Drew Barrymore embodies versatility, having added to her status as one of the film business’ most popular leading ladies by becoming a successful producer and director.
In her new movie Big Miracle she plays Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer. Rachel is what you would call an extremist. She will go to any lengths to stop big oil companies from harming the environment, including showing up uninvited at meetings with a bull horn. When Rachel (reporter Adam's ex-girlfriend) finds out about a family of trapped gray whales, she turns all of her attention to getting them freed.
Born in Culver City, California, into a revered family of actors that includes, among many others, her grandfather John Barrymore and grand-uncle Lionel Barrymore, she started performing in commercials before her first birthday. At age six, she was chosen by director (and godfather) Steven Spielberg to co-star as Gertie in his (at the time) small-scale feature E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Once the film was released to overall acclaim in 1982, the young actress had instantly become a movie star.
As a longtime animal and human rights activist, she is devoted to such causes as the United Nations World Food Program (for which she was chosen to serve as an Ambassador Against Hunger) and the ASPCA, among many others.
Tell us about your character in BIG MIRACLE.
I play a woman named Rachel Kramer who is sort of a one-man army heading up Greenpeace in Alaska. My character is based on a real woman named Cindy Lowry. I spent a lot of time with Cindy before starting the movie and during the beginning of the movie. Rachel, my character, is a person who is very involved and educated. She does her research, her homework and will stay up 24-hours trying to get something done. She's a person who has a lot of will to change what seems unchangeable and make the impossible happen. Rachel is stubborn and does whatever it takes in order to accomplish her mission. In this story, her mission is to save three California gray whales that are stuck in the ice in Barrow, Alaska.
How was it working with director Ken Kwapis??
Ken Kwapis is literally my hero every step of the way. He is making a film that you see and understand from everyone’s perspective, which I think is really important because life is not lacking in complexities. There was the interaction between America and Russia. Then there was the story of the Inupiaq people who have hunted whales for thousands of years. It's their tradition to hunt whales so they weren’t wrong in wanting to kill the whales. My character, Rachel, who works for Greenpeace, doesn't want anyone to kill whales. She is not wrong either. There’s also the love story between Colonel (Dermot Mulroney) and Kelly Myers (Vinessa Shaw). This is a true love story that happened. It’s romantic and inspiring. It's like the most awesome, real life AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN moment. There's also the perspective of the army and the White House. This story has so many components.
What part of this film connects with you?
This reminds me of storytelling back when I was a kid and reading scripts in the 1970s and 80s, when storytelling was fundamentally important. I like stories that have that great tone. It's not drama and it's not comedy. It's this amazing historical event. It's all true, which adds a whole other layer. It's incredible.
It’s really cold here. How was the scene where you had to jump into the water?
I’m such a California girl! I definitely knew that I would be out of my element and comfort zone. I told Ken I'll do this movie in shorts if it means getting to play this part and being involved. Jumping into the water was a level of cold that puts everything else in perspective. It's so cold! The water feels like knives going into your skull. I've had to dive a couple of times for this movie. The water was about 40 degrees, which is very cold and I was in there all day. It's intense but it's an amazing opportunity. I even got to swim with Harper Seals, which was amazing. I would never complain for a second. Rachel, my character, is kind of a bad ass. She's not someone who would complain. She would brave the elements and did, so I wanted to do it.
What did you learn about yourself?
It's fun to play someone who is probably the most mature person I've ever played.
How aware were you at the time this event was happening?
To be honest, I was not aware of this story. I was 12. I was very aware at 12 but clearly my priorities were not in the right place because I knew more about disco than I did about this. I'm not sure how I missed this event. I don't think I watched a lot of television or read magazines and newspapers then. I wasn't in school, so I can think of a myriad of reasons why I didn't know. I think it's cool that this was very famous. There is a ton of news footage. The story was on the cover of Time Magazine.
“Big Miracle” is released and distributed by United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corporation.