Allen Wolf: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood podcast. My name is Allen Wolf and I’m a filmmaker, author, and game creator. Today I’m talking with actress Sarah Drew. We’ll get to find out about her journey as an actor, the ups and downs and what brought her to where she is today. Some of you know her from Grey’s Anatomy. She’s also been featured in a number of significant roles in film and television. I think you’ll be inspired by what she has to share with us today. Now to start us off, I’m going to ask her a question from a get to know you game book that I wrote, called You’re Pulling My Leg. Sarah why don’t you choose a number and I’ll read you a question from that card number.
Sarah Drew: Number a hundred and ninety-six.
Allen Wolf: Okay going for the big numbers. Tell us about a time when you slipped on something.
Sarah Drew: I was playing with my first professional production. I was playing Juliet at a regional theater which was the thing that broke my career, that’s how everything started, and there was one moment on stage right after I marry Romeo and I got my dress stuck on his shoe and completely fell on the stage in front of the whole nine-hundred person audience. Flat on my face right after a very romantic exchange of vows and my acting partner Jeffrey was like, oh my sweet Juliet and ad-libbed Shakespeare until I could get on my feet.
Allen Wolf: Did people think it was part of the performance?
Sarah Drew: I’m sure people know that wasn’t part of the performance.
Allen Wolf: Wow, that’s awesome. And you said that was what began your career. Can you elaborate on that?
Sarah Drew: Yeah, so I did a musical theater program the summer between my second and third year of college in New York called Ca; 21. They would frequently bring in casting directors and producers and people like that to do master classes with us, and we had a master class with a casting director from Bernie Telsey casting, a really big New York casting office and I decided in the bathroom that instead of doing two songs, we’d only been working on songs, we hadn’t been working on monologues, instead of doing two songs, I would do a monologue and a song. I just decided in the bathroom. And that was the best decision I ever made because my acting is much stronger than my singing, and the casting director saw something in my monologue and started calling me in for auditions.
So during my third year of college, I went in multiple times. I took the train from Charlottesville, Virginia, into New York City to audition for these regional theater productions that this casting director brought me in for and the third one I went in for was Romeo and Juliet. It was an absolutely extraordinary experience. I was working with Juilliard teachers and Juilliard graduates and a cast of incredible professional artists and we were reviewed in the New York Times and in Variety and we were supposed to go to Broadway. We had a theater we were going to go to Broadway. It was that big of a hit and then 9/11 happened and all these theaters went dark so we did not get to go to Broadway, but it launched my career because of those reviews and that production. I was fielding calls from agents who were knocking on my door, which is kind of never how it happens.
Allen Wolf: Wow.
Sarah Drew: It was a profound gift, and I almost didn’t audition for it because it was it conflicted with the first five weeks of my final year of college and I told casting I wasn’t going to audition and the casting director who’d really taken me under his wing called me directly and was like, if I have to drive to Virginia and put you in my car and bring you, I will do that. You have to audition for this and I have him to thank for everything launching.
Allen Wolf: Now when 9/11 happened was there a moment we thought it’s just all over. Did you think this? I mean obviously, for all of us it was very shocking and and tragic but I mean, did you think at that point? Well, this is not going to happen.
Sarah Drew: I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. It was a pretty profound experience, you know, we had just had our first week and first couple of previews and we were just coming back in from a day off and so a bunch of the cast weren’t able to make it. They were still stuck in New York and couldn’t make it out to Princeton, New Jersey. So we canceled that Tuesday performance, but when we came back on Wednesday, there was something in the energy because the show Romeo and Juliet is really about these two families and this like senseless hate between these two families that doesn’t make sense and creates agony everywhere. Right? And so there was something about having just witnessed this like senseless hate that made the audience gasp and breathe in a different way and mourn in a different new way right along with us while we were on stage. It was a pretty epic moment of connection from between audience and performers. Hmm. That’s mainly the thing I was thinking about. It was such a bummer when we didn’t get to go to Broadway, but we were so caught up in the profundity of the fact that we were doing this play at this moment when this thing happened and that we were able to offer something to this audience in the midst of the grief.
