In honor of the 400th episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Sarah Drew and Jesse Williams returned as April Kepner and Jackson Avery. Last year, the actress came back for episode 17×14, “Look Up Child” to help give Jackson’s story a happy ending. For the season 18 finale, “You Are the Blood,” I had the pleasure of reuniting with Drew to discuss the milestone episode!
We had a beautiful conversation about the fact that Jackson and April are now officially endgame, coming back for such a huge episode, April’s growth, that adorable April and Amelia reunion, new generations discovering the series, what April has taught her, and much more. Keep reading for everything she shared!
So Japril is officially endgame now, what was your reaction when you read that, and then after you filmed their final scene? I mean, you already know what the reaction was from the fans after the episode aired.
Sarah Drew: Well, I knew what the reaction was going to be. When Krista and Meg called to pitch the idea to me, they were like, “We’d love to have you back for the 400th episode, we think you’re gonna be really happy with it,” and I was. I’ve been super vocal about wanting Japril to be endgame forever. So, yeah, it was really sweet. It was really, really fun.
When you found out that news did you talk about it with Jesse because there is obviously a gap between when we last saw you both and now, so did you try to figure out how you think everything went after they left for Boston?
No, I mean, mostly we just checked in to be like, we’re so excited to be back on set together and that’s so fun, we’re so happy that they’re together. I would love to see– somebody just tweeted, “Okay, but can we do Japril the movie 2.0, where instead of it’s the first marriage, now it’s the second marriage,” not that they’re married, there was no ring on the finger. But I mean, to go back, connect the dots, and fill in all the blanks would be super fun. I know that as excited as the fans were, they’re also like, “That’s it?! I want more!” But it didn’t make sense, in the world of the story, it didn’t make sense to give any more than that. There were too many other things going on but it would be fun to go, revisit, and kind of see how they got there.
Your last episode really has a soft spot in my heart, but I absolutely loved seeing you back in the hospital, in scrubs, and back in the pit. What was it like for you to take that walk down memory lane rather than just doing the episode in the house setting with Jesse like last time?
Yeah, I mean that was wonderful too and I will say the episode that we got to do last year felt so much more satisfying as an actor just because we had so much to explore, the scenes were layered and deep, and we got to do so much. So that was really, really fun for us. In this one, we kind of just pop in and out of the episode, so it wasn’t as satisfying emotionally but I will say, being on set and walking the stages, being in my blue scrubs, saying “what do we got” out in the breezeway, being in the attendings’ lounge and in the ER– it all felt pretty surreal because I’m just hanging with all these folks that I spent nine years working with. I’d be in between takes sitting with them in the chairs, waiting for the next time they call us to camera, and just being like, “I feel like I was here yesterday.” It feels truly like not a single second has passed and yet we’ve all lived four years of our lives. I’ve had so many adventures in the last four years that I am in love with and wouldn’t trade for the world. So it was funny, it felt like coming home but it felt like no time had passed. It felt like we all picked up right where we left off, like there was no hiccup in time and yet there was. It was interesting and it was really fun to get to work with my crew again because I didn’t even get to work with my crew on the last episode cause we were on like a special unit with a different crew. So, this one really felt like coming home. That one felt like its own thing and this one felt like really coming home.
This episode had one of my favorite scenes of the series between you and Caterina as April and Amelia. You two made me emotional!
I loved that scene too. I mean, minus the kiss because the whole world wanted that, that was my favorite moment that I got to play. I love Caterina, she is one of my best friends in the world. We are like connected on a very deep soul way, soul connection. So getting to have a scene with her, getting to share the screen with her, getting to witness her incredible work through that monologue, and getting to just be present, letting April just be present for Amelia, it was so beautiful and so sweet. Yeah, definitely one of my favorite moments too.
I really needed more of that duo.
I feel like we were constantly asking when we were on the show, too. It felt like we had so much to connect on, we both lost babies in pretty traumatic ways and we’d both been through a lot of trauma. It just felt like this would be a really interesting pairing, we had some stuff but not a ton of stuff on the show together and we always were like, “When? Why? Please.”
I mean, the hug alone!
I know, it was also just so honest, it was just like the way that I hugged her when I came back onto set, except mine and Caterina’s hug lasted for like half an hour– you don’t have that much time on the show to do that. But there’s just so much very real love that I have for this cast, this crew, and this place that it was fun to get to perform what was actually happening.
The first scene that we opened up the episode with was Japril and it was such an adorable, touching one because it had the family unit together. What was that like to return with that scene rather than just jumping right back into the madness that is Grey’s Anatomy?
