Sarah Drew Interview: "Grey's Anatomy" Star Talks Lifetime Movie Deal
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Actors
Image attributed to Cibelle Levi
Sarah Drew is known for her portrayals of Hannah Rogers in the WB family drama series Everwood (2004-2006) and Dr. April Kepner in the ABC medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy (2009-2018, 2021). In March 2018, it was announced that Drew would be exiting Grey’s Anatomy, although she made a guest appearance as Kepner in a season 17 episode. Her other TV credits include Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Medium, Private Practice, Mad Men, Castle and Cruel Summer.
As part of a two-picture deal with Lifetime, Drew has written an original script titled Reindeer Games, tentatively scheduled for the 2022 Christmas season. She also stars in Stolen by Their Father, the true story of Lizbeth Meredith, who finds herself fighting for her daughters after her ex-husband kidnaps them and takes them to Greece. The movie premieres on Saturday, March 5, 2022, on Lifetime. Apple is working on a TV series based on the Amber Brown books by Paula Danziger, and Drew is set to star along with Carsyn Rose.
"Shonda was incredibly generous in opening the doors and inviting me in to contribute to the telling of the story and to reach out to the writers if I felt like something didn’t feel authentic or to pitch ideas."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Sarah, why did you decide to make a deal with Lifetime for two movies?
Sarah Drew: I thought it was a really fun opportunity to dive into more executive producing. I’ve been an executive producer on one other project, and I really enjoyed it, and Lifetime was offering me an incredible opportunity to do that. The big reason was also that they had agreed to develop my first full-length script. So that’s what we’re working on right now, and it will be my first film that I make for them from my two-picture deal. So that was also another big reason why I chose to jump on board. Adding writer to my repertoire is a pretty fun thing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Absolutely. Are you talking about the Christmas movie?
Sarah Drew: Yes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: For Stolen by Their Father, did you meet with the real Lizbeth Meredith to prepare for the role?
Sarah Drew: No I wasn’t able to. We thought that maybe she’d be on set for the second leg of our shooting, but it didn’t end up working out. I watched an interview. But I really wanted to approach the script with fresh eyes and be able to tell the kind of truth of what was on the page, as it was written. I look forward to getting the chance to speak with her in the future. I’m not sure when that will happen. But it’s such a compelling story.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, it is. I’m sure as a mother, you can relate to the horror of having your children kidnapped.
Sarah Drew: Oh, yeah. It’s a very intense story. It was an incredible experience to shoot it. But I was also ready to not be in the land of the trauma I was in while playing that role. So I was ready when it ended to get back to my kids and feel all at peace again.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: There were a couple of younger actors, of course, on the set. What was that like?
Sarah Drew: It was great. They’re real sisters in real life, which was wonderful because it created a beautiful bond between the two of them from the beginning. So that wasn’t something that needed to be manufactured. I loved them. They were both really enthusiastic and talented and were so excited to be there to learn about all the different elements of being on a set. We had a really sweet and beautiful time together.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Elizabeth Smart is one of the producers?
Sarah Drew: Yes. I just read that online the other day (laughs). So it was news to me until I saw it on Twitter. But I was excited to see that. Yes. She has a tremendous story as well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Elizabeth is an activist for missing persons and also for schools to provide training on child sexual abuse prevention. You know, I was reading about Mariska Hargitay’s foundation that brings support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Then I ran across a video of a young you on season eight of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a scene with Chris Meloni.
Sarah Drew: Oh, yeah.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That was in the beginning of your career, so how was that experience?
Sarah Drew: I think it was right after I did Everwood, so it was pretty early on. It was a wonderful experience. I had a great time working on that show. My dad is retired now but was pastor of a church that met at the Union Theological Seminary. So a really fun element of doing that show was that we shot in the chapel and out in the courtyard where his congregation would always meet for fellowship time. So he came to the set the day that we were shooting, and it was very fun to be shooting something in a church where my dad was the pastor. That was a very fun little element of that experience for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Very cool. How did you become involved in Amber Brown?
Sarah Drew: I just auditioned for it. I sent a tape in and had a callback with Bonnie Hunt, who I just loved. It’s all because of COVID. Everything was all done over Zoom and video tapes and things like that. I had a chemistry read with Carsyn Rose. Then we all met in Salt Lake City and shot the first season.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That sounds painless (laughs).
Sarah Drew: Yeah. It’s all just a process. You wind up doing different projects in different ways. I’ve had a lot of projects over my life, and I’ve had to fight for things in my life. But I responded to the Amber Brown script right away. I just fell in love with the characters. I loved the relationships. I loved witnessing the world through this 11-year-old girl’s eyes and through her imagination and in her drawings.
I also really loved that, as she was going through the transition in her life, so was her mom, and that is the role I am playing. I thought it was a really interesting parallel story that ultimately just reinforces love and community and all of the things in life that we all deal with and face on a daily basis. I think it says that Bonnie Hunt is such a talented writer, and love is just exploding off of every script. You just feel that this is a family that loves one another and is trying so hard to love each other well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The episodes are based on a series of books?
Sarah Drew: Yeah. It’s inspired by Paula Danziger’s Amber Brown series. It’s interesting because the characters come from the books, but a lot of the stories we’re telling are Bonnie’s own creations. So it’s sort of playing in the world of Paula Danziger while really seeing very much in Bonnie Hunt’s imagination and world as well. It’s a beautiful kind of marriage between the two minds.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Sarah, how is it that you voiced Stacy Rowe from the animated series Daria while still in high school?
