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Interviews

Sarah Drew Talks Branching Out and Manifesting Opportunity as a Writer, Producer, and Director 

Sarah Drew Talks Branching Out and Manifesting Opportunity as a Writer, Producer, and Director

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Here at TV Goodness, we love a good found family story, and Saturday night on Hallmark Channel, Branching Out tells the modern family story of a single mom, Amelia Weber (Sarah Drew), who pursued IVF to have a child, and now, a decade later, her precocious, delightful daughter Ruby (Cora Bella) has questions about her origin story in the wake of a school assignment to map out her heritage on a family tree.

With a relationship built on transparency and openness, and Amelia’s emphatic reassurance that the two of them are a family unto themselves, Ruby still wants to know where she came from. With some guardrails in place about agreeing to a DNA test but Amelia taking the lead on what and when to share with her daughter, the duo soon find out that local musician T.J. Cruz (Juan Pablo di Pace) is Amelia’s birth dad.

Branching Out

Amelia then has the challenge of agreeing to open up her world, as well as Ruby’s to the idea that while they are definitely enough for each other, there’s also a wonderful group of people out there eager to claim them. And as wonderful as that is for Ruby, it’s terrifying for Amela. Until she realizes that the things she was protecting herself and her daughter from may not be so scary after all. Maclain Nelson directs a script by Joise Botkin based on a story by Melissa Bustamante. This week I caught up with Drew to chat about the film, and about extending her reach to producing, writing, and directing.

The modern take on what makes a family was immediately appealing to Drew. “We have so many different kinds of families, in all shapes and sizes. As a mom myself, I am seeing that even more so in the parents of my kids’ friends, and in all of the relationships that they’re developing, too. I just think that being able to give voice to one specific story about a single mom and her daughter is a really affirming story for all of those families out there that don’t look specifically like what culture has expected family to be,” she says.

“One of the things that I love so much about Amelia’s journey in particular is that she’s worked so hard to make her daughter know that they are a family and that they are enough. For me as a mom, I’m always feeling like I’m not enough. No matter what.”

“I think that’s sort of a universal journey that all parents have, but to get to really explore this very whole family unit of a mother and daughter and say out loud, ‘We are a family. This is enough. We don’t need anything more to be called a family.’ But then to have the expansion of just another group of people to come into the fold to also love them, as well, is just a kind of joyous journey to take.”

Branching Out

Drew loved Ruby’s optimism, and how that reframes Amelia’s perceptions about the life she’s built for them. “What’s really lovely is that Ruby hasn’t been touched by any of the trauma or abandonment that Amelia has been, so Ruby is walking into this story with a wide open heart, ready to love anybody, and to throw herself into a joyous new relationship of care,” she explains.

“Whereas Amelia has been protecting her daughter and protecting herself this whole time. So it’s really her daughter’s wide open heart that breaks down those walls for Amelia, too, and invites something bigger and broader into her life. It’s a really beautiful and tender story and one that I don’t think we’ve really seen or explored on Hallmark.”

“I am so glad we’re in that place culturally where we’re really dedicated to transparency in a pretty beautiful way. It allows people to watch this movie and say, ‘Oh, I see myself. There I am. There’s my story. I haven’t seen my story so much.’ To be able to tell it and allow people to feel seen in all the different shapes and sizes of what their families are is just a gift and a privilege.”

The film reunited Drew with Nelson, who directed 2020’s Christmas in Vienna, and she credits him and her castmates with creating a fantastic environment to tell the story, and dig a little deeper, and how the weather helped lend some gravitas to a particularly emotional discussion. “Nelson creates such a warm and fun and funny and hilarious and tender set where you just can’t wait to get there,” she shares.

Branching Out

“And Juan Pablo di Pace was just the dreamiest of all dreamiest acting partners. I’m so grateful that we’ve now met each other and we’ve gotten to do this thing together. He’s so talented and so lovely. And Kaley McCormick plays my best friend and we became instant best friends the second we met each other, which is so exciting. And then Cora Bella is just absolute pure joy running around the set, surprising everyone with how talented she is.” 

“One of my most favorite moments was the scene where JT and I meet for the first time. We’d gone down to St. George to try to get some spring weather, and we got there and it was freezing cold and raining and we were windswept and sticking heat pads all over our bodies and trying to make our teeth not chatter in every scene.”

“And it was early in the production and our first real opportunity to dig into any scene together. We shot it and we thought it was going to be be this beautiful, sunset, wonderful spring day and instead it was pouring rain and the clouds were rolling over the mountains and we were freezing. But it was like the elements sort of grounded us into a depth in our storytelling that kicked us into [the realization], ‘Oh, we’re doing something special here. This isn’t just like a surface romcom. We’re going to talk about real stuff.'”

“And the fact that we were fighting the elements and it was gray and raining, and that first moment where I’m about to open a can that I can’t close, and it’s scary and I’m terrified and I don’t really know what to do, and my daughter’s whole life is at stake and her hopes and dreams and desires … everything is at stake right now. Juan Pablo is such a great actor. I knew we were going to have so much fun playing off of each other. And then the concert scene was also just an absolute blast of a day. We had so much fun that day.”