I loved it. I loved also that it was the first thing you see in episode 400, that was so fun. It felt like such a privilege and such an honor to get to take that little spot right at the beginning of the episode, and it’s so charming and it’s so funny. I also really believe in the stuff Catherine was talking about. I mean, it is a little morose to make someone give you their eulogy before they’re gone, but she has this great line where she’s like, “I’m not waiting until I’m dead for people to say it, we should say it now.” I am such a proponent of that, my love language is verbal affirmation, it always has been, and so if someone likes something I’m doing, I want them to tell me. I want them to tell me that I’ve made an impact in their lives and I do the same thing for other people. I’m maybe sometimes a little too intense, because I will look you directly in the eye and I will hold your face, and I’ll be like, “This is why I love you so much.” I just think we need to do that more, we can’t wait until they’re not there to hear it. When you love someone, you got to tell them and I don’t mean just romantic love, I mean all the different forms of love and all the ways that we affect one another. There’s so much negativity out there and we need more of that stuff. So I loved that scene, I thought it was so great, funny, and delightful.
April has had such an impact on fans. This character and your work have really went beyond the screen and show, especially with your character being gone for years. Last time we spoke, you used the word evergreen and it’s the best word I can think of for her. What was the moment you realized April really did have an effect on viewers?
There were a couple of moments actually. I was shooting a movie for Hallmark, Christmas in Vienna, in Vienna, we were shooting during Christmas time, and Vienna during Christmas time, at least pre-COVID, is like a melting pot, there are people from all over the world because it’s very it’s known for it’s Christmas markets, the beauty, and all of the gorgeousness. We were shooting in the middle of these big crowds and actual tourists, and I was mobbed every second that I was there from fans. I was hearing every different language you can possibly imagine, people just screaming “April, April, April” all over the place. I remember feeling like it was a weird kind of mixed thing because I was gone from the show, and yet I had this global audience and these people that were so impacted by who she is that I was in another country and couldn’t go three steps without people wanting to hug me. I think I get that reaction a lot, I get the tears, the hug, and then I get the like, “You don’t understand, I was going through X, Y, and Z, then you played this storyline and it gave me strength.”
I think another thing that really solidified the impact that April’s had on people is joining Cameo, to be perfectly honest. I was doing a lot of Cameo during the pandemic, especially the Cameo calls that I would do with the fans. There’s so many sweet young women, a lot of young women and women who are really struggling with a lot of big stuff that have found so much strength in just their interaction with April, the character, and the story she’s gone through. All of that stuff has made such a huge impact on me. It’s sort of hard to even put into words or process how meaningful it is, but you just go to work, you try to tell the best story you can, you advocate for your character, you advocate for your storyline, and you hope and pray that it resonates. I’ve seen time and time again from the fans that it does. So it’s a gift, it’s such a gift.
It’s truly special because even for me, when I watch a show and a character sticks with me, it can be the biggest strength to get you through something. April was definitely one of those characters. I mean, your performance really did make a difference for so many people and I’m glad to see that love. That’s what TV is about.
I definitely see it and I definitely feel it. I think something that’s pretty powerful about April and her journey is that she changed so much. She grew so much and people kind of find themselves in pieces of her growth or if they’re stuck like she finds herself stuck, she finds herself in deep misery, sorrow, and grief, then she also finds herself having lost her faith, lost her child, lost her marriage, then the re-emergent, the ability in her journey to find that hope and that light to cling onto. So I think when people watch her story, if they’re in a dark place, they see her find the light, and then they go, “it’s possible for me,” and that is powerful. It’s why I love storytelling so much, it’s why I love redemption stories especially, but April got to have a lot of redemption, a lot of holding the reality of pain and joy in both hands at the same time and navigating through that because that’s what life is.
For me personally, my mom introduced me to the show and now we watch it together weekly. It’s really interesting to see the new generation of fans discovering it. I mean, the show just finished 18 seasons and is still going. It’s still being rediscovered and rewatched from season one. What is it like to see the newer generations still resonating with these stories?
Yeah, I mean, that’s another thing that I noticed through doing Cameo stuff. Cameo was really like a big way that I have been able to truly engage face-to-face with fans. It’s different when you’re just on Twitter, it’s different when you’re just on Instagram, but when you’re actually looking at someone, and then you do Cameo calls and the same people come back, you get to check in with them every couple of weeks or whatever. There’s something really sweet about that. But so many of the women who would do these Cameo calls were like 12, 13, 14, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you were not alive, you were not even an idea when this show started.”
A lot of people, what I kept hearing was that because of the pandemic with nothing to do, people were going back and rewatching the whole series over again or discovering it for the first time, being like, “Okay, well, I have nothing to do, but this one has 375 episodes, so this will kill some time,” then they just get completely sucked into it. It affirms to me that that word that I said before evergreen, there’s an evergreen nature to this show, I don’t think it’s ever going to go anywhere, even once it’s done and there are no new episodes being shot, people are going to continue to find it for years and years to come. It just has that sort of staying power, which is pretty extraordinary.
