THE first impression when one meets Drew Barrymore in real life, is that the actor is quite close to her on-screen persona depicted in rom-coms and chick flicks, which are loved by the audiences worldwide. She comes across as charming, warm and affable. This image, however, has undergone a gory twist in Santa Clarita Diet — a Netflix original series that was launched recently. In this dark comedy show, the 42-year-old is cast as Sheila, a suburban realtor, who develops a taste for human flesh when she transforms into a zombie.
The show’s creator Victor Fresco did not know Barrymore personally before he approached her. But Fresco believed, “Drew is funny and beautiful. She would be someone the audience would root for in the role of Sheila, a zombie.” That decision seems to have paid off. Even though the 10-part first season of Santa Clarita Diet shows Barrymore chomping on human body parts, she has been getting favourable responses for her “grisly” act.
The reason for the Charlie’s Angel-star to take up this role, however was more personal. What appealed to the actor is that at its core the story is more about relationships. Sheila’s husband (played by Timothy Olyphant of Scream 2 fame) and her teenage daughter stand by her as she learns to cope with her unusual food craving. Speaking during a Netflix event, Barrymore let it out that she was going through a personal low (referring to her divorce from art consultant Will Kopelman last year) when the show was offered to her. “Sheila’s journey became a safe ‘place’ to spend my summer with while my life was falling apart. I was thrilled to play a woman who was empowered by her new ‘identity’. Acting in this show was very liberating for me,” she adds. With this, the actor, who became a star at the age of six when Steven Spielberg’s ET released in 1982, ended the break from acting that she had taken to raise her daughters Olive, 4, and Frankie, 2.
An integral aspect of the show is the food that Sheila is shown consuming. The major challenge was to make her diet look real. “Otherwise, it would be just a yuck yuck comedy,” says Barrymore. Some days she was given dehydrated apples which were made to look fleshy. Some days, it was edible rubber or a wet cake that would pass off as a piece of chicken. “Sometimes, it was like a soup that had gone bad to portray vomit, that had actually curdled. It was always a fun cornucopia. Every day was interesting.” Because, her character was on a supposedly all-protein diet, Barrymore also was trying to lose 20 pounds while shooting for it. Ironically, she was always hungry.
The chemistry that Barrymore shares with Olyphant, as a couple who love each other unconditionally, is what makes this gruesome comedy work. This also shows in their comic timing. Barrymore says, “Victor would write a lot of dialogue which Timothy and I were required to remember and say it fast. Victor called this a ‘speed grill’.” Whenever they would be little sluggish, Fresco would make them do that. “It is funny because when you talk faster, it does not sound fast to other people but keeps this energy and pace up for the actors. I was not directed like that before. So, I enjoyed the freshness of it and I also liked the discipline it required.” This helped the lead actors in finding their rhythm.
Barrymore confesses that she gets stress out about a lot of things in life. “However, I was super relaxed during the making of this show and I was able to put in all my energy into my work. It was a perfect working situation. After Victor explained the show and character to me, it was a lot of fun.”
Working on the show suited Barrymore as a parent since it was short-term. She is hesitant to show the series to her daughters anytime soon. “It would freak them out. It is not a healthy time to show them. As soon as, I feel they are ready to embrace it, I would show it to them,” she says.