The Oscar-winning filmmaker addressed being “helpless” over how Barrymore’s tumultuous home life was evident during the making of the 1982 fantasy film. Barrymore was seven years old at the time.
“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,” Spielberg told Vulture. “Yet I felt very helpless because I wasn’t her dad. I could only kind of be a consigliere to her.”
Barrymore’s father, former actor John Drew Barrymore, was an abusive alcoholic. “Talk about someone who was not a careerist,” Barrymore said. “He was like, ‘I will burn this fucking dynasty to the ground.’”
As a child star, Barrymore called Spielberg “the only person in my life to this day that ever was a parental figure.” Spielberg even shot “E.T.” in continuity to keep the magic of the story alive for Barrymore.
“I didn’t want to burst the bubble,” Spielberg said, citing that he had to explain why the puppet had multiple people operating it. “So I simply said, ‘It’s OK, E.T. is so special, E.T. has eight assistants. I am the director, I only have one.’”
Barrymore later asked if Spielberg could be her father; when he said no, he agreed to become her godfather. Barrymore stayed with the Spielberg family on weekends.
Years later, Barrymore similarly stayed with director Tamra Davis after being cast in 1992’s “Guncrazy.” At the time, Davis explained, Barrymore “did not have a good reputation” coming out of rehab.
“But she came in and said, ‘Nobody takes me seriously. I want to prove that I can come back.’ And I just melted,” Davis said. “I immediately was like, ‘Oh my God, I love you. I will do anything I can to help you out.’”
She added, “I felt like she was kind of our daughter. We provided this surreal, stable family for her, where she lived with us and she got to just focus on being an actress.”
Barrymore said of Davis, “I showed up in her house late at night with my laundry basket, and she said I could stay in her guest room, and then I didn’t leave for eight months.”
Barrymore previously opened up about her enduring parental relationship with Spielberg, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Not having a dad, not having that kind of relationship with anyone, he was just so good and nurturing and kind. We still have a really wonderful relationship. I thank him because, had he not chosen me, I think my life would be really different. It’s crazy when you can really trace it back to someone.”