Obviously, you had one ending when you left the show back in season 14, then we got the gift of you coming back and getting a new ending. What was it like for you to close that chapter, but then get that new ending? Were you more satisfied with this one than when you originally left? What was it like to come back?
Well, I would say, really, the big kind of full-circle moment for me happened last year when I came back for that episode. I think there was something– it was like a closure to the character and the story, even though it didn’t fully give all the fans the Japril, they gave them hope for a Japril endgame, but not an actual Japril endgame, but for me, it was a full-circle moment that closed a gap that I didn’t know I needed because I didn’t love how my character left in season 14. I didn’t believe it and I wanted a different ending for her. Then I got to have the ending that I’d always hoped for in getting to come back and have that very meaty, awesome episode with Jesse, it was so healing to me in so many ways. It affirmed a lot of different things about the way that I viewed the character, the journey, the story, my relationship with the show, and everything. So I really felt super satisfied after coming back last season. This is just icing on the cake and honestly, this was a joy to be asked to participate in such a huge episode. It made me feel on a very deep level that I’ve always been a part of the family, I will always be a part of the family, and a belonging, which I lost a little bit of when I was written off in season 14. So that felt really really good to me too. It’s all been lovely, every time I’ve gotten to pop in, it’s been lovely. I don’t have this like need to be back on the show, I don’t feel that in my body. I love coming back, saying hi, popping in, and jumping into April’s shoes for a minute, then going back to the rest of the other stuff I’m working on. It’s been lovely.
Yeah, I know a lot of fans, myself included, felt the same exact way and last year’s episode was just easily a favorite. When I think of Grey’s Anatomy, and I know I’m not the only one, April is at the center of it. I actually did rewatch an episode recently from your last season that I wanted to ask you about. It was the “Cold as Ice” episode and I don’t know what made me go watch it, but the April and Jackson content is just amazing. When I rewatched it though, I couldn’t help but notice just how many characters love April so much, old and remaining. What was it like to have built those relationships between characters? I got emotional watching the Arizona and April content. So many of the characters loved April, you weren’t just a favorite when it came to the fans. Do you have any comment on that?
I mean, I felt it for sure. I think the interesting thing about April is that nobody liked her at first. The fans didn’t, they hated her. The characters despised her. She was grading, she was insecure and annoying. She had stuff, she had issues; she had to work through some stuff, grow, change, become less naive, and deal with real life. That made her so much more fierce, ferocious, strong, and beautiful. She got to blossom in a way that Sarah Drew, the actress has never been able to do in any role before. It was like a rebirth kind of. I had previous to the show, always played the awkward, ugly sidekick and that’s who I came on as April Kepner; I was the annoying, awkward, weird– that was me. I was on Glee in between my two episodes of Grey’s and when I went back to Glee, playing a very awkward, weird stalker with glasses and frizzy hair. What happened with April was a deepening and a growth into herself that enabled her to go from this ugly duckling to swan thing because she talks about it in the show. But it also felt like an emergence for Sarah Drew, the actress and the person as well. So that was a really amazing kind of journey and I do remember when I read that episode, I read it on my phone.
I actually was on my way home from work and I pulled over in my neighborhood because I knew that as soon as I got home, my kids would be all over me and I just wanted to like take the time to finish reading it. I read the script and just started weeping uncontrollably. I mean, I knew I was leaving, I immediately texted Bill Harper, who wrote that episode, and I thanked him because I felt like this episode was a love letter to April Kepner and to Sarah Drew. I felt so viscerally loved in every cell of my body, by the writers, by the crew, by the cast, by the fans, by the characters. There’s this one line, where Karev says, “I didn’t like her at first,” it’s a few sentences long, but it’s like, she cared about her patients, she showed up, she was nice to everybody, and nobody worked harder than she did. I’m getting chills just thinking about it, there’s a box right there that has letters that the cast and crew sent me and Jessica home with on our final day. One of the letters is from Bill Harper, who wrote that episode, he printed out that page, he circled that line, and then he said, “easiest piece of dialogue I’ve ever had to write.” It killed me!
It was a really, absolutely extraordinary moment. That moment that we shot when April woke up and everybody’s there, gathered around her– oof. I mean, that’s when I had my giant cry with Chandra because I realized it was my last scene with her. I still had other stuff to do out at the wedding site, but that was my last scene with Bailey. I was just sitting there like witnessing, we have pictures of all the cast piled on my hospital bed like we’re a bunch of puppies and there was so much freaking love in that room. So I felt it; what you felt, yes, that was what I felt every second shooting that episode, which is why I’ve said previously too that the amount of love that I received in the wake of being written off the show was so extraordinary and it was a physical thing. It’s like you could reach out and touch it, it was so big. I would never trade that in a million years, I would go through the pain of being written off a million times in order to experience that because it was so gorgeous.
