Grey Gardens: Drew Barrymore plays Little Edie

“Grey Gardens,” starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, premiered April 18th on HBO.

Drew Barrymore had been a fan of the documentary for years and had a copy in her library.  She had already recognized the cult phenomenon it had created when she received Michael Sucsy’s script.

“When I read his script, I flipped out,” exclaims Barrymore.  “I thought it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read in my life.  Seeing the women’s journey, seeing a love story not between a man and a woman, but between a mother and daughter, seemed so epic to me and yet so claustrophobically personal.  They lived in a sort of fantasy world and turned a blind eye to the conditions in which they lived.  Having each other was enough to survive the madness that went on in that house, was enough to let everything else fall by the wayside and not matter.”

Passionate to play “Little Edie,” Barrymore re-watched the documentary, devoted herself to research and put together a binder of annotated information.  Binder in hand, she went to convince Sucsy that, although it was unlike any other role she had played before, she “would go to the ends of the earth to play this woman.”

“I’ve never studied so hard to be a character in my life,” says Barrymore, who immersed herself completely in her role.  She met with Albert Maysles and asked him “five thousand” questions, as she puts it.  She took dialect lessons for months; worked with a choreographer for two dance sequences; wore different teeth, contact lenses and different skin (on average, she spent three hours every day having the makeup and prosthetics applied); and adopted a different mentality.  The disciplined Barrymore shut herself off from her friends, BlackBerry, cell phone and laptop for three months, choosing instead to read the same books that Edie refers to in the documentary and read Edie’s personal journals at night.  Barrymore made it a point to read issues of the New York Times from the 1930s to the 1970s every day, in the chronological order “Little Edie” would have read them.

“She was so isolated and wanted desperately to break free of the cage she had put herself in,” explains Barrymore.  “I felt that I wouldn’t understand her unless I put myself in that cage.”