Drew Barrymore, From 'E.T.' To Little Edie Beale In the new film Grey Gardens, Drew Barrymore plays Little Edie Beale, the legendary eccentric made famous in the 1975 documentary of the same title. HBO's dramatization premieres April 18.

Drew Barrymore, From 'E.T.' To Little Edie Beale

Drew Barrymore, From 'E.T.' To Little Edie Beale

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Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange star in the HBO film of Grey Gardens. Peter Stranks/HBO Films hide caption

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Peter Stranks/HBO Films

Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange star in the HBO film of Grey Gardens.

Peter Stranks/HBO Films

In a film and TV career that started when she was just 3 years old, she's played everything from one of Charlie's Angels to Olive, the Other Reindeer. Now, Drew Barrymore takes on one of film's legendary eccentrics: "Little Edie" Beale, a down-at-heel blue-blood made famous in the Maysles Brothers documentary Grey Gardens.

HBO's new dramatization — based on the 1975 original, and premiering April 18 — co-stars Jessica Lange as Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale. "Big Edie," as she was known, was the aunt of one Jacqueline Bouvier, who went on to marry a Kennedy, and then an Onassis. "Little Edie" was Jackie's cousin — and sometime rival.

After their fortunes flagged — a divorce for Big Edie, an halting quest for fame as a model, or maybe as a wife, for Little Edie — the two women chose to seclude themselves in Big Edie's East Hampton house, a dilapidated manse called Grey Gardens.

The Beales' story gained attention when health inspectors raided the home, finding a long list of health- and building-code violations. It burst into the public consciousness again with the Maysles Brothers' film, which documented the ladies' living conditions: "The once-elegant grounds were a tangled jungle," as The New York Times recalled on the occasion of Little Edie's death; "25 rooms were unused, and the fleas were so thick that the filmmakers wore flea collars around their ankles during the filming."

HBO's dramatization, like the Broadway musical that was also inspired by the documentary, looks beyond the moment captured in the Maysles Brothers film, spanning more than four decades in the women's lives and exploring how the Beales came to withdraw so completely from the world. The movie's scope required both Barrymore and Lange to perform some scenes in heavy age makeup and prosthetics that took hours to apply.

Barrymore appeared in Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster E.T. when she was 7 years old. After a troubled adolescence, the actress has gone on to appear in many films including The Wedding Singer, Charlie's Angels, Donnie Darko and 50 First Dates.

She makes her directorial debut later this year with Whip It!, a coming-of-age comedy based on the Shauna Cross novel Derby Girl.