'The Essentials' Drew Barrymore takes on 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'

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For someone with the last name Barrymore, there's no better television home than Turner Classic Movies.

Legendary actors John, Lionel and Ethel often turn up on the channel in such ... well, classic movies as "Dinner at Eight" and "Grand Hotel." Their most famous descendant now has a place there, too: Drew Barrymore is TCM staple Robert Osborne's current co-host on the weekly Saturday series "The Essentials," commenting on the given evening's attraction before and after the film.

The teaming of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the 1962 thriller "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" is the July 28 feature. The friendly Barrymore explains to Zap2it that watching movies "is what I like to do anyway in life, so to do it in a forum where I get to talk about films that I love -- with someone I admire -- on a channel that's literally on in my house 24/7, it was just like, 'I have to do this.' "

Newly married, Barrymore says TCM was a unifying force for her and then-husband-to-be Will Kopelman, both big fans of the channel. When she met Osborne at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival, he brought up the idea of her serving as a "guest programmer" for one night. She countered by saying, "Well, if you ever need a new co-host for 'The Essentials' ... ." And shortly after that, the deal was done.

"I'm an aspiring cinephile," Barrymore notes. "There are a lot of films I love watching because of their mastery, even if they're not things I want to watch on a Sunday morning. I think it's amazing when you can look at cinema in a really entertaining and light way. I love cinema education, and I spend a lot of time studying that, but sometimes you want to get into movies that are masterful and also delightful."

With an eye toward that, Barrymore and Osborne selected this season's "Essentials" titles from a list TCM executives provided. Other upcoming attractions include Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in the iconic comedy "Some Like It Hot" (Aug. 4), an encore of Barrymore's first stint with Osborne; Peter Sellers, James Mason and Sue Lyon in director Stanley Kubrick's controversial "Lolita" (Aug. 11); Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the musical "The Band Wagon" (Sept. 1); and William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in director Sam Peckinpah's trendsetting Western "The Wild Bunch" (Oct. 6).

Though Barrymore's grandfather John and great-uncle Lionel were featured recently on "The Essentials" in the 1933 comedy "Dinner at Eight," it actually was Osborne who chose that title, which will repeat on the program Nov. 10.

"There are some other films of my family's that I'm just wacky for," Barrymore says, "but I like that one because it has both Lionel and John in it, and I love [co-star] Jean Harlow. It was wonderful to go back and watch it. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid."

Many of this season's "Essentials" involve young actors -- from Bobby Henrey in "The Fallen Idol" to Quinn Cummings in "The Goodbye Girl" -- and Barrymore confirms that's no coincidence, also having been one herself. She's been providing touching insight into their characters as well as her own upbringing, as when she reflected that the Oscar-winning 1979 child-custody drama "Kramer vs. Kramer" made her feel "I wasn't alone" in going through a related situation.

"I think all of their performances are some of the most mature child performances," Barrymore says, "some of the most unwhiny, unscreamy, wonderfully precocious ones I've ever seen. Being a kid who acted myself, I loved it when I saw kids who could emote like an adult rather than stomp around. They just had this great ability to be natural."

Also having produced ( "Charlie's Angels," "Never Been Kissed") and directed ( "Whip It"), Barrymore is enjoying the chance "The Essentials" is giving her to spotlight various contributors to a movie, from cinematographers to costume designers.

"We're not a very old industry," she says in relative terms at a time when the studios Paramount and Universal are marking their 100th anniversaries, "so it's great when you can see a celebration of it all the time. Commercial-free, I might add! You can turn on the TV and laugh or see the worst news, but I like the feeling TCM puts on me. It's like a wave of calm."

Barrymore's most recent movie, "Big Miracle," was released recently on home video. She says that if one of her own films was considered as an "Essentials" offering, "I would be thrilled! That would be wonderful." TCM's first choice likely would be the picture that established her child stardom, Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," but Barrymore believes the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

"He didn't even release it on VHS tape or laserdisc until 20 years later," she says. "Yeah, that film is rather protected."
Photo/Video credit: TCM
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