From the Vault: Brittany Murphy Opens up to Drew Barrymore
This is The Vault, our bi-weekly column in which we revive a conversation from deep in the archives for your viewing pleasure. This time, to mark what would have been her 44th birthday, we’re honoring Brittany Murphy by revisiting her Interview cover story from our 2003 December/January issue. In it, the actor opens up to Drew Barrymore about everything from growing old protecting herself from fame. Captured at the peak of her career by Herb Ritts, Murphy shows us the charisma, strength, and joie de vivre that made her a star. Go ahead, dive in.
DREW BARRYMORE: Hello?
BRITTANY MURPHY: Hello! I miss you so much!
BARRYMORE: I miss you, too! I had so much fun dancing with you that night.
MURPHY: Me too. That was the most delightful surprise. This is so Warholian of us. Where are you?
BARRYMORE: I’m at the top of Griffith Observatory.
MURPHY: Are you working today?
BARRYMORE: Yeah, we’re shooting Charlie’s [Angels: Full Throttle]. It’s such a good vibe. I’m staring at the Hollywood sign and—
MURPHY:—I’m under it! In my house! I can’t believe that we have to do a phone interview to talk.
BARRYMORE: Dude, I get up your butt every single time I see you that you have to call me, and then we don’t call each other, because as much as we can apply ourselves in our work, when it’s not about work we’re just sort of off and running in the universe.
MURPHY: Like a couple of free spirits.
BARRYMORE: Someone once told me that time was like a string of pearls and that the pearls were the moments that you spend together, and that time was the string, so that when you push the pearls together, time—which is the string—disappears. Basically, they were saying that every time you see someone you pick up exactly where you left off, as if no time has been there.
MURPHY: Can I tell you that every hair on my body is sticking up? But you told me that already.
BARRYMORE: See, I repeat myself. [Laughs] OK. So I actually wrote down some questions.
MURPHY: Have you done this before?
BARRYMORE: I have, for this very periodical—well, “very periodical” doesn’t work, grammatically speaking, but fuck it. E.E. Cummings was the best poet ever and he had no rules, so I feel very free to be the dyslexic, unscholarly idiot that I am.
MURPHY: If you’re going to call yourself an idiot then we have to end it with “savant.”
BARRYMORE: [Laughs] OK, I’m going to ask you my first question.
MURPHY: Roll it, baby.
BARRYMORE: Which historical figure do you most identify with?
MURPHY: Oh, Jeez. I think I’ll say Clara Bow. I’m looking at her right now. I have this old picture of her in my room, with Max Factor doing her makeup. You know, I’m back now, by the way.
BARRYMORE: In L.A.?
MURPHY: Yeah. I’m here, and I want to establish a life for myself. I’m taking a complete break. I want to learn how to drive [and] go out with friends.
BARRYMORE: [To someone off the line] Oh! I’m so sorry!
MURPHY: What happened?
BARRYMORE: I just stuck my high heel in someone’s knee accidentally.
MURPHY: What are you wearing?
BARRYMORE: I’m wearing—wait! I’m supposed to be asking the questions here.
MURPHY: Sorry. I always flip it around.
BARRYMORE: OK. If you were to die and come back, what would you come back as?
MURPHY: As a redwood. What about you?
BARRYMORE: I feel like I would want to come back as a scientist. I’m really into physics and astronomy right now. But back to you. Next question: How would you like to die?
MURPHY: Painlessly. I’d like to be very, very, very, very old. With all the technology we’re inventing and what they’re coming up with scientifically, people are having longer lifetimes. It’s scary, but in the same sense it’s also very exciting. So I would like to be happy and healthy, and live as long as possible.
BARRYMORE: I liked how you turned the question from how would you like to die into how you’re going to live. Beautiful. Do you become your characters?
MURPHY: Or do they become me?
MURPHY: I think it’s a little mishmash of both, and only because I’m speaking with you will I describe it this way: I feel as if the words in a script go from the page, through my arm and my body, into my heart, and all of a sudden take me over. They use my emotions to their own advantage and in their own context. I have to sort of relinquish control. That seems really out there. No one will understand that.
BARRYMORE: No, it’s true! And perfectly, perfectly put.
BARRYMORE: What would your ideal date be?
MURPHY: I wish someone would show me. [Both laugh] I have yet to discover that.
BARRYMORE: Well, in our next interview I’m planning on having that answer. If you could have five people at a dinner party, dead or alive, who would they be?
