Drew Barrymore’s role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial skyrocketed her into stardom when she was just a little girl. When it was released, it quickly became the highest-grossing film in history at the time, and with the fame came serious consequences for Barrymore. Her rough childhood was the result of publicity and poor caregiving, but there was one person who remained a constant parental figure throughout her life: the film’s director, Steven Spielberg.
Barrymore had a publicly difficult childhood
Barrymore has been very open about her difficult childhood. Born into a famous family, it seems as though she was destined to be a star, but things were not great at home. She was raised by her mother, who exposed her to things that should never have been introduced to a child, like alcohol and partying. Barrymore fully participated in these adult activities, causing her to enter rehab at the young age of 13.
Her father, John Drew Barrymore, abandoned her mother when Barrymore was young, but she still remembers the type of parent he was. She described him as an abusive alcoholic, one who didn’t care about the family name or reputation. “Talk about someone who was not a careerist. He was like, ‘I will burn this [expletive] dynasty to the ground,'” Barrymore has previously said.
Spielberg wanted to keep the magic alive on set
When Barrymore was just seven years old, she starred in the 1982 sci-fi classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Given her age, a lot of the set felt real for Barrymore, especially the animatronic E.T. puppet. When Barrymore noticed a group of men operating the alien, Spielberg went out of his way to try and hide the reality that the puppet was not real from her, kicking the men off the set.
“I didn’t want to burst the bubble,” he explained to New York Magazine. “So I simply said, ‘It’s okay, E.T. is so special E.T. has eight assistants. I am the director, I only have one.” From that point on, he committed to shooting the rest of the film in “strict continuity” to try and maintain Barrymore’s childlike wonder even after they shut down the cameras.
Barrymore shared lunches with the E.T. puppet, and Spielberg had assistants on hand to make sure that the alien reacted to her as she sat there and spoke with him. It was a kindness that meant the world to the young actress.
He said ‘no’ to being her father
Later in her life, Barrymore would describe her relationship with Spielberg, explaining that he was “the only person in my life to this day that ever was a parental figure.” During filming for E.T., Barrymore would stay with Spielberg on weekends, and he would take her to places like Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. He even got her a cat that they named Gertie, after the name of her character in the film.
Even at a young age, Barrymore regarded Spielberg as an important male figure in her life. In fact, she once asked him to be her dad. Spielberg said no. “She was staying up way past her bedtime, going to places she should have only been hearing about, and living a life at a very tender age that I think robbed her of her childhood,” he explained. At the young age of seven, Barrymore would come to set wearing red lipstick, which Spielberg would make her remove.
Spielberg continued, “Yet I felt very helpless because I wasn’t her dad. I could only kind of be a consigliere to her.” Although he couldn’t act as a father to her, he did agree to be her godfather. The two have been close ever since.