Allen Wolf: Amazing. Well if you back up before that time, because you said that was the event that launched you, what were the events that happened before that, that made you think, oh this might be something that could be a career or something I’m really passionate about that you wanted to pursue that you have talent at?
Sarah Drew: I mean, honestly, I don’t remember a time when this isn’t what I wanted to do with my life. My earliest memories are writing songs and performing them on a few tables and forcing my parents to buy tickets to my shows in the living room. It was so clear and even my parents would describe it as a moment when I was graduating from kindergarten when we had a little performance and I just got up on stage and it was like I had always been meant to be there and then my whole childhood I was doing community theater and school plays. Any opportunity I had to dive, in I did.
Allen Wolf: Hmm. Was there a point later when things lined up and you thought, oh, this could legitimately be what I do for a living. You know what I mean? Like the first time you thought, Ah, this is real.
Sarah Drew: I think it was that that production of Romeo and Juliet. I was in the middle of a drama major at the University of Virginia and I was getting a lot of encouragement, being cast a lot and all of those things but it’s such a competitive industry that there’s no way for me to know whether I could actually do this for a living. So it was really leaping into this thing, getting cast in that role where I was like, oh, I actually might have a chance to live my dream, you know, and it’s interesting because it’s such a crazy business and it’s so hard to keep your feet on the ground and then there are moments when you feel like you’re screaming into a black hole and nobody wants to hire you at all.
And that happens even now. That happens after 20 years in the industry. It’s such a fickle business, so I really keep trying to ground myself in the truth that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in this moment at present right now.
Allen Wolf: Yeah. Great. Well moving forward from that experience, can you tell me about when you first moved out to Los Angeles and just what that transition was like?
Sarah Drew: Well, it’s interesting because I got married a month after graduating from college and then my husband Peter and I were in New Haven Connecticut for the first two years of my acting career. I was commuting in and out of New York on the train and he had applied to PHD programs and got into the one at UCLA. And we were in between, we were homeless in that moment. We had left our apartment in New Haven. We were going to have graduate student housing at UCLA, but we had like a billion weddings to go to that summer on the coast. So we were literally living out of our car and couch hopping for three months when I got cast for my first series regular gig which shot in Utah so we moved across country. Peter deposited me halfway across Utah at an apartment and then continued on to California and then he commuted for three years while I did that show we bought a house in Utah and he flew out to LA every Tuesday and then back every Thursday.
So that was my first taste of Hollywood but was sort of a soft intro because I wasn’t in Hollywood. I was very secluded and protected in this mountain town with these awesome actors, and we always had dinner together and stuff. And then when that show ended fully moving to New York that was a shift. It was mostly a shift for our marriage because we had never lived and worked in the same town. And we’d already been we’d been together for five years at that point.
Allen Wolf: Wow, that’s amazing. And you said things shifted after that show ended and what was the name of that show?
Sarah Drew: It’s called Everwood.
Allen Wolf: Okay, and after that show ended that’s when you move to Los Angeles.
Sarah Drew: Yeah. We bought a house in LA at that point and I was just in the audition circus running around, going from thing to thing to thing. I was guest-starring all over the place until I landed Grey’s Anatomy.
Allen Wolf: Tell us about the day that you found out that you were given the offer and you realized that you’re going to be a series regular on that show. What was that?
Sarah Drew: That was wild because I was brought onto the show just to do two episodes and I was told from the beginning I would only be doing two episodes. I didn’t actually audition for that. Shonda Rhimes offered that to me because I had just done a pilot for her the season before that hadn’t gotten picked up. She’s like, come over and play with us for two episodes. I knew from the get-go my character was getting fired after the second episode. And so I treated it like I do all my guest stars, full heart, full commitment, but not attaching myself because I know I’m leaving and after my second episode I went off. I did a couple of episodes on Mad Men and I did some on Glee. I did a Supernatural. I did a whole bunch of on-offs.
Allen Wolf: On Madmen is when you played Kitty.
Sarah Drew: Yeah and then on the morning after my firing episode aired, I got a call from my agent saying they want to bring you back and this might become a series regular. Hmm and I was like, okay, and then it was that entire rest of that season. I was basically auditioning for the entire season because I was not given a pick-up until the summer after that season, about a month before we started shooting season 7.
