Drew Barrymore looks down the long banquet table. Seated to her right -- but several feet away -- are Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz. The stars of Charlie's Angels are in an ocean-front hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., to promote their second feature film take on the iconic '70s TV show.
Barrymore wrinkles her forehead then lets out a small giggle. The image of three people spanning the 12-foot table makes her laugh.
"I think this is the farthest we've been apart in like four years," she says.
Life, it seems, is all friendly giggles in the Charlie's Angels world for Barrymore. And why shouldn't it be? The first film was a formidable hit in 2000, grossing more than $250 million worldwide. As one of three producers of the film, Barrymore was financially vindicated.
As one of its trio of leading ladies, each of whom was less than A-list at the time the first film started rolling, Barrymore saw her street cred skyrocket back to the top.
Better yet, she made lifelong friends with Diaz and Liu during the filming of the first Angels, banding together even as misinformed sources said the set was cattier than a cheerleader locker room.
So with Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle due out this week, riding a wave of anticipation as big as any film this summer that doesn't star Keanu Reeves, why shouldn't Barrymore be giggling?
"It's a wonderful opportunity when you have a great time doing something you love," she says.
"To be able to go back to it and take it a level higher is a very rare opportunity."
It was, after all, Barrymore who championed the first film through the studio process. It was she who handpicked music video veteran but feature film novice McG to direct it. It was she who persuaded the rest of the cast to come on board, even as no one knew what the tone of the film would be. Was it going to be campy? Slick and serious? Self-mocking? Few people knew, since the number of screenwriters outnumbered the leads three to one. Barrymore says she could only ask people to take a leap of faith with her.
"We could've explained what we were trying to do in the first place until the cows came home, but you won't know what it is until you see it, feel it," she says. "McG and myself and all the other filmmakers made a lot of promises of what it would be and our biggest priority was keeping those promises."
What made the first film such a labor of love for Barrymore was something unique that she saw right away in the '70s show. She points out that while most young males at that time were ogling over Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith, she saw a nobler purpose. These were three women who could outsmart and out-fight men, and they could look gorgeous doing it. It was a total female Barrymore says she hadn't seen before from Hollywood, and she was immediately taken by it. The fact that it was Charlie -- nothing but a male voice on a speakerphone -- who made that happen was quite secondary to her.
"This is a man, yes, a man, but who empowers women, who says, 'Look, I believe in you,' " she says. " 'I think you're more extraordinary than other people are seeing. I'm going to give you an opportunity to go out there and save the day, show your capabilities, be heroic, create a family, work together with women in a bonded beautiful sisterly sort of fashion.' "
It was the part about "bonded sisterly fashion" that had most pundits in disbelief during the making of the first film. Reports in the press and through the industry rumor mill all concluded that Barrymore, Liu and Diaz couldn't get along and that the catfights on set were legendary. Barrymore says they were all wrong. Not only did they get along, they quickly became best friends. On set during Full Throttle's filming, Barrymore says her challenge as producer was finding a balance between having a great time with her friends and making the best movie they could.
"We're true friends, and that's how we act off camera," she says. "You hope that chemistry comes through. You try to be methodical and hit your mark and say your lines, but you see how much fun everyone is having when the camera isn't rolling. You want that energy to be there. The goal is to have a bit of both."
Barrymore says the set was one big lovefest, and not just with her two costars. The Angels are joined by most of their old friends from the first film and a few new faces. In fact, most of the buzz of Full Throttle surrounds the return of erstwhile star Demi Moore as a fallen Angel hell-bent on revenge. Barrymore lobbied Moore to do the film, knowing her presence would be the kick in the pants every sequel needs.
But Barrymore also wanted Moore on board to have someone on set that the three current Angels could look up to as a professional role model. The fact that Moore still looks so good at her place in life was equally inspiring to Barrymore.
"If I could look like Demi ...," Barrymore says, trailing off to imagine it. "I'm 28 and soft as a marshmallow. I don't understand that. She's hot."
The mutual admiration on set didn't just come from Barrymore. Director McG credits her with bringing the Angels back to the pop culture Zeitgeist. He says she allowed him to realize the vision they had for this franchise by navigating him through studio politics and helping him manage the actors. And, he says, she did so gracefully every step of the way.
"She's the rainmaker," he says. "Drew makes everything happen." ©