March 11, 2014
In Conversation | Drew Barrymore and Robert Osborne on Classic Movies

Drew did an interview for the New York Time Magazine where she talks with Robert Osborne. The two talk about movies and Drew shares how she does not feel she is a good actor.

As far as on-screen duos go, Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore seem like an unlikely pair. He was raised in the small town of Colfax, Wash. (population 2,800) during the ’40s and amused himself with reading books while his parents worked. She grew up amidst the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in the ’80s, the youngest in a long family line of legendary actors, and made her first television appearance before she was even a year old. But they share an almost obsessive love for movies, particularly black-and-white films made decades ago. It’s this connection that makes Osborne and Barrymore light up together as the host and co-host, respectively, of TCM’s “The Essentials.” The show, which premiered in 2001 and airs on Saturday nights, puts timeless, classic films in the spotlight with commentary and fun bits of trivia supplied by the hosts (in the past those duties have been taken up by everyone from Rob Reiner to Alec Baldwin). This season marks Barrymore’s third as Osborne’s wingwoman, and the two clearly enjoy the back-and-forth banter — as well as the goofy handshakes, thumb wars and screwball comedy moments that often happen after the cameras stop rolling. T caught up with the actors on set to talk about the films that forever changed them, the characters they’ve admired and crushed on, and what’s missing from the box office today.

You both have a love for movies from the past; where does this come from?

OSBORNE: Well, my love of movies started when I was 7 years old, living in a small town, going to the movies all the time, and finding the people in the movies more interesting than the people in my small town. Also at that time, it wasn’t that easy to find out about movies. So when I had a curiosity, it sent me into research about the people in the movies or the movies being made. The more I found out about movies, the more interesting they were to me.

BARRYMORE: I just started working when I was 11 months old. So I enjoyed, like, getting to know the medium in which I was working but I so much more got obsessed with the stories that filmmaking told …

OSBORNE: But that’s part of your blood, that’s part of your DNA. I don’t have family that was anywhere near show business.

BARRYMORE: Well, that was also my way of getting to know them. If you want to learn about your grandfather, watch “Twentieth Century,” “Dinner at Eight,” “Grand Hotel” — all movies that we’ve done on “The Essentials.” And yeah, I mean, films were not only what I work in, but you’re absolutely right, it was a way to get to know my relatives.

What films shaped you the most?

OSBORNE: I was shaped by the heroes in the films I saw, which you always want to emulate and be like. I wanted to be like Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart. I think one of the things that’s missing from films today are real heroes for you to emulate. Our heroes have become, you know, antiheroes more than heroes. But I would say, if any film affected me a lot, it would be “A Place in the Sun,” because when I saw that, I was like 17 or 18, and I so understood Montgomery Clift’s dilemma of liking Shelly Winters because she was kind to him, and he was lonely and he felt out of place. And then when he had a chance to be with Elizabeth Taylor, you know, I can understand his dilemma of wanting to not be with Shelly Winters anymore. And just the angst he suffered; I was at an age when I enjoyed suffering angst. It had a huge effect on me.

BARRYMORE: I have a longer list: “Pollyanna,” “Captains Courageous,” “Black Stallion,” “Foxes,” um, “Excalibur”? I was, like, obsessed with “Camelot” and “Excalibur” and “Anne of a Thousand Days” — any double-VHS-giant double-beta set of those films. I just loved the swashbuckling nature of them, I was obsessed. I loved watching men in cinema, and I liked watching young girls, whether it was a Jodie Foster in “Foxes” or a Hayley Mills in “Pollyanna.” It could be squeaky clean and it could be super like L.A.- streets-gritty, but there was no barrier between. I liked older men and younger girls. That was what I responded to in film.

You lived through those characters a little, right?

BARRYMORE: I wanted Richard Burton and Spencer Tracy, and I wanted Jodie Foster and Hayley Mills.

What movie just blew your mind?

OSBORNE: I remember one that had a deep effect on me. I don’t know if it blew my mind, but I remember when I was a kid and saw “Meet Me in St. Louis” for the first time…

BARRYMORE: Ding, ding went the trolley!

OSBORNE: I got so into that movie that I remember when it came to an end, and it said “The End,” and I was in shock. I had forgotten I was watching a movie. I was so mesmerized by that film, and I felt so much part of that family. It didn’t really have a story line in it, except it was four seasons in the life of this family. But they were so entertaining and I got so into it, I remember to this day, the shock when it said “The End” I thought, “Oh my god, it’s over. It’s a movie.” And I have to go home now. And I had a great home life. But I was that mesmerized by that film.

BARRYMORE: I think it changes every day. But today it’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” My jaw was on the floor when I was watching it because it was the definition of visceral. I thought it was the most compelling, upsetting, beautiful-to-look-at, in-your-face film, with no tricks whatsoever, except for beautiful camera work. It was Mike Nichols’s first film, and had these famous, amazing actors that we all knew, stripped down, playing these characters, getting a glimpse into the real fights they had. I just was like, “That’s what you can do with film.” You can create a claustrophobia, make it look beautiful, see these incredible performances, have so much rawness that’s so uncomfortable yet so entertaining. That’s not a film you watch every Sunday. It’s so intense.

Movies are ultimately a form of storytelling. When you were growing up, who told you stories?

OSBORNE: I read stories. My folks were busy. My dad was a teacher, and it was during the Second World War and my mother was working. So I got my stories from films and books. I read a lot, and I love to read to this day. But I don’t think people told me stories.

BARRYMORE: I’ll tell you stories, Robert!

OSBORNE: O.K.! But I used to write stories a lot because you had to fill your hours some other way than watching television. So my imagination was vivid and I used to write a lot of stories. I wrote a novel, which I still have, which is so awful.

BARRYMORE: But good for you for writing it!

OSBORNE: It was inspired by a movie called “Somewhere I’ll Find You,” about war correspondents and the Second World War. I knew nothing about what I was writing about. But the fact is, I did it. Because again, it was a way to fill your time. You had all this energy, your folks were busy, and the world was busy …

BARRYMORE: I’m the same. Nobody was reading me stories at all. But I think I found them through films and books. I think there is something lonely about watching movies. Because you tend to watch them alone, and it is a very personal, private, lonely thing. But you’re also being transported out into the farthest reaches of the galaxy sometimes.

Who have your mentors been?

BARRYMORE: Steven Spielberg for me …

OSBORNE: Lucille Ball for me. I was under contract for her, and she gave me a master class in the film business, and in life, and everything about what I should do.

What was her advice to you?

OSBORNE: That I should not try to be an actor. I should try to be a writer because I loved research, I loved old films. She said, “We have enough actors. We don’t have enough writers.” I knew that it’s not wise to take advice from somebody that’s part of your family, because often the advice will be to their benefit in some way. But she had nothing to gain from me, so I realized she was telling me that for my own good.

BARRYMORE: Steven told me, “Don’t act your characters. Be your characters.”

Have you followed that advice?

BARRYMORE: Absolutely. I don’t think I’m a good actor. I feel like it’s fake and yucky and it just doesn’t ring true. But like Robert said, if you research and you study and make it personal, you just become that person, and it’s your truth and everything else around you falls away. Then you’re telling the truth, it’s not lying, it’s not fake. So he gave me that wisdom because at 6, I guess I was comfortable and more humorous than I would have remembered now. But once I got older and kept continuing acting, I don’t know if I would have succeeded without that advice, because it’s the thing that saved me. I’m not an actor, I’m a pretender.

OSBORNE: Whatever you do, keep doing it. It’s working for you.

BARRYMORE: Thank you, Robert!

OSBORNE: Yes, absolutely.

Comments are closed on this post.