Sarah Drew previews April's Grey's Anatomy return, 'brain-exploding' season finale
April Kepner is coming home.
In the upcoming two-hour Grey's Anatomy season 18 finale, which also serves as the series' 400th episode, both Sarah Drew's April and Jesse Williams' Jackson will return to Grey Sloan just in time for the hospital to potentially lose its training program. Because you can't have a Grey's finale without some major stakes!
Drew first appeared during the drama's sixth season before exiting the show in season 14. She returned last season to help say goodbye to Williams' character. Now, they're both back, and ... bringing a bit of calm? Ahead of the season 18 finale, EW spoke with Drew about April's long journey on the show and what to expect from the "brain-exploding" episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is not the first time you've come back to Grey's Anatomy. Did this time feel different at all?
SARAH DREW: This time it felt very different because I actually got to go back to the stages and I got to be with my crew and I got to be with more of my cast than just Jesse [Williams]. Last time I went, we were shooting in a little bubble. It was in April's house. It was not a familiar space to me. And it was with a crew that I had not worked with before. So this really felt more like a homecoming and more like I was just returning home. But it also felt like I had just been there yesterday.
That was the thing that was really surreal about it, is being in the scene with Kevin [McKidd] and Kim [Raver] and Chandra [Wilson] and then going and sitting down in our chairs and just hanging out. And I'm like, "Weren't we just here yesterday?" And it's like, "No, no, you weren't. It's been four years. Your children are a lot older." It was such a joy to see my crew and my cast and walk those halls again and just be in that space.
Do you do anything to get back into character as April, or is it pretty easy at this point?
I think she's different because I'm different. I found her to be very different last year. But what I always do is I just follow the dialogue. And she felt more grounded last year and more sure of herself. She still had her little eccentricities of course. But then the relationship between her and Jackson last year, we slipped back into that seamlessly, as if no time had passed at all. But that has a lot to do with Jesse and my relationship and our partnership. So, I find her to be a calmer and more grounded and a more grown-up version of April now than she was four years ago. And it's fun to just let her be that, because that's who I am. I've grown a lot in the last four years. So I wasn't trying to recreate some version of her. I was just letting her grow with me, which is what I've always done and is what I did for the nine years I was on the show. She changed as I changed. It just happened that way.
I did a re-watch during quarantine and it is like a different character when you go back and watch April's first season.
It's crazy. She changes so much. She grows and blossoms and goes through so many ups and downs and deals with pain and trauma and comes out fighting on the other side. She went through the ringer and went through a lot of joy as well. And it's really, really fun to play her. She's just so fun.
What can you tell me about her and Jackson and how they're doing?
It's so funny. You all ask me that question and you know that I can't answer it.
Well here, I'll ask you this question. Will the episode answer it?
The episode will give you a window, a little peek into what's going on with the two of them. Yes. You'll get a little peak. We're onscreen together, which is nice. So you'll get to see us interact, so that's good. But yeah, beyond that, I can't really tell you anything else.
Even from the promo, we can see she's immediately thrown back into things, maybe running the pit. So is she spending this episode doing her old thing?
You do get to see a bit of her doing her thing, which I really was thrilled to get to do. I found that to be a really, really fun piece of the episode because we remember all the things that we love about her and her badass-ery. She doesn't have a moment where she's standing on top of a truck. We don't have any moments like that. But you do get to see her handling stuff, figuring stuff out. She's like a calming force in the hospital as the hospital is in major crisis and disarray. This is a big explosive episode for what is going on. Everybody's a mess. Everybody's a mess, but April and Jackson are not a mess. And April has a kind of a calming energy.
Which, again, is so insane when you think back to how she used to be the opposite of a calming energy.
Opposite. Yeah. I think she's living in her purpose in a really amazing way right now. I think she knows who she is. She is doing the things she feels like she was made and born to do and is content and living her purpose.
Well, you've been a part of many Grey's Anatomy season finales. How do you feel like this one compares?
The only thing I can say really is I felt like this one left me with the biggest question marks as to the future, way bigger than anything I've seen on any previous season finales. It's brain-exploding. Like, what happens now? What are we doing? What's the show? It's a very big, massive question mark.
Maybe this is a dumb question, because obviously you've come back a couple times now, but is the door still open for future April appearances?
Yeah. I've always said that I've never closed the door on that family. They asked me to come for the 400th about two weeks before I was on set shooting. So it always happens very quickly. Well, the one, two years ago, actually I knew about a couple months ahead of time because they were trying to figure out how to say goodbye to Jesse. And so it was like a whole thing. But for this one, I didn't know it was happening until about two weeks before we were shooting it. So yeah. It's a fun little happy surprise. I love people over there. I love popping back into April's life for a second. It's fun. She feels like a part of me. She'll always be a part of me, so yeah.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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Meredith. Alex. Bailey. The doctors are definitely in on Shonda Rhimes' hospital melodrama.