Drew Barrymore has been encouraging young people to get out the vote for years, but she admits she wasn’t always a champion of the democratic process.
In fact, back in 2003 she felt so out of the electoral loop that she embarked on an amazing journey to learn what all the fuss was about — and being an actress, she decided to record the whole experience for a documentary.
“I just wasn’t brought up with parents who talked about it, so I was like a 20-something person wanting to know why voting was important. This was my way of learning and teaching myself,” Barrymore, 41, tells PEOPLE.
In the documentary, titled The Best Place to Start, Barrymore speaks with kids about voting without ever choosing sides or promoting a particular candidate. She also interviews a handful of celebrities and politicians including General Wesley Clark, Seth McFarlane, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Michael Moore.
Not only was Barrymore a political novice, this was also the actress’s first foray into the world of directing. “I also never had done a documentary, so that was pretty stupid to take on a difficult subject and a new format all at the same time,” she said with a laugh. “I just wanted to learn something.”
While most people might be wary of trying something new in front of millions of strangers, Barrymore said after a lifetime in the spotlight, it’s pretty much par for the course. “My whole life’s been out there, so I’m pretty comfortable with that,” she says.
One thing that was — and still is — important to her when it comes to talking about voting that partisan politics get put aside. “I’m not comfortable talking about politics, but voting is undeniably important and I wanted to know why it was important,” she explains. “I felt compelled to learn more about it, and now I will never not do it.”
The youth vote has had its ups and downs since 2003. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), the 2004 presidential election was a landmark for youth turnout, reversing what had been a long history of decline. Comparing 2008 with 2000, CIRCLE reports the youth turnout increased at least 11 percentage points. But the center also notes that youth turnout dropped from 51% in 2008 to 45% in 2012 — and the 2014 federal elections saw the lowest youth turnout ever recorded.
“In 2003 it was a little different,” Barrymore says. “I think they are being more included now, but watching this recently, I feel like it’s still the same point that it was back in 2003 and always. It’s just important to vote.”