Drew Barrymore: Her Mom, Tom and New Film

Sometimes it seems like controversy follows Drew Barrymore like a shadow.

In the past few weeks, it was first her on-again-off-again decision whether it was safe to go to New York after the Sept. 11 attacks to promote her new film Riding in Cars With Boys.

Then it was her reaction to news that anthrax had been discovered at NBC, where she had been rehearsing to host Saturday Night Live.

Her brief moments of doubt and fear brought headlines in the gossip columns — and a very public denouncement by radio talk show host Howard Stern.

"I just want to say one thing to all the celebrities who have stayed away from New York," he said on national television last week. "I say shame on you. Come back to New York. Don't run. Don't hide. People like Drew Barrymore. Don't be afraid, honey. It ain't scary here. I mean, it can't be any worse than spending the night with Tom Green alone."

Responding to Stern

Barrymore — who did end up coming to New York and hosted Saturday Night Live — said the criticism by Stern, who "makes his whole life about being mean to other people" was unfounded. "I just don't even go to the mean kids' area in that playground," she told ABCNEWS' Elizabeth Vargas.

"If I'm honest about my feelings, I was still brave in the end, so I don't know what's wrong with that," said the 26-year-old. "I just didn't understand the foundation for it, because I did go … I just stayed and did it and then when it was time to go home and it was done I went home."

Asked about Stern's implication that being a celebrity left her with a responsibility to set an example for others, Barrymore said her New York trip presented "the weirdest moral dilemma" for her. "What's more important? My family should be first — my husband and my health and my safety — because if we don't have the capability of breathing, then everything is really second to that," she said. "Is it true the show must go on? Well that doesn't really hold true right now. It seems like a show and it seems trivial."

Calling herself "a crazy person," "a total weirdo," "a total dork, loser, geek, humble freakazoid," she said, "I think everyone has a responsibility to set an example. Everyone has the power and capacity to be a great individual that can change the world and inspire people."

Acting and Alcohol

Barrymore seemed to have inherited two of her family's great loves: acting and alcohol. Her grandfather, famous actor John Barrymore, drank himself to death. Her father, John Jr., split from her mother when she was a baby. She was raised by her mother, Jaid, who was also an actor and no stranger to the Hollywood party scene.

By age 7, Barrymore's role in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial had made her a movie star. Six years later, her own drinking and drug use culminated in a suicide attempt and then a forced stint in rehab.

After leaving rehab at 16, she severed all ties with her mother.

"I just made it happen for myself. I got emancipated," she said. "I felt like my life in a lot of ways really started over at that point."

Reconciling With Her Mother

Only recently — after nine years of no contact — did Barrymore reconnect with her mother, thanks to her latest film role and to her husband, Tom Green. In Riding in Cars With Boys, Barrymore plays a single mother with a personality not unlike her own mother's.

"It was amazing to me because I think I faulted my own mom a lot for the decisions she made as a mother," she said. "And then when I had to play a 36-year-old mother who is a single parent, it made me realize that a lot of the decisions she made were out of bravery and desperation to make things better, rather than mistakes."

It was ultimately at her husband's urging that she decided to call her mother and attempt to resolve the tumultuous relationship. "He just said: 'You know, it's not worth the guilt that you feel on a daily basis … You are an adult woman and you'll be approaching her as an equal.'"

So she did.

Now back in touch with her mother whom she once resented so much, Barrymore said she sees things differently.

"It was my fault because I wasn't willing to accept her for the way she was," she said. "We don't have to be best friends. And I don't have to understand her all the time. If I can be honest about that, then I'm liberated because I get to be myself, but I don't have to deal with the tremendous guilt and torture that I put on myself that I might be hurting someone else out there who gave me my life. And I just couldn't live like that any more."

Not 'Hot Doo-Doo'

Understanding her relationship with her mother has changed her entire perspective on life.

"You know, we nitpick on people so hard. We want them to be the way we want them to be. Sometimes you just have to let go and love them for who they are a little bit more and try and enjoy yourself, too. And if you have differences, put them out in the open."

Though she has found love — for herself, for her mother and in her marriage of one year — Barrymore makes no pretense that she has all of life's answers.

"We're all insecure," she said. "I mean, I guess I have enough confidence in me to keep going every day … I must have that somewhere in me. But I think I'm a weirdo. I'm awkward. I'm like, I don't know, I'm just like another of these people just trying to find their way. I definitely don't think that I'm hot doo-doo. I don't."

Written for ABCNEWS.com by Rebecca Raphael.