8:15am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Sarah Drew on Her "Profound" 'Grey's Anatomy' Departure and (Emmy-Nominated) "Rebirth"
For Sarah Drew, the Emmy nomination for Grey's Anatomy's shortform series B-Team — which she directed — had a profound impact to say the least. The nomination came nearly two months after she was let go from the ABC medical drama after a nine-season run.
"My confidence had gotten a bit shaken in the wake of being let go, and the nomination after the fact made me go, 'I don't need to be worried about anything or have my confidence shaken,'" Drew tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The six-episode web series, which focuses on the ABC medical drama's latest intern class, serves as Drew's directorial debut and, to hear her tell it, a new chapter in her career. "I'm not only pursuing my career as an actor but now I'm walking into this world as a director and producer. The world is so wide open," says Drew, who called the nom part of her "rebirth."
Here, in her first interview since wrapping her run as April on Shondaland's Grey's Anatomy, Drew opens up about the impact the Emmy nomination has had on her, how April's journey ended and what's next.
Did you know that ABC was submitting the web series for Emmy consideration?
I knew when we started putting the whole series together because there were certain rules we had to follow in order to be eligible for a nomination. I've been submitted as an actor for an Emmy every year but that didn't mean anything. (Laughs.) It was a great, huge, wonderful surprise to get that nomination. The whole "B-Team," we were just out of our minds. I'm still pinching myself over the whole thing.
What was your reaction to the nomination coming after you'd been let go from Grey's and after you'd already completed production and your last episodes had already aired?
It was a bolt of good news. (Laughs.) My confidence had gotten a bit shaken in the wake of being let go and the nomination after the fact made me go, "I don't need to be worried about anything or have my confidence shaken." I'm not only pursuing my career as an actor but I'm now also walking into this world as a director and as a producer and the world is so wide open. More than anything else, the last few weeks after my final episodes have been a really beautiful rebirth and a really exciting time. I'm running around, meeting everybody and talking to producers and talking to heads of casting at all the networks and the studios and I'm finding that the landscape is so different. There's so much more content; it's a totally different world for television. The nomination in the midst of walking out into the world and feeling like I'm engaging in this beautiful rebirth was more affirmation that this is a good space in my life right now; that I don't need to be sad and I don't need to be mourning and I don't need to be in grief over the end of something that was so beautiful. I can just rise from the ashes in a more brilliant way. The nomination was such a profound affirmation.
Take me back to the day you found out that you would not be returning to Grey's.
I was let go during an episode where I was shadowing Kevin McKidd [who stars as Owen and regularly directs episodes]. It was in the afternoon and I went back to my trailer and I did my crying and called my people. A whole bunch of people came into my trailer to give me hugs and cry with me and tell me they were so sad I was leaving. I was supposed to be shadowing Kevin this whole episode with the hope that I would get to direct an episode of Grey's, but [after being let go] it seemed like that wasn't a possibility anymore. I wondered if I should keep shadowing Kevin. My husband was like, "Of course you go." I had this incredible opportunity to grow as a director and as an artist with a director that I respect so much. I had nothing to be ashamed of and didn't need to hide. So that's what I did: I showed up the next morning at 6 a.m. and shadowed Kevin until I got cast as Cagney and had to leave to go shoot CBS' Cagney & Lacey.
What a profound experience.
I'm a believer in things happening for a reason and finding beauty in the midst of grief. I don't regret or begrudge anybody this season of my life. I'm embracing it. I had a profound and incredible season of my life on Grey's Anatomy. I got to tell stories I believed in. I got to work with Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers and learn from the best. I got to work with an incredible community of people that I will have lifelong friendships with. I got to build a platform and have my children in an environment where I was cared for because of who Shonda is and how she takes care of her mamas and her women. It's hard for me to come up with anything I could be angry about.
What do you think about now that you've had some distance from the show?
[Being let go] was painful when it happened, but, in retrospect, I think it would have been hard for me to walk away from that job. I was on it for nine years. It feels right and it feels like a good time to move on to something else with all the great love in my heart that I have for everybody and respect and gratitude for what that experience was. Playing a character for nine years is a long haul.
Are you taking more meetings for directing after the nomination?
Yes! I'm certainly keeping that in the forefront of a lot of my conversations. I want to do all of it: produce, direct and I want to dig into another really fun character. I got bit by the directing bug because I produced my first film — Indivisible — during our last hiatus and it's coming out in theaters on Oct. 26. I realized on that film that I was scared of directing because I thought maybe I couldn't keep all the different things in my head all at once: everybody's journey, props, costume, wardrobe, shot lists, visuals, etc. I found that it came quite naturally to me and I got excited about it. I called [Grey's Anatomy's producing director] Debbie Allen from that set and asked her to shadow and learn how to direct. That's when she told me about B-Team and that they wanted to have a director who was in the [Grey's] family do it. I shadowed Chandra Wilson (who plays Bailey and regularly directs) to prep for those webisodes. I was terrified in the prep and so afraid of completely failing.
