Angels in America:
Drew Barrymore Guns the Throttle
by Tony Phillips
“I always wanted this movie to be one click south of a musical,” explains the Kalamazoo native once known as Joseph McGinty Nichol, “Music is character.” And that’s something the frenetic director of nearly 50 videos for bands from Korn to Spacehog would understand. The clunky Celtic name and mid-American address jettisoned, he now resides in Mae West’s former Angeleno digs and his name’s shy a few vowels. But after breaking the box with his feature film debut — it still holds the record for a first-time director’s biggest open — and following that up with the next episode in this vastly improved franchise, you might say that now he works for Charlie. And the Angels don’t fall far from McG.
As they make their way into the large ballroom of Santa Monica’s Casa Del Mar Hotel — third press stop, third continent in just about as many days — one senses a less cohesive unit would have broken down completely by now. But these three big-ticket actors are friends. Best friends. They say so. The movie they’ve come to promote — Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle — says so. Still, human nature being what it is, one looks for chinks in the armor. As that other all-girl threesome suggests, “It ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it.” The devil — or, rather, angel — is in the details. Lucy Liu arrives early and pokes her head into the conference room, nervously waving when she’s caught doing so. She’s wearing a breezy white sundress flecked with black polka dots and can’t decide whether to drape or sling her power blue cashmere hoodie. She’s a native New Yorker by way of Chicago. Last year’s Oscar-winning musical, that is.
Drew Barrymore’s also got a musical listed on the back of her headshot: Woody Allen’s quirky Everyone Says I Love You. She begins to cross the room under a cascade of wavy blonde hair and red “new wave” eye makeup, but is immediately derailed by someone low enough on the totem pole to be sans headset. There are enough headsets buzzing around the ballroom that it resembles nothing so much as a Time-Life operators convention. Barrymore takes her time with the headsetless woman, probably longer than need be, but that’s her shtick. Diaz, the last to arrive, charges across the room at enough of a clip to make her high ponytail bounce. There’s no musical, unless one is willing to except her Karaoke turn in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Still, McG states in addition to being “the coolest hang in the world,” Diaz wowed everyone on-set by accompanying herself on air guitar to “Looks to Kill” by Motely Crue. “She knows every word,” McG marvels.
Perhaps it’s something close to home field advantage, but the Orange County native snags best entrance hands down. It’s the bouncing ponytail paired with tight pastel sweater and black bra; like she has an audition for Hitch later. No matter, as there’s another gauntlet, seating. Liu grabs the center chair. She starts talking first, too. Diaz seems just happy to sit while Barrymore observes the entire arrangement with a studied hostess’ eye. “Everyone had their arms crossed,” Liu explains of the pessimism with which outsiders regarded the original film’s closed set. “They thought if you remake the TV show, it’s probably going to be a bomb. There were so many rumors about the three of us having cat fights,” she adds asking rhetorically. “How is it possible that three women who are actresses can get along?”
“This is the farthest we’ve been apart for like a whole year,” Diaz moans, motioning to the broad expanse of conference room table between them now. “Giggling like hyenas and being best friends,” is how Barrymore sums up the relationships once the cameras stop rolling. Liu points out the larger impact the success of their initial camaraderie had on the Hollywood food chain, “Some studios started to do more films with women doing action. You’ll see more women together and you’ll see things like Tomb Raider. Maybe I’ve just become more aware, but I started seeing more women out there doing things.” But even though Liu sees the track record of the first Angels film as both “a part of pop culture and a way to make a studio feel safer making an investment.” Barrymore’s formula is even more reductive, “You howl, you giggle, if we had been half the way we are in real life when we did our scenes…” Diaz finishes her thought, “You can‘t make a movie out of that.”
So where’s the movie in Full Throttle? Aaron Spelling producing partner Leonard Goldberg found that answer over dinner, when he approached an unsuspecting diner with the old standby, “You ought to be in pictures.” Demi Moore laughed at his joke, but then promised Goldberg she would be ready soon. Armed with a "40-something" star that “drinks a lot of Red Bull and does her crunches,” McG was ready to bring his story to the screen. “The most physically proficient angel of all time,” is his description of Moore's arch villian Madison Lee. “It’s a Lucifer story,” McG explains of Lee's intent of auctioning off the identities of every last reassignment in the Federal Witness Protection Program. “You thought you were so good you were going to take over the kingdom,” McG continues of Moore's fallen angel, “but God said you gotta go.’” Barrymore offers, “This film is different than the first one. It is a little turned off the path, a little grittier, a little darker. Demi Moore’s character is quite androgynous.”
Androgynous or not, she certainly has a penchant for beached blondes. Diaz shares bikinied surf scenes, and later, epic wire battles across LA’s rooftops, but the day Diaz and Moore shot their beach scene; Barrymore explains she and Liu were stuck in the Hot Dog on a Stick trailer in the sand watching through binoculars complaining, “I want to be out there doing that with her right now.” The enthusiasm may have waned as the fight scenes progressed. “We’re literally doing take after take of walking punches and kicks. So by the end of the day, you have welts all up and down your arms and you’re black and blue,” Diaz explains. And then there’s Moore’s soon to be infamous Diaz “face lick,” most commonly described as animalistic. “I wasn’t going for a Sapphic hit necessarily,” McG confesses, “I was just going more for the personal space invaders thing.”
McG’s also has a distinct take on the 70s TV Angels. “You needed to be a lily white Anglo girl waif. Cameron Diaz is half Cuban. Lucy Liu is of Asian descent. Bernie Mac — on-board as this go-round’s Bosley — is African American. I‘m trying to send a message that says get on the bus, everybody get in here and be a part of this thing. You don’t need to look or be a certain way. Be comfortable in your own skin.” Could that leave room for a lesbian Angel one day? McG will never say never. Diaz, the Angel who probably comes closest by sporting a mullet in this edition, says the Angels are really “empowered women who are totally capable, free, open and sexy. We wanted to make sure we portrayed women who have everything. They allow themselves to be as much of a woman as they are, they don’t hide it, they don’t take it away, they allow themselves to be who they are and they get to play roles in their lives." Liu agrees, “Women want to be empowered, work and have families. At the same time, men could think, well maybe they don’t want us to open the door. I think this movie balances all of those factors. And also, it’s just a nice funny comedy, but if you go into a deeper meaning, that’s the idea.”
“I love that question,” Barrymore enthuses when asked if these post-feminist kick boxers aren’t really just a bunch of chicks sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. “When I was a little girl and watched the show, I was so excited by the fact that these three women, like everyone else in the police academy, had done their training and graduated with honors. They were placed as meter maids and traffic cops, considered lesser positions. Charlie said in the beginning of that show, I took them out of that because I wanted to empower them more. So I really believe that Charlie, although he is a male figure, has a lot of identities. We consider father figures to be godlike figures, but I think what’s important is that this is a man, yes a man, but a man who empowers women. He says look I believe in you and I think you’re more extraordinary that what other people are seeing and I’m going to give you an opportunity to go out there, save the day, be heroic, create a family. Work together with women in a bonded beautiful family in a girl-sisterly sort of fashion.” She got all that, and just from the opening credits.