Sarah Drew Admits She Was Initially 'Devastated' About Her 'Grey's Anatomy' Exit

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Greys - Sarah Drew
ABC

Sarah Drew is opening up about her departure from Grey's Anatomy.

The actress sat down with The Hollywood Reporter recently, for her first interview since leaving the long-running ABC medical series, to talk about being let go from the show, wrapping up her character's storyline and her Emmy nomination for directing the Grey's shortform series, B-Team.

"It was a bolt of good news," Drew says with a laugh, as she recalls hearing about the B-Team recognition. "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."

The actress, who played Dr. April Kepner for nine seasons of the Shonda Rhimes-produced procedural, recalls the day she got the news about being let go from the show -- as she was planning to shadow co-star Kevin McKidd in preparation to possibly direct a future episode of Grey's.

"It was in the afternoon and I went back to my trailer and I did my crying and called my people," she shares. "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 and Lacey."

Drew says it was "hard to hear" showrunner Krista Vernoff's reasons for letting her go from the show, but also admits that it would have been hard to walk away from the series of her own volition. 

"I was on [Grey's] for nine years," she adds. "It feels right and it feels like a good time to move onto 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."

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Here are some of my favorite people on the planet. While shooting this scene my heart was so full of joy and sadness at the same time that it was almost unbearable. As I was looking up at all of these beautiful faces, smiling down at me with so much love, happy to see April alive and well, I was overcome with sadness about the reality of not being with all of these people in the same place in the same way ever again. But, I was ALSO overcome with the joy of having had the opportunity in my life to know such gorgeous people whom I have loved, who have loved me so well for 9 years. During a break in the scene, I felt the tears coming and I looked over and made eye contact with Caterina and Chandra and they whisked me away and let me feel my feelings all over them. It was such a sweet moment of friendship. What I keep experiencing since the moment I was let go, is the tremendous joy that is present in the midst of my sorrow. It felt horrible to be asked to leave my family of 9 years, and I have experienced real, deep grief over it, BUT I have ALSO been so buoyed up by my cast, my crew, the fans, and my family in such extraordinary ways, that I wouldn’t trade any moment of it for the world. I keep describing my experience over the last two months as being “love-bombed” because between the conversations, the hugs, the letters, the tweets, the plane(!), that’s truly what I’ve felt. Love-bombed. In the wake of being let go, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude, and I’ve felt profoundly loved. I am so humbled and so thankful. Get ready for so many more pics and love notes next week. ❤️❤️❤️

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However, there were parts of the process of leaving the show that Drew confessed were harder than others -- including wrapping up April's romantic storyline with her ex-husband, Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams), as the character reunited with and married her former fiance, Matthew Taylor (Justin Bruening).

"In the midst of it, I was devastated that Jackson and April wasn't an end game," she notes. "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 continues."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 find his first love again. It's lovely... But part of me will always be a little heartbroken that April and Jackson were not end game."

Now, Drew says, she wants to continue to grow as an artist and take on more directing and producorial roles -- though she would only offer a "maybe" when asked about returning to Grey's Anatomy as an actress or director: "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."

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Calling all @televisionacad Members! Voting for #emmys2018 opens TODAY! Please consider voting for “Grey’s Anatomy B-Team” in the “outstanding short form comedy or drama” category! This video was taken by @blgalvan just after we wrapped shooting all six episodes. He secretly took a ton of BTS videos to commemorate my directorial debut and surprised me with them after the fact. (So sweet 😍😍). Directing this web series was an extraordinary experience. I lost A LOT of sleep prepping for it. I was SO afraid of failing. My incredible DP #AlexaIhrt and I put in so many extra prep hours to be sure that we would have smooth sailing on the days that we shot, and all of that work really paid off. As I say in the video, everyone worked their asses off to bring their A GAME to the B TEAM!! I’m looking at you @abbyrchambers #valcheung @saadmansoor and #barbarafriend @gregcusumano !! It was such a delight directing this series. I can’t wait to do it again. Vote for us!!!! #foryourconsideration #emmys2018 #greysanatomybteam #thebteamistheateam

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As for continuing to watch Grey's following her departure, the actress admits, "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."

Though she may not be watching, Drew hopes that April's legacy continues to resonate with fans in the seasons to come.

"So many of April's stories were about resilience in the face of pain and rising above in the midst of sorrow and grief," she notes. "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."

"I don't regret or begrudge anybody this season of my life. I'm embracing it," she adds. "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."

See what Williams had to say about Drew's departure in the video below.

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