Allen Wolf: And for those of you who don’t know. What does it mean that you weren’t given a pickup?
Sarah Drew: So that means that basically, I was on a track to maybe become a series regular so every three episodes I’d get a little pay bump, and then another little pay bump, but I would be scouring every script to see how much do they write for me? Are they going to give me something to do so I can show them what I can do? Every episode was, how can I how can I make myself invaluable to this community and we wrapped season 6 in April and I was not told that I had a series regular job on the show until June and then we started shooting the next season in July. So I had three months while everybody’s on hiatus which is the time you take when you’re on a TV series between seasons to just go, I hope they like me. There’s a lot of just hanging on and having to surrender because you can’t control anything in this business.
Allen Wolf: Now did you then also go back to Mad Men as well for more episodes?
Sarah Drew: I feel like I had done some before my episodes on Greys and then I went back and did a couple more. And then that was it. It was over before my Greys got picked up,
Allen Wolf: I’m a huge Mad Men fan. I’m sure others are watching too. Can you talk a little bit about your experience working on that show?
Sarah Drew: Oh my gosh. That was so amazing. I still don’t understand why they didn’t expand that relationship. It was so fascinating. My last episode on the show was me realizing that my husband was gay and being like what am I doing here?d
Allen Wolf: The camera was a slow-motion push into your face, and you were saying everything with your face.
Sarah Drew: Well, yes, in silence, it was like my whole life was not what I thought it was.
Allen Wolf: And then end of character.
Sarah Drew: End of character. I know. There was nothing else after that which was so crazy. I thought this could be so rich and so juicy things in like, what does she do? Does she leave? Does she stay? Does she make the best of it?
Allen Wolf: Did you work out any of that in your head or did you just kind of leave it and think… okay.
Sarah Drew: You mean when playing it?
Allen Wolf: Yeah, did you think about what she might do in the future or anything like that?
Sarah Drew: You always do that. Whenever you’re on a guest spot you’re like, you could bring me back. I could be recurring because of this connection to this character and I could always come back. I mean we actors are always trying to find ways and our imagination to do more than is offered to us. I’m sure that was there. But at the same time when you’re there shooting on the day, you just remain totally present and in that exact moment. It doesn’t help to get ahead of yourself while you’re actually shooting the scenes.
Allen Wolf: Yeah, and that scene that we talked about when the camera is pushing in on you and you’re having the realization. To me, that really Illustrated how good you are at bringing the inner life of your character to life. As an audience member, that we’re able to really experience your conflict and turmoil and just what’s going on inside of you. So, can you talk a little bit about what it’s like for you building up the inner life for your characters?
Sarah Drew: You know, I think for me it starts with empathy, right? So empathy for the person I’m playing. I’m able to enter into the shoes of a villain by getting to the reason “why”: that I can justify, so that I can unconditionally love the character and the choices the characters are making. Because people don’t do things in life unless they have a reason, you know. You just don’t do things and the reason could be super twisted from my perspective, but I have to untwist it in my head in order to approach it without judgment. So that’s really the place that I start and then I do a whole thing if I have like a big arc on an episode or a movie where I write out just where I am, because we shoot totally out of order, so I like to keep track of what happened just before and what’s coming up next. And just keep a quick cheat sheet that I can always look inside of that. It’s like, where am I in relation to this character? And what has happened? And how do I feel about this person? And what am I trying to do in the scene?
That’s my preparation where I really hash the scene out in my head. This is the direction, this is what how this is how I want to play that scene out in my head. And then you show up on set and some that stuff may totally go out the window because at that point, after you’ve done your preparation, once you’re there on set looking at your acting partner, you just need to listen. And that’s what needs to happen. You just need to be reacting to the things that they’re offering you and then giving them something as well. So it’s many different facets, but it always begins with unconditional love.
Allen Wolf: Yeah, that’s amazing. Have you found that in your life because you have that view toward characters that that helps you to even connect to people more?
