October 4, 2009 in Features

Cracking the whip

Jen Chaney Washington Post
Associated Press photo

Drew Barrymore
(Full-size photo)

Think of Drew Barrymore and you probably picture that radiant, rom-com-sweetheart’s grin she has displayed for more than two decades.

But on this particular day, Barrymore isn’t smiling. At least not often.

Sure, she is polite, feisty and, with the tips of her blond tresses newly dyed black, looking more than a little rock-and-roll.

But above all else, the 34-year-old actress, producer and former child star turned Hollywood power player comes across as intense, all business even while wearing a playful pair of crimson platform pumps.

That’s because the new roller derby dramedy “Whip It” marks yet another addition to her lengthy résumé: director.

“I’m always curious about the people who say, ‘Why did you want to direct?’ ” Barrymore says.

“I literally have this sort of anger when they ask me. Like, have you not read my bio? I started a (production) company 15 years ago. This is our 10th movie we’ve produced. … I have been training for this for 10 to 15 years.”

Clearly Barrymore feels invested in her work on “Whip It,” a coming-of-age tale about a high-schooler (Ellen Page) who ditches the teen beauty pageant scene so she can speed and slam her way to victory in a roller derby league.

Barrymore immersed herself in every aspect of the filmmaking process, sleeping two or three hours per night during the shoot so she could weigh in on even minor creative decisions.

“Oh, I thought the first week I was going to die,” she admits. “I was like, there is no question I am going to induce a heart attack on myself because I care so much.”

She also had a part to play in front of the camera: that of fiery derby competitor Smashley Simpson, a role which required intense training.

“I had some bad bruises and bang-ups,” she says, “but the hardest part for me was having to train, and then go back into a production design meeting or a line producing meeting and cut budget and storyboard and shot-list.”

When a reporter mentions that Barrymore was mentioned in a recent New York Times article about female filmmakers “taking charge,” her face instantly brightens.

“Really?” she asks, clearly flattered.

And that’s when it happens. Drew Barrymore finally beams.

The birthday bunch

Author Jackie Collins is 72. Author Anne Rice is 68. Actress Susan Sarandon is 63. Actor Armand Assante is 60. Rap producer Russell Simmons is 52. Singer Jon Secada is 48. Actor Liev Schreiber is 42. Singer Heidi Newfield is 39. Actress Alicia Silverstone is 33. Actress Rachel Leigh Cook is 30.

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