Any movie buff has a proverbial wish list of screen pairings. Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette probably weren't on yours until you heard about "Miss You Already" and realized that, holy shit, these two are perfect together. Their comedic sensibilities are complementary, but both have confirmed they can breathe soul into unlikely dramatic parts (Collette in "About a B0y," for example, or Barrymore in "Grey Gardens," though the list continues). Now they've accepted the challenge of an illness dramedy, that capricious genre that has produced as much treacly hogwash as it has profound exploration.
It's evident that Barrymore and Collette, who had only met in passing before making "Miss You Already," have continued their companionship offscreen. While attending the movie's premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September, I watched a live feed of the red carpet from inside the theater. Collette seemed distracted during her interview, clearly only interested in locating her co-star. When she did, they threw their arms around one another as if they had, well, missed each other already.
The results are equally touching onscreen. Collette plays Milly, a former rock 'n' roll wild child who's settled settled down with a husband (Dominic Cooper) and kids. Barrymore is Jess, who's remained her dependable accomplice ever since she moved to London in grade school and Milly taught her to swear with British flair. Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, and the two most cope with a potential future without each other.
"Miss You Already" is a weepy friendship ode suffused with humor, thanks to the direction of Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Twilight") and a script by British actress Morwenna Banks. Sitting down with Barrymore and Collette at a New York hotel last week toward the end of a long press day, the pair's energy ebbed and flowed during our brief chat, but their dedication to each other was apparent, especially when talk turned to mutual cooking-school aspirations. Could a documentary be in their future? Add it to your wish list.
First, the obvious question: How much do you guys love "Beaches"?
Collette: I’ve watched it several times, although I haven’t seen it in awhile.
Barrymore: We love "Beaches." I haven’t seen it in a long time either.
It's one of those Sunday afternoon movies that you have to watch if you see on TV.
Barrymore: Oh, my God. Oh, yes.
Maybe we'll be saying that about "Miss You Already" in a few years.
Barrymore: We can only hope.
Toni, you've been involved with the movie a lot longer and you've watched the other role cycle through different actresses. How attentive were you to the casting of the other part, knowing it could make or break the movie? I imagine it's much easier to manufacture romantic chemistry than it is platonic chemistry.
Collette: Yeah, you can’t determine chemistry, but I run on my gut. I’m all feeling. For better or for worse, that’s how I make all decisions. I, along with our brilliant director, Catherine Hardwicke, and producer, Chris Simon, was adamant that Jess had to be Drew, for several reasons, which, to me, seem very obvious, but I’ll go through them now here. She is very vocal about all things women. She’s such a brilliant pioneer in modern feminism.
Barrymore [to Collette]: Thank you. Shit!
That’s a big crown.
Barrymore: I know!
Collette: But she emanates such warmth and is so grounded. If you’re looking for the ideal best friend, I think it’s a case of "look no further." So I wrote her a letter and told her all of this and kind of talked about why I thought the film was important and how rare a film like this is, and thankfully I think a combination of my begging and the wonderful script got her over the line.
But the roles were initially reversed. Toni, you said you felt like you always play dependable characters, but I honestly can't imagine it the other way around. Maybe because Drew usually plays such nice characters. Could you see yourself as Milly, Drew?
Barrymore: I think, sure, we think we can do the opposite roles. But everything happens for a reason. If the square peg was in the round hole while she was trying to make it happen a different way, there must have been a reason for that because it really was meant to be that she would play Milly. She happened to call upon me, a woman who had just had her second child and was very much in the mode of creating life and making babies and in that mind frame and in that body, literally. I think there was a time where I was wilder many years ago and could have channeled my inner Milly, but right now I’m very much in the mode of the way that my friends were growing up, which is much more grounded and quiet and toned-down. I was just so at the right place to play Jess.