Sarah Drew: Yeah. If I wasn’t an actor, I’d probably be a therapist. Because I’m fascinated by what motivates people and where they come from and trying to understand their perspective. That’s what I love the most about human interaction. So, yeah, being in the practice of unconditional loving every character that I have to play allows me to then offer unconditional love and empathy, not always, I mean I certainly fail at that many times, but that you know, it definitely helps in that regard.
Allen Wolf: You’ve played many different roles. What are your favorites that you have really connected to?
Sarah Drew: I will say that Romeo and Juliet, I don’t know that anything will ever top that experience, and I think that has something to do with the moment in life that I was in. My husband proposed to me after the opening night of that show. I was finishing College. I was a baby in so many ways. I just recently found my journal that I kept during the show because my professors at UVA allowed me to do it as an independent study. Three credits for it just as long as I kept a journal. I journaled every day about that experience and I learned so much, my artist brain was exploding and flying on all cylinders and shifting and changing and growing and I’ve never had an experience like that since. I’ve had a lot of great experiences, but not like that.
Allen Wolf: You’ve worked on some really some shows that have an important place in our pop culture, shows that a lot of people are watching and talking about. Can you talk about a favorite memory when you were working on Glee?
Sarah Drew: That whole thing was so much fun because she was such a wackadoo character and I loved the weirdness of her wardrobe and the creepiness of her obsession. And getting into the mind of someone you like who fully committed to this crush in an epic way. I loved every piece of it and the other thing that was kind of fun about it is that I did that show in the first season before it even aired. So none of those kids were the Beatles yet. They were not famous yet. It was about a group of fun kids who were just so psyched to get to do this thing and it was episode 9. I think I did episode 9 of the show and they were so wide open and delighted and grateful and excited. And so the energy on set was just so wonderful. It was great.
Allen Wolf: And what about Everwood? Is there a favorite experience that you can think of from your time on Everwood?
Sarah Drew: I think the most special aspect about being on that show was how close I was able to get with the cast because it was this little transplanted group of actors living in the mountains together, you know, so we didn’t have the craziness of the industry and all of that stuff clouding anything for us. We were just there, having fun and being together and I learned how to ski while I was there. My God, it was just so beautiful. I do remember one scene in particular. I had to shoot a scene where I got food poisoning and we were shooting. It was 10 below. It was freezing cold, but I had to strip all of my clothes off because I was getting hives and getting overheated. So that was an interesting thing to try to lay in the freezing snow.
Allen Wolf: Well, if you could go back and give advice to yourself at any point in your career, what time period would you go back to and what would you say to yourself?
Sarah Drew: So funny because my therapist just asked me to write myself from my 30-something-year-old self and to write my 20-year-old self. And then from my 20-year-old self, write my current self a letter. So I’ve just done this exercise and what was interesting is I just did it after reading this Journal that I had kept when I was 20 and when all these things were happening and there was one very specific moment that jumped out at me in reading the journal. I had a group of 24 students from UVA take a road trip to come see me in Romeo and Juliet and Princeton and they sat in the balcony and they did the UVA chant from the balcony when we came out for curtain call.
And when I came out to see them afterward, after they had taken this epic drive to come to see me and find places to stay and whatever, they gave me this card and I described it in my journals like the card is full of, we love you, we miss you. Not, you’re so amazing, I can’t believe how phenomenal you are. It was, we love you, we miss you, we love you and we miss you and I’m writing at my little 20-year-old self is writing in this journal like this. This is what I want to hang onto.
I don’t want to get swept away by trying to impress people or by getting the next gig so that I can be successful. I want to stay focused on loving people and being loved and that needs to be the core always. That needs to be the driving force any time I do a project. How do I love these characters? How do I love the audience through the telling of this story? So my letter to my 20-year-old self would be, keep that fire alive, return to that truth and that ultimate vision and drive even if it has to become a practice but you must return to it. Otherwise, this industry will eat you alive and you will never feel like you’re enough.
