John Blyth Barrymore, member of the famous theatrical family, is scheduled to be in Minnesota this month to shoot the movie “Inheritance,” a psychological drama.
“It’s about a woman who leaves her abusive husband and takes her daughter back to her family’s Minnesota farm to start a new life,” said Bridget Cronin, executive producer of the film. “John Barrymore plays the abusive husband.”
That’s a step up for the former software developer, whose movie credits include “Hitchhiker Massacre.” With a twinkle in his eye, Barrymore told me, “Spoiler alert: I’m the massacre-er. ‘Inheritance’ is much more of a psychological, creepy horror movie. I only like really good ones like ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Hunger.’ [‘Inheritance’] has the potential to be [that kind].”
He was a cheerful fellow when we met Sunday, despite the limp caused by breaking his patella in two. He injured himself when he slipped on water in California, and he knows how ridiculous that sounds with all the icy patches in Minnesota. Barrymore, who was here for preproduction rehearsals, was thoroughly entertaining. He even wrote out the names of his legendary family members for me and clarified the identities of the numerous John Barrymores — including this Barrymore’s son.
“My son technically should have been the III. Unfortunately he’s Jr. on his birth certificate. My father, my son and myself are all Jr.” he said. “Only popes and kings get to be IVs, Vs, VIs, VIIs and VIIIs.
“When my son. at the age of 25, finally asked me Why did you name me John? I said, ‘Son, do you know what rolls downhill?’ I was sick of being John Jr. myself. I’ve never used the Jr. myself, I just go by John Blyth Barrymore, although people frequently call me John Barrymore III and I’ve been billed that way in movies.
“Drew was the name mom and dad had picked out for me. At the last second dad decided he didn’t want to be John Jr. anymore. That’s how I wound up with John instead of Drew as a first name. So they named me John Blyth Barrymore Jr. My sister later on became Drew.”
Although my Drew Barrymore inquiries came toward the end of our interview, I’m going to dive right into his insightful remarks about his most famous sibling.
Q: What is your favorite Drew Barrymore movie?
A: I haven’t seen a lot of her films but my favorite performance of hers is “Riding in Cars with Boys.” I really thought she nailed it.
Q: Now she is half-sibling?
A: Yes, as she would be the first to point out. [Laughs]
Q: Do you and Drew not get along?
A: It’s not that we don’t get along. She’s terrified of anybody she’s related to, not just me. We have two other siblings, two sisters — one of whom is rich, who will never have to ask her for a dime — and she’s terrified of them, too. I’m hoping now that she has a family of her own, things will change. I’m glad that she waited until she actually found a mensch to have kids with because this is, what, her fourth or fifth marriage? [Third, if Wikipedia can be trusted.] Whatever it is. She finally found somebody who has more money than she does — at least this time if doesn’t work out she’ll be getting the check rather than cutting the check — but more importantly, this guy seems to have, like, a real family. I’m glad she waited, even though it was late. Although Tom Green, who I met, is a very nice guy. The complete opposite of his TV persona. He’s quiet, shy, reserved, introverted.
Q: When was the last time you talked to Drew?
A: I ran into her on her birthday, three years ago. Ran into her on the street.
Q: Do I understand that you only have half-siblings?
A: My mother had three kids from three different men and my father had four kids from four different women. They weren’t able to tolerate anybody long enough to have a second child.
Q: You recently were notified that you’re the father of an unknown adult child?
A: The call started with Hi, John, it’s Barbara. “Wow, long time, what’s up?” Remember we had sex once, right? “Well, it barely qualified but yes, Barbara, I do remember.” It was a drive-by but it was enough. She was living with this guy. The mother always thought it was this other guy’s kid and then she was cruising my Facebook page and she saw a picture of my youngest daughter. All of a sudden that recognition that Oh my god …, it’s Barrymore’s kid. As soon as she showed me the baby picture, I said, “Barbara, that looks like my kid.” We did the [DNA ] test, I am the baby daddy.
Q: What is an inaccuracy about your family that you would like to dispel once and for all?
A: It’s hard to say. There are so many stories that are apocryphal or they’re applied to one person and another person said it. Oh, here’s one. One of my grandfather’s [John Sidney Blyth Barrymore’s] famous quotes is: “Sex. The thing that takes the least time and causes the most trouble.” All I can say to that is, he obviously wasn’t doing it right.
Q: Someone in your family has talked about how crazy your family is.
A: Noooo! Colorful! Eccentric! I used to say to my father [John Blyth Barrymore Jr. aka John Drew Barrymore] because his friends always used mercurial and colorful; I used to say to him, “Dad, mercurial is just a polite way of saying unreliable. Colorful is just a polite way of saying completely insane.”
Q: Do you think your family is any crazier than others? I think families are by definition crazy, dysfunctional.
A: Dysfunctional? Aw, come on now. I used to work at the Rand Corporation because I was a software developer. One day, there was one of their studies sitting on the coffee table. [It defined] a functional family as one that can impart to children the life-coping problem-solving skills they will need to become effective and responsible citizens. Fifteen percent of American families are functional. One-five.
Q: So you did consider careers outside of entertaining?
A: I actually disappeared into technology for 20 years. It was very good for me. I raised three kids in Silicon Valley. I made a ton of money. Of course, I spent more than I made. It was very good for me.
Q: So your family doesn’t have money?
A: My grandfather, John [Sidney Blyth] Barrymore, lived on the top of a mountain in Beverly Hills, seven acres, seven buildings, an estate at the top of Benedict Canyon. He had a 110-foot three-masted schooner and a 75-foot yacht and when he died he was sleeping on [somebody’s] couch. He didn’t have a nickel to his name. John Barrymore, being of sound mind, spent it! Sorry kids. I grew up in Beverly Hills because my mother did fairly well as an actor (she never wanted to be an actor), and her third husband did very well as a real estate broker. They weren’t filthy stinking rich. There’s an old saying, “I spent most of my money on booze, drugs and chasing women and the rest of it I wasted.” I think my grandfather is an example of that. After his fourth divorce, in those days the man paid for everything, I believe his quote was: What’s left for Barrymore?
My father [John Blyth Barrymore Jr aka John Drew Barrymore] also quit acting at the top of his game when there were plenty of people willing to hire him for entirely different reasons. They were divorced.
Q: In ‘Inheritance’ is anybody in a wheelchair pushed downstairs, as happened to your great-aunt Ethel Barrymore in “Kind Lady”?
A: There were certainly plenty of people who wanted to push Ethel down the stairs. She was after all president of Actors’ Equity for a while. Of course, Ethel never sold out to Hollywood. She didn’t have to because I can’t remember if it was her or her daughter who married Samuel Colt IV. So her grandchildren are the only ones with money. Weapons manufacturing is far more lucrative than any aspect of the film industry or movie business or theater could ever be.
Q: Your grandfather was “The Great Profile”?
A: So they say. It’s always the left side [he demonstrated, while pronouncing profile “pro-feel”]. I’m convinced it’s the East Indian in us. Even though my grandfather was very sallow, as soon as he got in the sun he turned beetle brown. That aquiline nose, that classic profile; I’m convinced it’s the East Indian.
Q: You a left or right side profile, for your best look?
A: It’s always left side.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”