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Sarah Drew on Helping ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Say Farewell to Jesse Williams (and April)

Grey’s Anatomy brought back fan-favorite Sarah Drew for a reason.

The actress, who departed at the end of season 14, returned to the Shondaland medical drama May 6 to help the series say farewell to longtime star Jesse Williams as his final episode of the series will air May 20. Williams and Drew both joined Grey’s Anatomy — as docs Jackson Avery and April Kepner — as recurring players in season six, with the duo promoted to series regulars a year later. Drew departed the series in 2018, splitting the fan-favorite and former couple known as “Japril” for good, though they remained co-parents of a daughter offscreen

I was excited to get to be a part of his departure,” Drew told the media, including THR, during a conference call Friday morning. “That relationship between the two of us and ‘Japril’ is so meaningful to both of us. It felt like the perfect time to come back and do a special episode to be able to help Jackson make his big departure

While Drew said that what ultimately aired was different from showrunner Krista Vernoff’s original pitch, she noted that the bottle episode was a “privilege” to film as part of a trilogy of episodes that have chronicled Jackson and April’s turbulent and often toxic relationship.

Thursday’s episode set the stage for Jackson’s exit in the next episode as the character, after consulting with his estranged father, decides he wants to run the Avery Foundation as part of his desire to help combat the inequalities in medicine.

“How amazing and needed is a show about racial justice in the medical field and equity and equality?” Drew said, noting that crewmembers told her that they thought she and Williams were shooting a Grey’s spinoff. “[He’d be] working from a position of having money and power to make that change, and she’s working with people experiencing homelessness. These two could change the world of medicine. I’d watch that show! It’s fun to dream! Who knows, it’s not up to me!”

The episode also saw Jackson pay April an unexpected visit and ask her and her family to move her family to Boston, where the foundation is based, so that he can continue to play an active role in their daughter’s life. The hour ends with April’s admission that her marriage to former flame Matthew — whom she originally left at the altar to run away with Jackson — ended in divorce

April’s admission set the stage for a romantic reunion between the on-again, off-again couple, though Drew said she only filmed one episode and what happens between Jackson and April romantically would be left up to the audience’s imagination — though she has been adamant that the couple were endgame for years.

“I am deciding that they are,” Drew said when asked by THR if Jackson and April were, in Grey’s speak, MFEO. “We’re leaving it up to the audience to come to whatever conclusion makes them happiest. I’ve never been shy about wanting Japril to be endgame; it’s what I wanted the whole time. One of my biggest heartbreaks leaving in season 14 is that they didn’t get to be endgame. But who knows what happens when they make their way to Boston.”

Drew spent the nearly hourlong press call gushing about her love for April and her personal friendship with Williams, reflecting on how easy it was for her to slip back into the character and the pure enjoyment she felt getting to see her co-stars when she went to set for the COVID-19 testing that was required for her to guest-star. She also credited episode writer Elisabeth Finch for a script that illustrated just how much April has grown in the time viewers have not seen the character.

“She’s extremely fulfilled and living into her calling,” Drew said. “What’s beautiful about it is her best friend, her person, has now discovered that true calling that he’s embarking on. Whether they wind up romantically attached in the future, just the reality of these two humans who care so much about each other living in their true calling is happiness.”

Drew also explained why viewers didn’t see April and Jackson romantically rekindle their relationship during the episode, with many fans on social media questioning why the duo didn’t share a kiss onscreen.

“We weren’t even supposed to have a hug or a hand-grab,” Drew explained, as all productions adjust to filming with safety protocols required by the pandemic. The actress said both she and Williams fought for both moments, neither of which were scripted. “Both happened on the day between the two of us. … At first, we couldn’t do the hand grab and hug, and then we just did them. I do think a kiss, it would have been too much. I love how it leaves the audience hoping and wanting more and drawing their own conclusions. It’d be intense to drop this bomb that her marriage was over and five seconds later they’re making out. There’s tenderness there about all the things he’s asking her to do — uprooting her life, going on this epic journey — and you’ll need to take some time if that’s the direction they’re going to go in. I’m glad we held it back.”

All told, Drew said she was “super satisfied” with how Japril’s trilogy ended and the resolution that they will end up together — at least physically — in Boston. “Part of me wanted a kiss at the end, too,” she confessed

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