Allen Wolf: That’s great. Well, this interview is sponsored by Navigating Hollywood which equips and empowers entertainment professionals to live relationally and holistic lives. They offer pre-marriage courses, marriage courses, and the Alpha Hollywood course, which is where people in entertainment can explore life faith, and meaning. It’s an open and formal and honest space where you can explore some of life’s biggest questions. All backgrounds are represented, all questions are welcomed. Alpha is for entertainment professionals hosted by entertainment professionals. If you work in media, you can check out what Navigating Hollywood has to offer at NavigatingHollywood.org. That’s NavigatingHollywood.org. Now, Sarah, I just talked about life’s big questions and faith. Would you describe yourself as a person of faith?
Sarah Drew: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. My faith is the grounding force in my life. I think I think it would be a lot harder if in this industry if I did not have my faith to hold onto that’s for sure.
Allen Wolf: But how has that impacted decisions that you’ve made? I mean, what does that look like, especially just working as an actress in this industry.
Sarah Drew: It’s given me a sense of peace. And in the midst of the crazy ups and downs of what this industry is like, you know, I’ve turned down jobs. I’ve turned down roles or I’ve turned down auditions because I’m like, no. I’m not sure that there’s anything that I want to put out into the world that I think isn’t going to ultimately benefit an audience, in any way that’s positive or that’s hard expanding or makes people laugh or cry or think in a new way, right? So I think for me choosing roles and choosing projects is mixed up with my value system that’s grounded in my faith. Knowing that I can say no and that I know for sure that I’m being held by something greater than myself. It allows me to not kind of go down the desperation train which is so easy to do. I mean, especially now with social media. We are not meant to have the kind of feedback that we get on social media. We’re meant to get feedback from a small community of humans that we’re in a relationship with. We are not meant to hear four hundred thousand people’s opinions of what you look like or how angry they are at you or whether they hate you or love you.
It’s overload. So for me, grounding myself in my faith, ultimately as a child of God, in my identity as a child of God first, and then a wife, and mother, and then a friend before I even get to the actress piece, allows me to receive that feedback, but not let it hit. It’s a daily struggle. It’s not like, oh I have X amount of faith so therefore I’m not going to be affected when someone screams at me on Twitter or tells me I’m the most hideous thing they’ve ever seen, or whatever it is. I’m human, obviously, but I do think that knowing that I have that foundation and rock to keep returning to when the waves are slapping me around and the wind is slapping me around and knowing that my identity is beyond my success in this industry, it’s the only way I could survive from my perspective. It’s the only way I could survive this industry. That’s for sure.
Allen Wolf: Well, I find it interesting that you said that you show your characters unconditional love and it sounds like you live in that unconditional love yourself. And then your life exists in that space that you then use to help your own characters come alive and connect with them.
Sarah Drew: If I were to look at it the way that I look at my children. I have this undying unconditional love for them. They don’t have to perform in any way, or be successful in any way, for me to love them. Because we have so much feedback as actors and celebrities in this industry, you could very easily start to go, okay, you liked me but you didn’t and then you liked me and so am I actually lovable? I don’t know because I’m getting mixed messages and it’s overwhelming. But because of this parental – which I how, I would describe the love of God – this unconditional parental love, I can lock back into that and it doesn’t matter what all of those people say. It doesn’t matter if I get that job or not. I am loved. Period. End of story. Just because I am and just because I was made. I was beautifully and wonderfully made. And I can understand that because I’m doing that with my kids. I see that, you know. But the love that I feel is even bigger. You know, so it is a very comforting thing for sure.
Allen Wolf: I just want to let that soak in because it’s something that I think we all need to remind ourselves. As you’ve been living through your life and your career are there times where you thought oh, that was God, from something that happened or some experience.
Sarah Drew: Oh, yeah, I remember this one time, early in my career. I had been unemployed for nine months. I finally got a job. I got an offer to do a play that I had felt from the beginning that I shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t think this does that thing that I described before, which is to offer something positive to the audience. And I was sure about that but I was in the middle and we were cash-poor and, you know, my husband was in graduate school. I had not worked in nine months I had barely started my career. We did not have money and I turned it down because I just knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. It was literally two days later, I booked my first guest spot on a television show, which was this hilarious show called Wonderfalls. That only went for a couple of episodes because my first guest spot was playing a very weird character, but it was delightful and fun, and because I was working so much overtime on that episode, I made enough money to get SAG insurance and that last check came in on December 31st.
