Drew Barrymore's next act: suburban zombie

Drew Barrymore plays Sheila Hammond in Santa Clarita Diet, which debuts on Friday.
Drew Barrymore plays Sheila Hammond in Santa Clarita Diet, which debuts on Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Actress plays a frumpy real estate-agent who transforms into a sexed-up maneater in new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet

NEW YORK • Drew Barrymore may have her own wine label, but it is not her pride-and-joy rose sloshing around in that smoothie cup in the black comedy Santa Clarita Diet.

In her new Netflix series, debuting on Friday, she plays Sheila Hammond, a frumpy, low-libidinous California real-estate agent who, after a vomiting fiasco to rival Linda Blair's in The Exorcist, transforms into a sexed-up, carpe diem huntress with a taste for human flesh.

Just toss biceps, glutes and maybe an ear into the blender and, voila, a protein shake perfect for keeping her undead self ultra-peppy at open houses and in the bedroom.

For Barrymore, venturing into a streaming show for the first time - this one created by Victor Fresco (Better Off Ted) and starring Timothy Olyphant as her husband, Joel - in the midst of personal turmoil required a leap of faith.

"I was like, 'Listen. I'm getting divorced, I'm about 65kg and I'm really not in a great place, so can I just be extremely frank with you?'" she recalled.

"And I fell in love with Victor. When I was feeling heavy and nervous about things or conveying tough stuff I was going through, he made me feel light about it in a really safe way."

Barrymore, 41, who runs a production company as well as a cosmetics brand, is hard to pin down, thanks to the many things in her life that keeps her "dizzyingly busy", she said, cheerfully apologising. But when you finally do get her talking, it is like conversing with a long-lost friend, especially if she puts one of her "delicious little sausages" - her daughter Frankie, almost three - on the phone. (Her older daughter, Olive, is 41/2.)

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

A show about a flesh-devouring real estate agent. Why?

I think it's so fitting for 2017. Just give me something light, easy, digestible, watchable, fun, funny but, like, has b**** and bite and backbone.

What made you want to do a series?

Victor Fresco's writing. I was so upset when I put the script down because I liked it so much. And everything kept saying in my brain: "You can't do this right now. This is the worst timing."

I hadn't really been working because I wanted to be a mum and raise my kids. So the idea of going back into film-making seemed daunting as a parent.

So how did you imagine Sheila's metamorphosis from boring to bodacious?

I was like: "Victor, here's the deal: This woman has this awakening, and I need an awakening, so how about if we parallel our awakenings, and I kind of do this bent-down Cro-Magnon evolutionary thing and, by the end, she is erect. No prosthetics, no gimmicks, all attitudinal, wardrobe. I can go on this hard-core diet and, like, pluck a row of eyebrows and lighten the hair a little each episode." And he's looking at me like I'm crazy.

And yet the transformation is pretty spectacular, down to those amazing Jimmy Choo boots.

It goes to show you. Sometimes when you think something is the worst timing and there's no way you're going to be able to do it, it can become the thing that ultimately pulls you out of the darkness and brings you into the light.

In the show, you eat people - and they look so realistic.

This company, Tinsley, did all the bodies and they just knocked it out of the park. We would literally think that someone was sitting there and it was the dummy version of them.

There was a lot of blood and guts and I, uh, ooh, yeah, God, sorry - I just got the shivers because I thought of this one foot I had to bite into and I hit a bone or a nail or something on my tooth, and that just made me have that fingernails on the blackboard moment. Yeah, I constantly had weird stuff in my mouth.

You have 6.1 million followers on Instagram, where people can see you hanging out with Cameron Diaz, Nicole Richie and Gwyneth Paltrow like some Hollywood dream team. Do you ever feel competitive?

Never a day in my life. In fact, I remember learning the lesson when I was very young that there is always enough room for everyone to have what he wants and he needs and he works for.

I have only become the person I am proud of through my friendships and I've chosen to follow people whom I admire and think behave and react with grace. So God, no. There's enough to go around for everyone.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Drew Barrymore's next act: suburban zombie'. Print Edition | Subscribe