MURPHY: The bummer about this amazing frickin’ question is that my sense of history is not very good. I wish I could answer it after I’ve had time to brush up on my history. OK. Jesus, Clara Bow—I have to bring her back—Janis Joplin…
BARRYMORE: Janis Joplin! Rock ‘n’ roll!
MURPHY: We need another man. No bad energy. I’m trying to figure out if it should be E.E. Cummings.
BARRYMORE: I would say yes.
MURPHY: OK. So I’m going with E.E. Cummings. And the fifth person… Bob Fosse.
BARRYMORE: Oh, my God! Honey, I worship Fosse.
MURPHY: All That Jazz  is my all-time favorite film.
BARRYMORE: Dude! All That Jazz, Lenny . Sweet Charity . You don’t need to brush up on shit, by the way. That’s the best dinner party I’ve ever heard of.
MURPHY: [Laughs] Would you come too?
BARRYMORE: I wouldn’t miss it for the world. OK. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
MURPHY: Do you mean the feeling or do you mean something that makes me feel that way?
BARRYMORE: They sound similar, but I think you’re steering in the right direction with your instincts.
MURPHY: The thing that I’m learning right now is self preservation—over the past year I’ve discovered if you keep on giving and giving, you end up losing yourself. I think that learning to give and receive is the trick. Perfect happiness is also a feeling, and the most amazing thing is that we were all born with the gift to make it happen in a heartbeat. Putting on certain music, or reading something can make us feel a certain way; affirmations, letting ourselves breathe, enjoying our loved ones, and enjoying being in our own skin. I think the key to happiness is allowing ourselves to not feel bad or guilty for feeling it, and letting it be contagious. And to not be dependent on other people to create your own happiness.
BARRYMORE: Absolutely. Amen.
MURPHY: Drew and Brittany on the topic of happiness.
BARRYMORE: [Laughs] Next question: I feel like I know the answer from your previous responses, but what person in history would you most like to play as an actor?
MURPHY: There are two, and they are from my previous answers: Janis Joplin and Clara Bow. Someone once told me that Janis and I were kindred spirits—no: “kindred freaks.” I want to get the quote right. And with Clara Bow, when I was about 14 people started telling me I looked like her, so I figured I’d better find out who this person was. You know, somebody thought I was you once.
MURPHY: I was dressed like you circa ’95 when I was shooting Sidewalks of New York , and someone came running up to me going, “Drew Barrymore! Oh, my God!” Freaking out. You had a very sweet fan, but she got a little bit confused. My hair was blond and short and—
BARRYMORE: —Spiky blond hair and a big jacket; that was the costume.
MURPHY: Exactly. And platforms.
BARRYMORE: Always. I’m a pygmy who wants desperately to be tall.
MURPHY: Same here. I’m wearing sneakers today, but I’m more comfortable in heels than I am in flats.
BARRYMORE: I know. I can’t imagine what I’m doing to my posture and spine, but it makes me feel good, so I live in the moment. OK. Now I’m going to go through a few questions really quickly. Favorite actress?
MURPHY: I have too many. Sorry.
BARRYMORE: Favorite director?
MURPHY: Bob Fosse and Woody Allen.
BARRYMORE: Beer or wine?
MURPHY: What kind of wine?
BARRYMORE: Red or white, whatever you like.
MURPHY: If I’m in Italy, wine, but if I’m in the States, a beer. A Corona with a lime. Or three.
BARRYMORE: A woman after my own heart. [Laughs] MTV or VH1?
MURPHY: They’re starting to make VH1 MTV-like, but I’m going to have to go with MTV. And then BET.
BARRYMORE: What’s your favorite swear word?
MURPHY: I never use it, but I think it’s priceless.
BARRYMORE: One last thing: When it comes to your work, what do you want from yourself, or what do you most want to give to others?
MURPHY: Exactly myself. And hopefully through my self-discovery others can gain self-discovery. I just hope to be an illumination of light and love and strength for people who need it—whenever they need it. I’m an entertainer. I was born one, I’ll always be one, and whenever I have the chance, whether it’s on a street corner or on a motion picture set, the camera or maybe a microphone will be my way to get through to people. If I can make them feel, then I think that my work is productive.
BARRYMORE: As you said that the clouds went over the sun, which must tell you that I’ve stolen enough of your light for the moment, because that’s exactly what you are: a light to people. I’m so glad that that ended up being my last question. So come and shine your light on me soon.
MURPHY: I will. I love you, and this is yet another pearl. I can’t wait to grow more pearls with you.