s become clearer that we’re seeing only part of her onscreen, no matter how appealing that part may be. Barrymore admits that even she is burned out on all the bumbling meet-cutes, comical betrayals, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and ecstatic reconciliations. “It’s hard because the thing I love most is doing romantic comedies,” she says, “but I’ve pigeonholed myself into it. I don’t want to give up on what I love, but I need to try other things for a while.”

Barrymore has already wrapped a more serious role as a country-western lounge singer in Lucky You, a gambling flick directed by L.A. Confidential’s Curtis Hanson, which opens in May. (“I trained my voice for five months, and you’ll say, ‘God she has a shit voice,’ but just the fact that I got to the God-she-has-a-shit-voice place is something.”) And then there’s her next departure part, in the upcoming—nonmusical—film adaptation of Grey Gardens, cast (easy there, Christine Ebersole fanatics) before the play even opened. “I’m so excited it’s, like, painful waiting for it to happen,” she says. “I fought for the part. I just want to prove that I am capable of more.”

Opposite Jessica Lange, Barrymore will play Little Edie Bouvier Beale, who was, when you stop to think of it, the most hopeless sort of romantic—almost like one of those girls that Barrymore worries about, a woman who cloistered herself away in Hollywood and Camelot fantasies and never had a shot at a real-life happy ending. But Barrymore’s take on the Beales is more optimistic than that, and not necessarily so inaccurate either. “You know, love stories can come in so many different forms,” she says. “I love Harold and Maude and Paper Moon. One of the greatest love stories I’ve ever seen is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It’s between two men, but I defy you not to get choked up at the end. I even think that Big Edie and Little Edie have a kind of love story. It is a love story,” she stresses. “It is.”

SEE ALSO: How to Make a Good Romantic Comedy by Drew Barrymore

Hopeful Romantic