INTERVIEW: Sarah Drew on Her New Hallmark Movie ‘Christmas in Vienna,’ How She Got Her Start, Fan Moments, and Challenging Storylines

Sarah Drew is helping Hallmark bring joy to audiences this holiday season with her new film Christmas in Vienna.

Drew’s new Christmas movie premieres on the Hallmark Channel on November 14 at 8 PM / 7 PM C. The film follows Jess (Drew), a concert violinist whose heart just isn’t in it anymore, traveling to Vienna for a performance. While there, she finds the inspiration she has been missing and a new love interest.

The actress is best known for her role as Dr. April Kepner in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. She joined the series in 2009 and left in 2018. In 2014, she starred in Moms’ Night Out as Allyson.

Drew is no stranger when it comes to Christmas movies. She shined in her roles in both Christmas Pen Pals and Twinkle All the Way. Sarah also just joined the cast of Freeform’s upcoming series Cruel Summer. Read our exclusive interview below to hear more about what led the actress to Christmas in Vienna, why this film was such a special experience for her, what she looks for in a script or role, the best advice she’s received, and what’s next for her in Hollywood.

GLITTER: What was the first moment you realized you wanted to make acting your career?
SARAH: It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. My earliest memories involve acting in school plays or community theater. I think I realized it was possible for me to do this for a career when I booked my first professional show Romeo and Juliet at the McCarter theater when I was 20. 

GLITTER: What inspired that decision? Was there someone who was particularly supportive of it that really helped you decide?
SARAH: My parents have always been really supportive, and I had wonderful teachers along the way in high school and certainly in college as well. I had a lot of support.

GLITTER: Your new Hallmark movie, Christmas in Vienna, comes out in November. What drew you to the film, and what can you tell us about it?
SARAH: Well, I saw that I’d be shooting in Vienna and I was just hoping that I’d love the script… and I did! I got chills multiple times while reading it. There’s honesty and vulnerability as well as a Sound of Music vibe to the whole film that really caught my attention. I also grew up listening to classical music, so the idea of playing a concert violinist was a really appealing idea to me. In the story, my character Jess is struggling to find the joy in playing the violin, which has been her main focus her whole life. When we meet her, she is considering quitting altogether. I’ve never considered quitting acting, but I certainly relate to this struggle. There are so many beautiful open and honest conversations in the film while we are strolling down the stunning streets of Vienna, and I just thought I’d be crazy to pass on this opportunity. 

GLITTER: On Instagram, you called it an “extremely special experience” for you. What made filming this movie, in particular, a memorable experience?
SARAH: My husband got to come with me, and his grandfather was from Vienna. His grandfather, who was Jewish, actually escaped and immigrated to America when Hitler occupied the country, with the help of his best friend, Otto. Well, Peter got to meet Otto’s son while we were there and ended up learning so much about their friendship that he’d never known before. Peter and I also got to hear some INCREDIBLE classical music while we were there. It was such a special experience for us both.

GLITTER: What is your favorite thing about filming a Christmas movie? Does it put you in the holiday spirit early?
SARAH: Well, in this case, I was in Vienna the week leading up to Christmas, so I was already in the holiday spirit, along with everyone else in the city. Vienna is a magical city, but it’s especially magical at Christmas time. But in general, I love Christmas movies. They are full of love and light and fun and magic. And we could all use a bit of that right now.

GLITTER: What do you love most about the holidays?
SARAH: Community gatherings, Christmas music, our traditions. I love Christmas on our block because we have some really sweet traditions with our neighbors.

GLITTER: What message do you hope this movie gives viewers?
SARAH: New beginnings are always possible.

GLITTER: You recently celebrated your birthday; how did you spend the day, and how was it receiving all of the birthday messages from fans?
SARAH: It was beautiful. My husband put together a gorgeous book full of letters and pictures from my family and from friends from every different season of my life. He also collected video messages from them, so I spent the day reading and watching these messages and just crying and crying. Then we went out to dinner at a rooftop restaurant with the kids. It was perfect. And yes- I loved reading all the messages from my fans as well. They made me Spotify playlists, and video compilations, and so many sweet notes. It was amazing.