Toni is just such a dynamic actress and so talented and so incredible that I want to see her fucking chew up the scenery. I want to see her be Milly, and be flawed and selfish and all over the place and dynamic and dazzling and a firefly you just have to chase and watch and fly with. There was just such a support we had for each other. And then we really knew there was a requirement of fun because our director was like, “I don’t want to make a maudlin, overly depressing, overly sentimental piece,” and that’s what we wanted, too. I think Toni threw her research into what people went through with cancer. She wanted to honor them and play it with a strength. It was just a very intimate process. It wasn’t Hollywood, it wasn’t big-budget, it wasn’t trailers and everyone off in their own worlds. It was like you literally show up to work, you worked in the house in London all day long together, nobody went anywhere, we ate together, worked together. And then Toni and I got lucky -- we’d go play together afterward. We’d go and have wine and talk about our days and our lives. Our kids hung out and played. I know it’s acting and I know it’s film, but it just seemed like everybody was out to make this their life for a little while. It has some grounded-in-reality feeling because of that.
How vital was that setup in getting you to agree to the project? We haven't seen much of you since you had kids. The only movie you've done is an Adam Sandler project, which I imagine comes fairly naturally by now.
Barrymore: Yeah, I don’t work as often right now and probably won’t for the next few years. With Toni’s idea to make this film and having two daughters and wanting this for them and their future and for women right now today, I had to do it. I just think it’s such a special movie for women. I felt very lucky. Toni has said there are times she feels she just has to go do something that’s very primal and you connect with it on that level. I was like, "I just need to go do this," whether it was to get back to work or just to put something out there in the world or just be a part of something. I guess it was all of the above. But I really wanted to go and be with Toni and do this.
Toni, was shaving your head an easy request? I imagine it was especially tough since you only had one take to get it right.
Collette: It’s true, yeah. It’s just something that Milly has to go through. There was no question. I just did it.
I saw the movie at the Toronto Film Festival, where a few younger actresses I assume you've each mentored had big showings, like Brie Larson and Ellen Page. Have you been able to connect with them?
Collette: I’ve been emailing with Brie, but we didn’t see each other at all. Festivals are crazy. If you bump into someone, it’s a miracle.
Barrymore: I always think I’m going to see people and then you never see anybody. But I’m so happy for Ellen. I am so proud of her. She’s so amazing. I love Brie Larson, too. I am the biggest Brie Larson fan.
One of the movie's most special scenes is Milly and Jess going to the Yorkshire Moors because they've always wanted to see where Wuthering Heights was set. I hope this doesn't sound macabre, but if your time was limited and you made a bucket list, what would be on it?
Collette: Snorkeling in the Maldives. I also want to see the Northern Lights. I want to go and stay in one of those glass igloos where you can look up and see it.
Barrymore: In Fairbanks! I lived right below there in Alaska for three months. I want to go to Italy and go to cooking school.
Collette: We’re going to do that.
Barrymore: We’ve talked about that a lot. We’re going to do it together.
Collette [to Barrymore]: You lied to me. You can cook. I really can’t.
Barrymore [to Collette]: I really can’t, but thank you for thinking so. I make fishsticks. That is not good enough.
Collette [to Barrymore]: You did that slow-cooked pork!
Barrymore [to Collette]: Oh, that.
Collette [to Barrymore]: Give me a break!
Barrymore [to Collette]: But Dave’s slow-cooked pork is even fucking better. That is amazing.
Collette: That’s my husband. His is just ridiculous.
Barrymore: He’s a really great chef.
If you go to cooking school together, can you make a documentary?
Barrymore: Oh! Brilliant.
Collette: Oh my gosh. Let’s pack that up. We’ll talk about this. Thank you for bringing it up, because we have a thing with a thing with a thing with a thing.
Barrymore [to Collette]: Oh! You know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy?
Collette [to Barrymore]: Yeah, I’m going to talk to a guy about it.
"Miss You Already" is now in theaters. This interview has been edited and condensed.
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