'Grey's Anatomy': Sarah Drew Had 'Nightmares and Panic Attacks' When Filming This Episode

Sarah Drew played Dr. April Kempner on Grey’s Anatomy for nine seasons. First appearing on the show in 2009 and then leaving the medical drama in 2018, Drew has plenty of memories from the popular ABC show. One episode in particular stood out when recalling her tenure at Grey Sloan Memorial.

Season 6, Episode 23 of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: ‘Sanctuary’

In season 6, the episode entitled “Sanctuary” featured a gunman named Gary Clark (Michael O’Neill) who seeks revenge on the doctors of then-Seattle Grace Mercy West after his wife dies under the care of Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.), and Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh). One of Clark’s first victims is April’s good friend Reed Adamson (Nora Zehetner), whom he shoots in a supply closet.

“I just remember lying in blood for a really long time,” Zehetner said of the scene, according to Lynette Rice’s book, “How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy”. “Being on the other side of it just felt like, you know, I’m going to lay in blood today… I didn’t take the heaviness home with me.”

While Zehetner hasn’t personally seen the episode, her mother unfortunately has.

“I’ve actually never watched that scene,” the Grey’s Anatomy alum remarked. “I told my mom not to watch it and then she did and she found it upsetting.”

‘Sanctuary’ in season 6 shook up Sarah Drew

April discovers Reed’s body when she walks into the supply closet and stumbles on the floor right into a pool of blood. She later witnesses Derek being shot by the gunman. Drew vividly recalled filming the episode, and revealed that it took her awhile to shake the traumatic content.

“Putting yourself into that kind of panic mode does something to your body, because your body doesn’t know that this is not happening,” the Cruel Summer star explained. “I had nightmares and panic attacks while we were shooting that, even for several days after we finished.”

The Grey’s Anatomy alum shared how as an actor, it can be challenging to separate your character’s experiences from real life.

“It was very intense and scary and hard to go to those places,” Drew said. “And then leave them at the door and then come home and be like, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, nobody’s trying to kill me, I didn’t just watch my best friend die, I didn’t just get covered in her blood.’”

Michael O’Neill had to be talked into the role on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

O’Neill, who was known for his role as Special Agent Ron Butterfield on The West Wing, was very hesitant about playing the Gary Clark despite the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy. Show creator Shonda Rhimes had to nudge him into taking on the role.

“It was literally the only time I’ve ever had an executive producer call me at home,” O’Neill said. “Shonda called me to talk about it. I said, ‘I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I have it in me.’”

After consulting with his wife, O’Neill accepted the part. He praised Rhimes for how she crafted such an intense storyline.

“I talked to my wife, Mary, who said I could do it,” he recalled. “So I called Shonda back and said, ‘I just have to tell you, this frightens me.’ And she said, ‘Michael, it frightens me too.’ I said that my great fear was that I didn’t want it to be sensationalized in a way that we deal with a copycat or any of that. … Shonda’s a brilliant writer. One of the things she did with that character is to allow me to try and maintain humanity even in the insanity of it.”

Season 18 of Grey’s Anatomy premieres on ABC on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 9 p.m. EST.

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