GLITTER: On Instagram, you posted a sweet throwback photo of you and your Grey’s Anatomy co-star Jesse Williams. What was your favorite thing about filming, as you call it, “Japril the Movie?”
SARAH: It felt like we were shooting our own movie. It spanned our entire relationship, and so it was really fun to revisit our earlier years on Grey’s.  It was just a joy from start to finish. We bonded with the crew and our writer and director. It was just such a sweet experience.

GLITTER: Favorite memory of a movie release or premiere?
SARAH: Mom’s Night Out. That was insane! We were at the Chinese theater. It was a packed house and to hear everyone laughing and enjoying the movie was so incredibly special. Also, most of my castmates from Grey’s came, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for that.

GLITTER: What do you look for in a script or role? 
SARAH: I have to either really connect to the message of the movie, or I have to be really intrigued by the character.

GLITTER: The best piece of advice you received that you try to live by?
SARAH: No matter what you do, give 110%. Always show up whether the camera is on you or not. That refers to acting and also just to living in community. Ed Harris gave me that piece of advice on my first movie.

GLITTER: Has a fan encounter or interaction ever inspired you?
SARAH: I had someone stop me in the airport to tell me through tears that his sister had lost a baby and that the storyline about April losing her baby meant so much to her because it allowed her to feel seen and heard in a way nothing else had during that season. I was so moved. I had another woman tell me at a party that April’s faith storyline shifted something deep in her and allowed her to start hoping again. Whenever I hear these kinds of stories, it reminds me why I love storytelling. Giving people a place to laugh and cry and grieve and hope again is why I do what I do.

GLITTER: What advice would you give your younger self? 
SARAH: Honestly, I’d like my younger self to give my present self some advice. I recently read the journal I’d kept while I was doing Romeo and Juliet (my first professional show), and I was so struck by the purity of my 20-year-old artist self. I wasn’t obsessing over whether people liked what I was doing or whether the reviews were good, or what this meant for my future. I was completely immersed in the story I was telling and in being the best possible conduit for the gorgeous words Shakespeare had penned. My vision was clear. I was in this thing to love people and inspire people, and I was too young and inexperienced to have any of the other stuff that comes with this business cloud that vision in any way. Sometimes I need to go back to that journal just to remind myself of why I do this thing.

GLITTER: Was there a particular scene or storyline that was really challenging for you, but you ended up loving the result?
SARAH: When April lost her baby. It was challenging because I was actually eight months pregnant at the time, and after shooting the labor, delivery, and death scene, I went home and went into premature labor. Hannah came a month early and was in the NICU for two weeks. That was such a challenging storyline given the fact that Hannah was growing inside of me the whole time, but I will say that the story has provided great comfort to so many people who’ve gone through something similar, so I love it for that reason. (And for the reason that Hannah is the healthiest kid I’ve ever seen and came out of those two weeks like a total rockstar)

GLITTER: Is there a part of the entertainment industry that you’d like to try more going forward?
SARAH: I’d love to produce and direct and write more. I’ve done all three, but I’d like to do more. 

GLITTER: First place you want to travel to when everything is safe again?
SARAH: Mexico. We were supposed to take a family trip there, and I’d like to do that with my family.

GLITTER: You let your followers on Instagram know that you voted; what message do you want to give people about the importance of voting?
SARAH: Vote like your life depends on it. 42% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the last presidential election. And we are where we are because of it. It’s our right, and we should exercise that right!

GLITTER: Glitter has a celebrity #SelfLoveCampaign. What does self-love mean to you?
SARAH: Kindness to myself. I’m extremely hard on myself. I often default to “I’m sure I’ve done something wrong here.” I’m learning that my default state doesn’t serve me well or serve anyone else well. I’m trying to offer to myself the kind of compassion and kindness that I offer to other people. Sometimes that means silencing the voice that creeps in and tries to tell me I’m failing and replacing it with affirmation and gratitude.

GLITTER: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?
SARAH: I’m about to start shooting a series for Freeform called Cruel Summer. I’m super excited to be working with my friend and showrunner Tia Napolitano, who was a writer on Grey’s while I was there. It’s a fantastic project, and I’m excited to be joining the team.

GLITTER: What is the best social media platform for fans to find you on and keep up with all things Sarah?
SARAH: Instagram for sure.