Branching Out

Drew herself is also branching out. In addition to banking Guiding Emily last year for Hallmark, she also produced and starred in the true-crime-inspired How She Caught a Killer on Lifetime, wrote and produced Lifetime’s PG-13 holiday romcom A Cowboy Christmas Romance (as well as 2022’s Reindeer Games Homecoming) and produced and starred in the Freevee Western film Birthright Outlaw. She says it was all sparked by not wanting to wait for her next opportunity.

“A big part of the actor’s world is so out of our control. You can bang on only so many doors, but you mostly just have to wait for appointments to come your way or offers to come your way. You audition, you throw yourself into it, and then you wait and wait and wait and wait to see if anybody bites,” she explains. 

“We have these bursts of actually being on set and shooting, but then we go back to months of waiting for the next thing or working toward the next thing or whatever. You do your job and you leave for the day. They’ve asked you to do it 10 different ways, and then you have no control over how your performance turns out in the end. And you hope it works in the edit. And sometimes you don’t even see it until it’s airing.”

“And so there is all this time that I have now that my kids are in school and aren’t little and tiny anymore, every weekday. So [I asked], ‘What can I do with my time that makes me not sit here and wait for somebody else to make something happen for me? What can I do to make something happen?'”

Branching Out

“I’ve always been a creator by nature. I wrote a little musical when I was 11, I wrote a little one-act play in college, and I did some directing in high school and stuff. And I think I’ve always been drawn to leadership roles, because, number one, I care so much about the work. Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that I go over every word of every script with a fine-tooth comb.”

“And I’m always [suggesting things like], ‘Hey, what if I say it this way?’ Or I’m trying to make it make sense and then I’m motivated to think and start talking about this other thing, asking where that character’s leap is coming from. And if it’s not on the page and we can’t make it make sense, we’ve got to shift something so that it makes sense.”

“My brain is just always trying to make something the absolute best that it can be. So getting to put on the producer hat and getting to put on the writer hat lets me put my hands on the steering wheel of all of that. And that’s been incredibly life-giving. Also I just love writing dialogue. I love crafting character. I love crafting story. It’s just become a really big joy and passion of mine.”

It’s no surprise that Drew has become a Hallmark staple, as the network aesthetic and desire for feel-good content speaks to the heart of the kind of stories she wants to create a be a part of. “[It starts with] a story I want to tell. It takes on lots of different shapes. There has to be some sort of redemptive nature to it. I don’t really vibe with the stories that are a lot of gratuitous violence, or just people being in absolute misery without a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see the artistic prowess and the beautiful performances, but that’s not a place where I want to live in my brain and in my heart,” she shares.

Branching Out

“The way that I look at the world is very much through the lens of, ‘Where do I find the nugget of gold in this pile of pain? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? And how do I tell that kind of a story in a way that moves people and makes them feel less alone or less scared or less afraid or less sad, whatever it is, while being honest and truthful?’ The genre doesn’t matter to me as long as we’re hunting for the goodness in the midst of pain. That to me is what life is. And that’s my engine that drives me.”

As busy as she was in 2023, Drew isn’t slowing down, with multiple projects in the works. “I have a couple things I’m working on right now that I’m in development on and scripts I’m writing. One is a straight up romance and I love writing romance because I just love just disappearing into all of the lovey-dovey butterfly feelings. It’s really fun writing that stuff. I also like the kinds of romance that has meat on its bones and depth and real relationships and not just, ‘They look at each other a couple times and then you believe they like each other,'” she laughs.

“I’m also writing a true story about someone who had a very traumatic experience and is healing from shame in a really interesting way and journey. And then I’m developing another thing that’s all about rekindling childhood joy. It’s all in the same world of, ‘How do we bring the delight back into the world when we are feeling pain and loneliness?'”

Drew also directed the just-released radio play, “The Fever Syndrome,” now available for download via LA Theater Works. “It’s a brilliant new play that is about this family. There’s a patriarch who is one of the fathers of IVF actually, and he’s winning a big scientific award, but he’s also in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease. And his three kids come back home to help and celebrate this award,” she says.

“And it’s about all of the past traumas and resentments and things that crop to the surface when the kids are facing the reality that this might be one of their last times with their dad, and how are they going to sort through the pain and the muck and the desire to have connection and closeness when so many blockades are in the way because people have egos and insecurities and just don’t know what to say.”

“It’s a very, very rich, beautiful story that I think is ultimately motivated and driven by this family’s desire to connect in the ways that they miss each other, but then ultimately find each other. And I got to work with the most amazing cast, including my Grey’s Anatomy, co-star, Kelly McCreary, who plays one of the lead roles in it. And she’s absolutely incredible in it. It was totally exhilarating from start to finish.”

Branching Out premieres Saturday, April 27th, at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the US, where you can also stream it live on various outlets, and on W Network in Canada. Look for Drew on Twitter during the East Coast airing, when she’ll be live Tweeting with costars Di Pace and McCormack. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.

Photos courtesy of Natalie Cass and Fred Hayes for Hallmark Media; video courtesy of Hallmark Media.

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