Would you return to Grey's Anatomy as a director?
When news initially broke that you and Jessica Capshaw were let go, there was an uproar on social media of people who assumed that the show could not afford to keep both of you after paying Ellen Pompeo $20 million a year. How was the decision explained to you?
I was told that the show had too many characters and that they needed to downsize because they couldn't service all of the characters effectively. They didn't want any of us to be left in the background and not getting much of a story. Because there were so many series regulars, they needed to downsize and to find some characters that they felt like they could tie up their stories well. [Showrunner] Krista Vernoff said that she felt like April had been through so much and had come out the other side and that she didn't know what she could put her through again. It was really hard to hear that. But Krista had a lot of very complimentary things to say about the work that I had done — especially this past season — and that April was going to have her happy ending.
April winds up quitting her job to do, as she calls it, "God's work," and ends up getting married to Matthew (Justin Bruening). If that is the last viewers see of April, what do you think about how her journey ended?
In the midst of it, I was devastated that Jackson (Jesse Williams) and April wasn't an endgame. I thought Jackson and April were meant to get back together and they were going to get married again and realize they'd been crazy and it was just going to be this long, slow burn. But after thinking about it, there's a real sweetness to that story of April's faith. She ran off with Jackson and loved him and wouldn't regret a single second of that relationship because it made her heart grow and she got a beautiful daughter out of it. She grew as a woman and as a person of faith. All of that had to happen. But there was something beautiful about the redemption story between April and Matthew. She hurt him worse than anybody had ever hurt him by walking away from him [at their wedding]. For there to be reconciliation from that scenario? That's a really beautiful redemption story that there could be forgiveness there. He lost his wife and then finds his first love again. It's lovely.
Yet at the same time, viewers didn't really get to see that journey between April and Matthew.
I wish that we had gotten to see more of their journey before they got married. I would've liked to play those scenes and I would've liked to have told that story in a more full way. I can see the beauty in it. But part of me will always be a little heartbroken that April and Jackson were not endgame.
April is one of a small handful of Grey's characters to exit the show alive. Have there been any conversations about having you back at all as a guest star, especially since April and Jackson share custody of their daughter?
I have not heard anything about that.
Would you be open to doing that?
ABC has Grey's spinoff Station 19, and Matthew works as a paramedic — which would make sense to see in that world.
Last summer, I wrote to [Station 19 showrunner and Grey's alum] Stacy McKee and told her that Justin Bruening has to be on your firefighter show. But who knows? I think he'd be an awesome addition to that cast. It would be fun to play in the world of Shondaland. But at the same time, I have said goodbye to April and put her to rest. I would be perfectly happy not being April again. I don't feel a particular urge to play her any time soon. I love that character.
Will you keep watching Grey's?
There is something about watching your family go on without you that's a bit painful. I'm not sure I need to put myself through that. I love them and I'm sure it's going to be a great season but I think it might be challenging for me to tune in.
Looking back, what would you say April's impact on Grey's was?
So many of April's stories were about resilience in the face of pain and rising above in the midst of sorrow and grief. That's what I want people to remember about her. April's story throughout the whole nine years on the show was a story about someone going through pain and emerging in a more beautiful, more glorified state of hope and of gratitude and of resilience and of strength. That's what I hope people take away from April.
What was it like moving from April to an iconic character like Cagney?
I didn't have time to process what I was doing when I walked into Cagney. I got let go on a Tuesday, the news broke on a Thursday, I had five test offers in front of me on that Thursday and I chose to pursue Cagney. I tested on Saturday, got the offer on Monday and was shooting Cagney at 7 a.m. Tuesday. I had been given the role at 3 p.m. on Monday when I was on set shooting Grey's and I had to finish my day with Kevin directing. [On Cagney & Lacey], I had to cuff somebody on day one and our technical advisers had to show me how to do it and I had to figure out how to pull a gun on somebody! It was such a different energy than April. We were heartbroken that that didn't get picked up.
What did you hear about why CBS didn't pick it up?
Everybody loved it and it was just one of those "I don't know what happened" kind of things. It's certainly heartbreaking in the moment but I know that there's something around the corner for all of us that's meant to be even better.
What's next for you?
I'm reviewing options. I'm currently dipping my toes in a couple of different development things. I haven't officially signed on anywhere but I've got three or four different potential projects that I'm interested in potentially producing and acting in and maybe directing episodes of.
Will you go back to 24-episode broadcast shows?
Not right now. I'm thinking more about 10- to 13-episode things. The things that I'm thinking about developing all feel like streaming and not broadcast network stuff. We'll see! It's all very open and exciting right now.