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jeanne beker

Actress Drew Barrymore launches Flower - Love The Way You Look at the Thompson Hotel on Nov. 12, 2014, in Toronto.George Pimentel

"Love the way you look." That's the tag line of Drew Barrymore's Flower cosmetic line. It's an edict aimed at empowering women, a feel-good directive that the 39-year-old Barrymore probably wished she'd subscribed more wholeheartedly to decades ago, when self-doubt and unhappiness ran rampant in her young life. But these days, Barrymore is glowing, running a burgeoning beauty business, being a devoted wife to art consultant Will Kopelman (son of former Chanel CEO Arie Kopelman) and raising two young daughters.

An actress who appeared in her first TV commercial by the time she was one, and made her big screen debut at 4, Barrymore stole our hearts as Gertie in 1982's ET: The Extraterrestrial. But the granddaughter of legendary movie star John Barrymore and the daughter of actor John Drew Barrymore Jr. wasn't destined for balance from the get-go. A regular at Studio 54 while she was still a preteen, substance abuse led her to rehab by the time she was 13 and a suicide attempt at 14. She threw herself back into the movie business with a few sporadic projects but five years later, she was making headlines for her wild and erratic behaviour, posing nude for Playboy and famously exposing her breasts to David Letterman on his Late Night show.

But good sense kicked in when Barrymore started her own production company, Flower Films, in 1995. Soon she had a string of successful films to her credit and took the reigns as an executive producer. In 2000, she produced and starred in the box-office hit Charlie's Angels and more films followed, along with a contract to be the face of Cover Girl. Assorted romances came and went, and there were even two ultra brief marriages before Barrymore tied the knot with Kopelman in 2012. At last, her "happily ever after" mode may have finally kicked in.

I caught up with Barrymore at the Thompson Hotel in Toronto recently to talk about prioritizing, pushing one's boundaries and why the cosmetics industry is perfect for her.

Juggling is something some of us do better than others. Any key things you've found that really helped you?

I have had to prioritize, as every mother does, but I definitely think some work things have fallen off. I like to be prolific and I have a mind that never stops. I try to embrace that. But I can't risk not being at home with my kids – and that's a big part of work. It's hard because you have to let go of things that you're passionate about, or that you put a lot of time and energy into. I mean, you could keep on doing those things but you wouldn't be there as a mom. The good thing is that I have a clearer focus on those things I do choose to keep. I've just really prioritized work stuff so my kids are always coming first.

We know you as an actor, a filmmaker and an all-around creative person. Why did you decide to embrace the cosmetics business in particular?

It's a lot like producing movies, in that it's creative and it's business. I like the two hand in hand. I have the kind of mind that likes to work both ways. So the beauty business is the perfect world for that because it's so creative and so artistic and so much about messaging and empowerment. Also, I've always loved marketing and advertising and I love that in the beauty business you have to be nimble. It's a really competitive marketplace and you have to know how to do things in your own way and how to do things differently. You have to know what women want and what they don't want or what they don't even know that they want. And there are a lot of days I can work from home and be with my kids. And even when I work in the office or have to travel, I'm still home during normal hours with the kids. So it's really conducive to being a family person.

Creatively speaking, you're also very much a performer. Do you have to put that on the back burner to be there for the kids?

Yeah, moviemaking is crazy hours and it becomes harder and harder to do. I work on films that are very few and far between and may even work less in the years to come until my kids are older.

But don't you miss that? Don't you just have that burning desire to get up there and act?

No, not right now. I do think I have acting in my DNA, in my makeup and my soul. But I also want to have as many lives in one life as you can and I think because I have been acting for 40 years it doesn't feel like the thing I have to do at this moment. It could come flooding and rushing back. But there are other things that excite me a little more right now. I haven't shut the door on it.

You have the reputation for being a very open-minded person. You've almost been like the poster girl for open mindedness!

I do like a darn open mind! I really hate a closed mind – gets everybody in trouble.

But thinking outside the box and pushing your own personal parameters is something that has been very important to you from such a young age. It's like you've been on a some kind of spiritual journey in that crazy maze of Hollywood life.

Well, it's important to figure out what you can and can't do, what you do and don't like, how to challenge yourself, how to try new things or scare yourself. I think I just like to try new things. And I have passions. I also just think I'm scared of doing the same thing day in and day out. But that doesn't always make me try new things. It's all a slow-burning, organic evolution. I don't just wake up and go, "God! I have got to do something different today!" It's more like one thing leads to another.

I heard that when you were formulating your cosmetics line, you were thinking about how maybe one day your daughters could take over the company.

I love a multigenerational company! That's something that's probably in your DNA, too. When you think of your family … Yes, we're a multi-generational company! Thank you for making that correlation. Some people wonder why I'd be passionate about that – and this is exactly why.

Well, it's very important to keep family spirits alive.

Absolutely!

And really carry the torch through the generations.

Yeah, like being proud of where you came from or building things for your kids. It's hard to pass off movies to your kids. You can't actually do it. They're not tangible things. But building a successful beauty company is something you have to earn. It's going to be many years away and many years of tremendously hard work.

But what if your kids want to get into the acting world when they grow up. After all, it's part of their legacy, too. Would you encourage them or discourage them?

I would support anything they wanted to do, as long as it wasn't self-destructive or hurtful to anyone else. But I would also say that [they] can act when [they're] 18.

You were a tiny kid when you started acting. Any regrets about having lost any part of your childhood?

Nope. Because it made me such a more pro-active mom. So maybe if I hadn't started so young, I wouldn't be as all-in as I am. So it's a good thing.

This interview has been condensed and edited.