I was able to be insured for the entire next year and had a cushion of money. And the thing that I turned down was a play that would have made a fraction of that. So the provision that came from going, I gotta listen to my gut here because I don’t think I should do this. I have a lot of stories like that. I have felt God’s presence beside me, in front of me, behind me, around me, every step of the way.
Allen Wolf: That’s amazing. That’s great. As you look back on your career, is there something that you think, I would put that at the top of one of the most valuable things. I’ve learned as an actor.
Sarah Drew: Yeah, okay. It was actually my first movie, my first time on set. I was playing Ed Harris’ daughter in a movie called Radio, and I had this crying scene that I had to do. I came from theater and had never stepped foot on a film set. And what I do in my process is, I show up to every rehearsal as if the audience is already sitting. If we’re going to rehearse it and figure out what the scene is, I’m going to give it my all. So I came to the rehearsal for this scene, fully giving it my all.
There was another actor on set that came up to me was like, honey, you know, you really need to learn how to pull it back and only give it when the camera’s on you because otherwise, you’re going to use up all your emotion when the camera’s not even on you and then you won’t look as good. And I was like, huh, okay…
And then Ed comes up to me and he goes that’s bull—-. He goes, I do my best work off-camera. And if you are not giving your acting partner a hundred and ten percent, you are not doing your job. This is what we do, we show up, and that’s what you’re doing and you have to continue to do that.
And I was like, Ed Harris, I will listen to you and that’s one of the best pieces of advice. It was the beginning of my career. So I always show up for my acting partner whether the camera is on me or not. Doesn’t matter. We’re all in this together. It’s not about me and getting the perfect shot. It’s about telling a story well, and when I can help the other person shine even more by being generous with them, then the whole thing is better. The storytelling is better as a whole and that’s it.
Allen Wolf: Wow, that is a great lesson. I remember when I was studying film at New York University, Jonathan Demme came in and spoke and he said, that to the point you just made, that he would always mic his actors when they’re off camera and make sure that they brought their performance every time because in his experience that then gave the other actor something to work with and brought up their performance.
Sarah Drew: I’ve had moments where I’m crying my eyes out and the person across from me is wearing their pajamas, hasn’t even bothered to put their wardrobe on. Or is reading off of their sides because they can’t be bothered to learn their sides when they show up. I will never do that. That’s not a thing I will ever do. I will not leave my partner out to dry because it affects my performance. I know what it is like on the receiving end of it. So I also know what it feels like when your acting partner is extremely generous You get to shine. You get to look better than you did before. So, come on guys.
Allen Wolf: Raise the bar. Raise the bar.
Sarah Drew: Yeah. I get fired up. I’ve gotten to lead a couple of pilots in the last couple of years and I just set the tone by showing up without sides in my hand without my script. so everybody did. So we’re all like, we know it. We’re showing up to work ready to give it our all.
Allen Wolf: That makes a huge difference. It really does set the bar where it needs to be.
Sarah Drew: That’s the greatest gift you can give to your crew is to show up prepared so that they can get home to their families because they’re working longer hours than you are every single day.
Allen Wolf: Yeah, absolutely. Now as you look back on your career, was there a particular role that you thought was the most challenging?
Sarah Drew: I’ve had challenging aspects. Well, I’ll tell you about two really challenging moments in Grey’s Anatomy. There was one moment where we had to span an entire year in one episode and my character during that year had gone off to the front lines to be a medic in the middle of the war. And then after, she had just lost her baby and then she returned home a different person.
I had no time to create this new character after having played this character, this person, that I was familiar with for eight years. And all of a sudden in the script, she’s completely different. I remember I talked to people about PTSD. I talked to experts who had been there. I would put images in my head of dead bodies, and I would calm my emotions down so that I was just delivering words, instead of feeling things, which is what my character used to be. But I remember showing up on that first day shooting as this new person and I broke down in tears three times, thinking I don’t know who I am. I am a completely different human and I don’t know how to create this human for you in absolutely no time. But it ended up working.