Sarah Drew: I was in an acting class where a couple of the kids had a manager, so then I got connected to that manager and got the job through him. I voiced that character a bunch through high school and in college as well. It was a fun thing to do. I would go home from college and do like four or five episodes at once in the booth, and then go back to college. It was cool. It was a neat little thing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did that inspire you to pursue acting as a career?
Sarah Drew: Well, I’d always wanted to be an actor. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I knew it from a very, very young age. I was always trying to find places to perform. So that was just a piece of encouragement on the road to following my bigger dream. So, yeah. That was my first real professional gig before my career really took off.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your dad was a pastor, and you attended a Christian high school. So I assume you were raised in a religious home.
Sarah Drew: Right. I grew up in a Christian home. I went to a Christian high school, yes, but not a Christian university though. I went to the University of Virginia for college. But, yeah. I was raised the daughter of a teacher and a pastor.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Before you were cast as Dr. April Kepner in Grey’s Anatomy, you had worked with Shonda Rhimes on Private Practice. April is also a Christian and open about her faith, so how much input did you have for that character?
Sarah Drew: I had a lot of input into the development, growth and journey of that character. April is not the same as I am in a lot of ways, but I did attempt to just bring my understanding of the community that I was raised in, and that I was still a part of, to be able to tell a story that was as nuanced and multilayered as possible, especially on a platform where you don’t see many people of faith with multidimensional character traits and layered character journeys. So it was important for me to be able to make her as human and tell her faith story as genuine and honest as I could without trying to be the spokesperson for all Christians out there. There are as many different Christians as there are different people. There’s no one character that’s going to be able to fully represent an entire community of people. Everybody’s on their own path.
But, yeah. It was a great privilege. Shonda was incredibly generous in opening the doors and inviting me in to contribute to the telling of the story and to reach out to the writers if I felt like something didn’t feel authentic or to pitch ideas. So I got to develop some really lovely relationships with a lot of the writers in the writers room and really was able to participate in the shaping of April’s journey in the way that I was really proud of.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you did a really great job.
Sarah Drew: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The fans of “Japril” (for characters Jackson and April) certainly agree since they want to see you and Jesse Williams star in a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.
Sarah Drew: Oh, yes. I see that on my Twitter feed on a daily basis (laughs). I love their passion.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were you given any warning before you got the call that you were going to be let go?
Sarah Drew: I was told in March that I would be leaving in May. I didn’t have any warning before that moment. It was a total shock to me. I had no idea it was coming, and I was pretty confused by the whole thing (laughs). But, you know, everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen. Our industry is extremely fickle, and you can’t take things personally or it would be very difficult to function in this industry. You just need to go, “Okay. I’m going to hold everything loosely.” You never know when something is going to fully work out or when you turn a corner and you’re on the next hit show.
It’s such a crazy business and one that would toss you around and keep you at sea if you don’t have a really strong sense of your foundation, of your identity and value. For me, I’m very grateful that I have so many good humans surrounding me. Most importantly, I have my husband, who’s amazing, my kiddos and also my friends and family and all of those folks who keep me really grounded.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re coming up on a 20-year wedding anniversary soon!
Sarah Drew: Yes!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What makes it work?
Sarah Drew: Um, therapy … (laughs). I’m not joking. We did have to go to therapy for a while. But it’s really just open communication and remembering to make sure that we’re checking in with one another and not just getting swept up in all of the things that need to happen in the details of parenthood and life and businesses. We both take pauses to check in with one another and treat each other with love and care. Another big thing for us is we work very hard to take care of each other’s hearts and to just treat each other with kindness. One of the best pieces of advice that we received before getting married was to eliminate sarcasm from our relationship completely, and I do think that that is a really good thing for us. I like to kind of bring that into my other relationships as well.
I just think it’s so easy to express resentment or frustration in sort of an undercutting sarcastic kind of way when you’ve been with someone for a very long time. But that kind of undercutting really takes its toll. So we just work really hard to check in with one another, make sure we aren’t letting resentments build up and just lay everything out on the table always. We feel very safe with one another. We are each other’s best friend, and we’re such great partners. I love him so much, you know. I don’t think I could’ve made it through this industry for this long without him by my side.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What do you guys watch on television?
Sarah Drew: My husband just introduced me to a show called Pennyworth, which is on HBO Max. It’s like an origin story of Alfred who is Batman’s butler and confidante. We love it. That’s a really fun one. It’s a little dark, but it’s intriguing, and I love the stuff the Brits make. I find a lot of their shows to be really compelling. Our kids are obsessed over, and we all love The Goes Wrong Show, which is a half-hour comedy about a community theater troupe who puts on a show in front of an audience. As soon as they put it on, everything goes wrong, and it’s a very hilarious slapstick, farcical British comedy. But my kids could probably recite every single line from all episodes. I think there are 12 total episodes that are out there in the world (laughs). So we like to watch that together and laugh.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Anything else going on, Sarah?
Sarah Drew: Right now, we’re just in the prep stages of my movie I’ve written, and we’re waiting on our green light from that. We’re expecting for it to come very soon, so we’re planning to shoot Reindeer Games in early Spring. I’m just waiting to promote Amber Brown and Stolen by Their Father, which comes out March 5. Hopefully, we’ll hear about a pickup for Amber Brown for a second season. We don’t know if we are getting a pickup yet, but fingers crossed.
Right now, I’m just really loving being home. I was gone a lot last year. Work took me away six months out of last year, so it’s a nice luxury to be able to be in the home life routine with my kiddos.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Until that phone rings, and Shonda’s calling…
Sarah Drew: (laughs) Yeah. Who knows? Who knows?
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