Originally created 02/22/98

Former child star's career takes new direction



NEW YORK -- If you believe Drew Barrymore, the 23-year-old actress hasn't exactly matured into a knockout screen goddess.

"My God, no! Look at me," she insists, turning her gaze downward.

Despite a cherub's face mounted on a Jezebel's body, Ms. Barrymore insists on her utter geekiness during a recent interview to promote her new movie, The Wedding Singer.

These days, Ms. Barrymore -- the former child star turned hellraiser -- doesn't need to fit in. She's the very definition of postrehab, freshly scrubbed cool.

A once notorious party-hearty vixen who closed her share of bars and flashed her breasts at David Letterman, Ms. Barrymore even shed her clothes in a Manhattan nightclub.

Then, of course, there were her early struggles with drugs and alcohol that are the stuff of Hollywood nightmares: drunk by age 9, a coke casualty at 13 and a recovering addict at 14. By 19, she was married, quickly divorced and a Playboy pinup.

Things seemed to have tumbled out of control for the actress once dubbed America's Sweetheart after her debut role as the wideeyed Gertie in E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial.

Still, as if to demonstrate that child stars don't necessarily have to end up in a drug-hazed coma, Ms. Barrymore has recently emerged from her dark teen-age years as a vibrant and approachable young woman.

"There's a great lightness to her. And yet she also has a lot of wisdom, especially for a young girl," says Frank Coraci, director of The Wedding Singer.

Ms. Barrymore made her show business debut as an 11-month-old shill for Puppy Choice Dog Food, landing the role of Gertie opposite Steven Spielberg's darling alien by age 7. Two years later she was burning up the screen in Firestarter.

But after her embarrassing and much publicized battles with addiction, a painful year of institutionalization and a tell-all teenage autobiography, Little Girl Lost, directors more or less laughed when her name came up.

Ms. Barrymore was forced to take on sleazier movie roles, as a promiscuous teen in 1992's Poison Ivy and a troubled teen experiencing Mad Love in 1995. She also starred in Guncrazy, Boys on the Side and Bad Girls.

Last year, she made tentative steps toward the lost limelight by appearing in two celebrated films -- Wes Craven's Scream, and Woody Allen's offbeat musical, Everyone Says I Love You.

Now, she stars as the girl-nextdoor with Adam Sandler in the romantic comedy The Wedding Singer, and will next appear with boyfriend Luke Wilson in Home Fries and as the title character opposite Anjelica Huston in Cinderella.

"I feel great," Ms. Barrymore says, beaming. "I feel so unscrewed-up. The older I get, the less uptight I get and the younger I feel. You know, I felt so much responsibility growing up. I was terrified because I didn't have a family and I was terrified that I wouldn't have a place to stay or food to eat, or anything."

These days, Ms. Barrymore is a spokeswoman for the Female Health Foundation, an organization that educates young children about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. She also volunteers her time to the Wildlife Waystation, a California animal sanctuary.

Growing up in the Hollywood fishbowl has slowly tempered those youthful and reckless nights of bra-tossing, vodka-soaked revelry, she says.

"You have to be smart about it. You have to think, `OK, I can't do that. I don't get to go and have fun with people because I will be publicly judged and depicted and criticized for that.' And that ... bites," she says.

As if to cement her newfound image, Ms. Barrymore will soon appear as Cinderella. How bizarre is that?

"I know, it's going to be weird," she says. "I'm honored, are you kidding? Cinderella? I'll take it, OK?"

End Adv for Weekend Editions, Feb 20-22 and Thereafter

AP-CS-02-17-98 1425EST