I had a great director during that time and it was great. Then the other really challenging moment that I had was when my character lost a baby and I was actually pregnant with my daughter Hannah while I was playing that storyline. I had to shoot this scene when I was 8 months pregnant where I have an induced termination because my baby has a terminal illness and is in pain in utero. And I make this horrifying decision to terminate when my character is pro-life. It’s agonizing, right? And I’m doing this while I’m really pregnant with my daughter and I had a play this scene where I deliver the baby, hold the baby, the baby squeezes my finger, we baptize the baby, and then the baby dies. It took 10 hours to shoot this whole sequence and I went into premature labor the next day. Six hours later. And my baby was born a month early and she was in the NICU for two weeks. So that was challenging.
Allen Wolf: Oh my gosh.
Sarah Drew: That was agonizing. Yes. I did not know that I was doing that to myself when I agreed to play the storyline.
Allen Wolf: And how did you work through that?
Sarah Drew: Xanax. I had postpartum and I had to get some medication for it and it was really challenging. I felt guilty that I had done this to my child. A lot of prayer. I wasn’t really able to pray, but I had a lot of people praying for me in that moment. One of my friends was like, you know, we always think that it’s our job to take care of the baby that’s inside of us, but if we exist outside of time and that baby always has been in the same way. Then maybe that baby was taking care of you and helping you through it too. That was something really profound, to feel connected to her. Any way that I could get out of just the sheer anxiety of having made this choice that resulted in this situation.
Allen Wolf: So you felt like your performance in that moment led to your baby being born prematurely?
Sarah Drew: Absolutely. There’s no question.
Allen Wolf: Really?
Sarah Drew: My body was triggered because my character was in labor and then I was traumatized. So my character was experiencing trauma and your body chemistry doesn’t know the difference. When you’re in a scene and you’re like fighting for your life or you’re being traumatized or brutalized or you’re screaming and running from a tiger or a killer or whatever. All of those chemicals are being released in your body when you are fully imaginatively there. And then the acting partner and whatever is coming at you. All of the stuff in your body happens for real. Your body doesn’t know that this is an imaginary thing. It just does what it’s trying to do right by the body.
Allen Wolf: Right.
Sarah Drew: My body went into this trauma reaction and I went into labor.
Allen Wolf: Did you recognize that immediately like when that happened or was it later that you’d looked back and realized that.
Sarah Drew: I pretty much realized it.
Allen Wolf: Wow.
Sarah Drew: We didn’t even have a room for the baby yet. We weren’t ready. I went through a lot of labor just sitting at my desk doing Taxes, and I like kept getting up and then I went in there like you’re having this baby right now. I’m like that’s not, we can’t and it was really when she was taken away from me after 5 minutes and I didn’t get to see her again for hours. And then she was transferred to the NICU and then I had to wait more hours to see her.
That’s when it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh, what I did at work made this happen.
Allen Wolf: Wow.
Sarah Drew: Yeah, and in the end, to be fair, the writers gave me an out because I got pregnant after this storyline was planned. And I’d actually pitched this storyline before I was pregnant and because it had happened to friends of my parents. My character’s husband was an atheist and my character was a Christian on the show. And I was like, this could be a really juicy storyline of how do they navigate this thing? What do they decide to do? And then how does it affect their relationship? And there were so many things, and so I was like, well, I’m invested in the storyline that I pitched. I’m sure I’ll be fine.
Allen Wolf: Right.
Sarah Drew: I didn’t know. So yeah, it was intense. When my character went through a divorce, my husband, after weeks of filming agonizing episodes of misery and marriage falling apart, I would come home and I’d be in this dark cloud of sadness about it. After a couple of weeks of witnessing me not being able to shed what was happening on screen, he took my face in his hands and says, we are still married. We are okay. Your children love you. Everything is fine. He’s like, can I just talk to my wife? I’d really rather not talk to April tonight. You’ve had imaginary drama all day. But if you just release it, so I could talk to you, that would be great.
Allen Wolf: Wow. Yeah, It’s amazing hearing the deep process that you go through and how you have to be good about having boundaries and creating boundaries for that not to impact your real life.
