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In her new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet, Drew Barrymore plays a happily married wife and mother who undergoes a sudden and devastating change (read: becomes a zombie). Offscreen, Barrymore’s life was also undergoing a huge change.
“I was just in a really low point in my life and I read the script and it made me laugh and it made me feel something,” Barrymore told reporters Wednesday at a Netflix press event. “It took out of my own world that wasn’t super pleasant at the time and I thought, maybe other people want to be taken out of their unpleasant times and be transported into something that’s cool and different.”
In real life, Barrymore was going through a divorce from her husband of four years, Will Kopelman, with whom she has two daughters. Since starting a family, Barrymore had taken a step back from her career, starring in just two movies in the past eight years.
Doing Santa Clarita Diet “was such a safe place to spend my summer while my whole life was falling apart,” she said. “I wasn’t participating in a lot of aspects so this to me was such a lucky, fortunate thing. Timing is everything.”
In the series, Barrymore plays Sheila, a real estate agent who suddenly becomes a zombie and subsequently begins craving human flesh and blood. With the support of her longtime husband, played by Timothy Olyphant, she begins to figure out how to mesh her old life with her new lifestyle and, most important, find a way to feed her unique cravings.
In addition to the show’s comedic tone, the escapist aspect of the role was also appealing to Barrymore. “Sheila is not me and I’m not Sheila, but the coalescence with these two guys, this summer, in Santa Clarita,” she continued, “it took me out of my shit and made me a happier person.”
Series creator and showrunner Victor Fresco pointed out a few similarities between Barrymore and her character, particularly the fact that each woman is a “relentless optimist,” as he put it. “Drew and Sheila, I think are both very strong.”
For all the negative aspects of being a zombie, the transformation also improves Sheila’s life by giving her more energy and more confidence.
Barrymore said she was able to learn from Sheila’s “awakening” and apply those lessons to her own life. “While my whole life was sort of falling apart…I was really excited about playing a woman who was becoming empowered, losing weight,” she says.
The biggest lesson? “When your life really falls apart, you don’t ditch everything in it,” she said.
Physically, Barrymore went through some of the same changes that Sheila did, most notably, the actress, said she shed 20 pounds over the course of the 10-episode first season, to mimic the weight Sheila would lose as she transitions to a human-only diet.
“If you were on that diet, you would just thin out, no question about it,” Barrymore said. “We talked about this idea, this transformation of this woman, but very real, very subtle, a lot of attitudinal changes, a confidence, a new sort of air about someone.
“For me, I really kept thinking about what this woman was going through and trying to track it in my real life,” she continued. “It was really awesome for my real life.”
Santa Clarita Diet‘s first season is streaming now on Netflix.
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