There was so much love for you. I spoke with Camilla before this episode and she told me that we wouldn’t be getting anything between Jo and April— we were so mad!
Oh, I was so mad too. I wanted stuff with Jo, I wanted stuff with Kelly. Kelly texted me right away after reading the script and she was just like, “I cannot believe you’re coming back again and I still don’t have a scene with you!”
I’m starting a petition here and she’s ready to go, we need the Japril spin-off, but we also need Camilla and Kelly to guest star. We need some scenes!
Done! I know, they would have so much fun together. They would be so fun.
Is there a duo with a new character or a character you didn’t have a lot of scenes with before you left that you would have loved to see for April?
Oh, man. I mean, well, like I was talking about before, I just feel like she and Amelia would have so much to connect over. They’re also both extremely emotional beings. So I feel like they could just cry, sit on a couch and cry about stuff together. How great would that sisterhood be?
A spin-off with April and Amelia?
I love it.
Also, I think Camilla is so freaking funny. Oh my gosh, she’s so funny. That scene yesterday with the sex bear. The look on her face when she’s like, “Okay, well, bye.” It was so perfect in every way. She’s so funny. I could see them having a ball together. So I think that would be a really fun duo, really fun duo.
You know we’re really trying for that Japril spin-off.
I know. You guys have been trying for a year, I know I see it.
I was in that press conference when the idea was mentioned for first time, we need it! If it happened, what would you want? Have you and Jesse spoken about it what you would want it to look like?
Honestly, everything that we’ve talked about was on that Instagram Live I did with him last year, we talked about it at length and we haven’t like checked in about it since then. The only thing I did say was when we discovered that we were gonna have a kiss at the end, I was like, “Oh, well, maybe that means no Japril spin-off because they’re not going to give us a chance to get back together.” Then I was like, “or they could be the Tami and the coach of Friday Night Lights,” like The Friday Night Lights couple that you just love. He was like, “who?” I couldn’t tell he was joking. I was like, “You can’t not know what Friday Night Lights is.” I was like, it could be them [Tami and Coach Taylor] and then they’re just handling all the stuff, He’s like, new phone, who’s this? I never know if he’s joking or not, never. I can’t ever tell especially in text. I don’t understand like I want to participate in this joke! If it’s a joke, I want to laugh. If you’re being serious, I want to respond the appropriate way and I just don’t know, I can’t tell.
In terms of the legacy of your character, is there anything you hope that she gives audiences?
I feel like we’ve talked about it already, I think that the greatest legacy that I would hope for is for people to see light shining in the darkness and through the character of April, even when things feel their darkest. She has a line, I think it might have been one of her voiceover moments, where she’s like, “I have to believe that even if something seems like it can’t be fixed, doesn’t mean it’s broken.” My dad gave me that piece of advice during a very dark time in my life many, many years ago, where he’s like, “I know that everything feels hopeless. I know that that’s how it feels, but that doesn’t mean that it is hopeless. So let’s work on changing the narrative.” I think there’s so much pain, there’s so much pain in our world. We are all touched by so much loss and so much pain. If this character, through these stories, can offer the slightest glimmer of hope, in the midst of the brokenness, then I feel like I will be forever grateful for the legacy that I’ve left behind in April.
Lastly, is there anything April taught you that you feel like even after you wrapped, it stuck with you? Whether it’s a lesson, one of her quotes, or something like that?
I’ve always really admired her strength, conviction, and the fact that she is exactly who she is and doesn’t apologize for it, but she’s willing to grow. That’s the thing that’s really, really lovely. I think I fall into the people-pleasing mode far too often in my life. I just want to make sure everybody’s okay and happy with me, and April was like, “I’m going to be annoying and I don’t care because I like me,” she has a line where she says that: “I don’t care what they say, I like me.” I’m like, “oh, it’d be nice to really live in that truth and not beat myself up so much.” So I really do love and admire that about her. The other big thing that I’ll always take away, the episode with the rabbi left a really big, big impact; it impacted me in a really significant way. I’ve actually had moments of struggling with my own faith in the past several years and I will say the first thing I do is I go to that episode. It’s so weird to say, but I go to that episode and I watch that big, long-ass 15-minute scene between her and the rabbi where he fires questions at her, forces her to look at stuff, and really begins to bring her back to life. I find that episode so healing, it’s so healing to me personally and I know it made a huge impact on a lot of other people as well. So I’ll always take that with me for sure.