Sarah Drew: That’s a challenge. That’s a real challenge.
Allen Wolf: You are very good at your craft. And so because you’re so good at drawing up those emotions and getting to that deep place, I can see how on the other side that creates other challenges.
Sarah Drew: The weird thing is that, when I’m in the scene playing those epic feelings, I love it. It’s like a drug to me because I’m a four on the Enneagram. I don’t know if any of you all know the Enneagram is, but our currency is emotion. We love feeling very big things and our downfall is that then we wrap ourselves up in the blanket of those emotions and forget to remember what subjective. We just get caught up in the subjective emotional. Well, because I feel it, it must be true, you know. What I have to keep coming back to is the straight edge of objectivity and truth, which is what my husband was doing for me on that day. It’s like, let’s go to truth. This is truth. Remember, I know you feel so many things right now, but that is not real. This is real.
Allen Wolf: Right. That’s an everyday challenge for all of us. All of our emotions want to tell us what is true or not true but is there a deeper truth beneath that, that actually should be informing what we’re doing, saying, you know.
Sarah Drew: Yeah. And sometimes the subjective stuff is so much louder than the objective, big T truth. So you have to practice returning to it. It’s not a thing that you just easily go to. And especially for a four who feels things. Sometimes I find, especially in my spiritual relationship, my relationship with God. I’m like, well if I’m not feeling something epic with God, that must mean that isn’t the truth.
But for me, the healthiest place I can be in is to return to that even if I don’t feel it and to practice returning to it daily. Daily through prayer, through meditation, through yoga, through scripture, through friends, you know, having conversations, like all that stuff. If I don’t practice, I get lost. You have to surround yourself with truth-tellers. You have to have a community of people in your life that you trust, that know you, truly know you for who you are, that you will continually go back to listen to, so that when all the stuff spins and goes crazy in your brain, you can remember, you can go back and hear the truth. For me, the greatest challenge is the identity issue. This career messes with your identity in a really, really big way. So any way that you can stay grounded, and for me that’s been having truth-tellers in my life.
Allen Wolf: Now, what about balancing being a parent and acting? What advice do you have? What does that look like?
Sarah Drew: It’s different all the time. I mean the funny thing is that they’ll say, women can have it all, and they can, but you will always feel like you’re slacking on something. Right? So the best thing you can do is cut yourself some slack and give yourself a break. So just lay that out there at first. Don’t try to be a hundred percent of everything to everyone all at once. Not possible. I’ve had seasons where I’ve been very, very busy and then seasons where I’ve had absolutely just been at home and I really want to get to work.
So it’s really about taking advantage of the times that you do have at home. But also giving yourself the peace and the breaks that you need to really feed yourself again, and to not feel guilty about self-care because you have to have self-care, along with work, along with raising your kids, you have to do all of those things or you’ll burn out.
What is success? Is success winning an Emmy? No. Is Success being a star of a television show? No. Actually, success is being seen, known, and loved and getting to offer that to other humans.
It’s a practice, a daily practice to return back to the truth of your belovedness. And I think one really, really good way to do that, when you’re feeling discouraged, is aggressive gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal and even if you don’t feel happy or thankful about anything, just start writing down things you’re thankful for. Just start writing them down and make a practice of it and you will start to see there are so many blessings in your life. There are so many ways that you are beloved and valuable and worthy as you start writing those things down. Whatever the industry gives you or doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. It rolls off. It’s not important. It’s not important because it’s a part of who you are, but it’s not actually the depth of who you are. So there you go.
Allen Wolf: Brilliant. I love it. Thank you. This podcast was sponsored by Navigating Hollywood which provides tools for media professionals to lead emotionally and spiritually healthy lives. You can check out the courses for pre-marriage, marriage, and Alpha, and more at the website: NavigatingHollywood.org. Be sure to check that out. Thank you so much to Sarah. Thank you for sharing about your career, for being vulnerable for what you’ve gone through in your life, and I loved hearing about your spiritual journey as well. For all of you listening, I look forward to connecting with you on the next podcast for Navigating Hollywood.