Sarah Drew on Apple TV Plus' 'Amber Brown' and Creating Her Own Stories (Exclusive)

The actress, who makes her screenwriting debut with a Lifetime holiday film, talks to ET about her new series from Bonnie Hunt.

Sarah Drew took some real-life lessons from her latest project. Apple TV+'s new family series, Amber Brown -- based on Paula Danziger's bestselling book series and written, directed and produced by Bonnie Hunt -- centers around a young girl (Carsyn Rose) who finds her voice through art and music in the wake of her parent's divorce. Amber's mom, Sarah, in the series, which utilizes live-action and animation, and drops its first two episodes Friday on the streaming service.

"I read the script and I fell in love with it. I was excited to work with Bonnie Hunt. I loved the characters. I loved the unique quality of using animation to describe the imagination of an 11-year-old and add humor and fun and depth to what she's going through," the Grey's Anatomy star told ET. "I loved how unique and fully-fleshed out all the characters were and I really loved the relationship between Sarah and Amber. It felt so familiar to me. I have a 10-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, and I find myself resonating in a very, very deep way with Sarah Brown."

Once Drew got the job, she opted not to go back to the source material to get a handle on the Amber Brown world. As she explained, Hunt was creating an entirely new take that was "different" from the book series, allowing her the freedom to develop her character and family unit on the show separately and primarily based on the scripts.

Drew described herself as a self-proclaimed fan of Hunt, calling her "a genius" and "a joy to work with."

"Right off the bat, even the first Zoom session with her when I had a callback, her care for us as actors is so clear because she's an actor herself. She's been doing this forever, she knows how to talk to us and knows how to make sure that we feel loved, appreciated and seen, and heard, and [have] a voice," Drew said. "I immediately felt like it was going to be a really warm and wonderful environment. It was so great to be directed by her. She comes from improv and she likes to let us play and come up with stuff on the side and find all of those nuances. She's never married to any line. Anything she's written, for her, it's always best ideas wins and, 'Let's try this and let's try that.' It's just a joy. It's a whole new way of working that I have not had a ton of experience with."

Another reason she was compelled to take part in Amber Crown was that it offered her the opportunity to test out her comedic skills on a larger scale. Primarily known for her dramatic work, with roles in Grey's Anatomy, Everwood and Cruel Summer, Drew admitted the fear of doing improv was invigorating.

"It was fun to play but also kind of scary, which is good. I haven't been scared at work in a long time. I've done a lot of similar things and... but because I haven't done a ton of comedy, it was a new world to play in for me," she recalled. "Working with such a legend, there's a little bit of like, 'Oh my gosh. Am I going to make her proud? I don't know.' But it was such a warm environment that I had a lot of fun. I still feel like I have miles to go in terms of learning about that."

Apple TV+

Drew praised her onscreen daughter, played by Rose, sharing that they bonded almost "immediately."

"She's such a tremendous actress and she is such an old soul," the 41-year-old actress said of her frequent scene partner. "Carsyn has a beautiful ability to understand and articulate really complicated and deep emotions and journeys. She's not performative in any way. She's just listening and responding, and going deep immediately. It's really so beautiful to watch her work, so it's very easy. We joke about how we just look at each other in our eyes and just start crying because she feels safe with me, I feel safe with her. I know we're going to have fun, I know we're going to play and I know that we can go to any level of sadness, or death, or anger, and she'll be right there with me. She's a pretty tremendous kid and I hope we get many more years to work together on this show."

Because the premise of Amber Brown hinges on the eponymous heroine's parents' splitting up and involves heavy, sensitive topics, Drew revealed one of the scenes from the series where it all clicked for her.

"There's a scene where Amber is starting to see her dad date another women and she worries is there going to be enough space in their lives for her when they have these other people entering in from the other side? It creates a huge conflict in her. We have this scene in the car where she just says, 'Mom, I'm sad,' and she starts crying," she revealed. "I hold her and we have a full conversation about grief and about how it comes and goes in waves, and happy times don't last forever, and neither do sad times. You have to just take the waves as they come. It's such a beautiful and simple, but profound conversation about what grief is and giving space to allow for the grief to happen in the way that it does.

"When we were shooting that scene, my family was going through our first really big grief together, which was the passing of our dog, CC, who's been with us my kids' whole lives. She was 16. She was our first baby. I was literally having to talk to them about needing to put her down because it was definitely the end," Drew continued. "I had language to speak to my children about grief because of the scenes I had just spoken to Amber. It was so amazing to see an immediate resonance with this storytelling that was applicable in my real life, in my life with my family, my children."

Drew credits Amber Brown for the way in which it respects the perspectives and experiences of kids. "It gives them the benefit of the doubt and allows for them to be as smart and intelligent as they are. Kids are smart. They pick up on everything. They're thinking about everything we're thinking about," she said. "Just going through the last two and a half years, and the collective grief we've all been with the pandemic, and all the other things that have been [going on], these kids, they're not dumb. They feel it. They're going through grief. They're going through pain."

Apple TV+

"They also sanitize things on television. We think, 'Oh, they can't handle it. We can't talk about it,'" she said of other kid-centric shows that may not dig as deep as Amber Brown does. "We're not talking down to them. We're talking to them. We're treating their feelings with the gravity that they feel them with. As opposed to if I ran into a pole as a kid, in front of the guy I had a crush on, and [as an adult I can] laugh at that, but when it happens in real life it's devastating for that 11-year-old. What the show does a wonderful job of is giving empathy both to parents to their kids and be like, 'Oh, yeah. That's life and death to you. I need to validate the emotional experience you're having right now because the wisdom that comes from my age might tell me to be like, You'll get over it,' but that's not what they need to hear in that moment. They need to feel validated."

"We're giving empathy to a parent in dealing with all of these things that the kids are going through and thinking about but also seeing the world of the adult in a way that allows kids who maybe their parents are going through a divorce and maybe they're struggling with whose happiness is the most important and how do I navigate all of that? It gives them a window into allowing parents to be real and human and not just parental figures that are other than human," Drew went on to explain. "I hope families watch it together because I think they're going to learn so much about one another... and it will be a really amazing conversation starter."

Meanwhile, Drew is staying busy gearing up for her first screenwriting credit on an upcoming romantic holiday movie for Lifetime, tentatively titled Reindeer Games, slated to air later this year and is already hard at work developing her second film, as part of a two-picture deal with the network, and a secret new project she played coy about.

"It really feels like a new chapter and I'm being introduced to a new version of my creative self, a new way [of] storytelling," Drew said, previewing the first Lifetime movie currently in post-production. "It's such a fun movie. It's so romantic, it's so funny, but it's also so moving. It's a two-hour joy explosion. You're just smiling and laughing and feeling good feelings all the way through it. Everybody rose to the occasion in the most incredible way."

"I'm working on a pitch for my next Christmas film for Lifetime, but I'm also working on another thing that I can't talk about yet, because it hasn't officially gone anywhere yet. That one, I'm so excited about," she hinted. "It's such an exciting experience to read parts of true stories and talk to people that were involved in the real thing and find ways to visually tell the story. I love, love, love having a space to story tell in this way."

Amber Brown is streaming now on Apple TV+.


Latest News