Drew Barrymore and Sara Gilbert are sitting in the back of a crammed theater at the Sundance Film Festival. On screen, their new movie, Poison Ivy, unfolds around a wickedly inclined teenager (played by Drew) who comes to live with her new pal (played by Sara) only to seduce the whole family; Mom, Dad, even Rover. As the music billows, Drew reaches for Sara. They hold hands in the dark, waiting for the shot nobody else expects, that screen-magnified moment when their two profiles will loom large and their lips will meet in an open- mouthed, tongue-tangoing crescendo of a kiss.
When it happens, the people sitting near Drew and Sara gasp. It’s a reaction that now is echoing far beyond the January festival as Poison Ivy opens nationwide this month. ”It’s like watching Heathers or Blue Velvet,” says costar Cheryl Ladd. ”You’re afraid to say you really love it because that would mean you’re really disturbed.” But to Drew and Sara such ambivalence might as well be a standing ovation — at least if you judge by their reaction on the morning after the screening.
They are relieved as they sprawl in a Park City, Utah, hotel lobby, drinking diet Coke with lemon and putting their combat-ready footwear on the furniture. ”I almost threw up beforehand,” Sara admits, but Drew is all bravado: ”Nobody expects that,” she says in her breathy, archly inflected way. ”Sara is just giving Cheryl Ladd this little peck on the lips. And then I come in there and start licking her mouth and sticking my tongue down her throat. Nobody expects that!”
Maybe it’s just that nobody expects to find these two 17-year-olds (Sara is a whole month older) in a cheap-thrill Hand That Rocks the Cradle for the 90210 set. Drew grew up as a big-eyed Hollywood scion, a modern Shirley Temple who charmed the masses in E.T. Even after her cocaine-laced troubles, she won universal sympathy in 1989 when she came clean in PEOPLE magazine and in her autobiography. Sara grew up in the shadow of her sister, Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie), until she sneaked into the spotlight as Roseanne’s adorably acid-tongued middle child, Darlene.
Now, lounging on the same couch, they keep up an endearing banter in which Sara seems to be after Drew’s attention, and Drew seems to be after everyone else’s. Each talks big, lauding the film for ”breaking boundaries” or deconstructing acting technique. But at times their vulnerability comes through. It happens when they talk about shooting the intimate scenes. Sara had to kiss Ladd: ”It’s strange to kiss this older woman, who is a mother. It’s just like mind-boggling,” Sara says. And Drew had to make out with Tom Skerritt, 58, who plays Sara’s dad: ”I was much more nervous kissing Tom than Sara,” Drew says. ”Tom, he’s like this elderly man who, you know, is extremely conservative, and after a love scene with Tom we’d sort of like shake hands, hug, laugh a little bit, and walk in opposite directions. Whereas Sara and I were sort of giggly girls about it.”
”It was good to have somebody there who understands,” Sara adds. ”There were so many emotions running through you that it was just like…you’re so overwhelmed.”
Drew elaborates: ”I mean, yeah, it was sensual because two women kissing is beautiful and incredibly passionate. But it was fun while we were doing it. Sara and I could jump around and giggle and like, slap hands afterward. And then we would watch it on the monitor that played it right back. We were like, ‘Omigawd, that’s us. God, we look sexy. It’s hot. It’s sensual…whooooeeeee.”’ Sara breaks into a queasy grin. ”But God, I just think of all my teachers and all my…oh, gawd…all the people who knew me in nursery school. And my dad hasn’t seen it. Oh, GAWD! I didn’t even think about that,” she says, moaning and grinning into her hands. Drew waxes wiser: ”Welcome to the real world.”