Joely Richardson, <EM>Nip/Tuck</EM> Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck

In a show filled with shockers, the biggest one is not the departure of Joely Richardson's character on FX's Nip/Tuck — it's the departure of Richardson herself. "What the future holds nobody can say," Richardson tells TV Guide, sitting in her trailer next to a vase of roses, a farewell gift from the cast. "It's all up in the air. And I don't know if I will ever be here again."

The English actress, who plays Julia McNamara, has kept quiet until now about the family crisis that led to her decision to leave the series. Her only child is facing multiple surgeries on her leg due to a circulation problem with her veins. Daisy, 15, was diagnosed with the rare condition shortly after her first birthday.

"Surgeons and hospitals have been a big part of our lives," explains Richardson, 40, who is divorced from Daisy's father, producer Tim Bevan (Notting Hill). "We were always told that she would have to have more surgeries when she got older. The time has come."

Richardson, who mostly lives stateside while sharing custody with her ex back in London (where Daisy goes to school), found herself facing every single mom's nightmare. "I love my work," she says. "But I had to be in two places at once. And I thought, ‘If it were all over tomorrow, what would I regret?' It would be not being there for her."

Richardson first called Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy back in January to alert him to the problem. "It had to be done, but it was scary," she recalls. "You think, ‘Oh my god, are they going to sue me?'"

Instead, Murphy planned the season around her dilemma. "I was sad, but Joely came before her character," Murphy says. "The dynamic of the show changed with the difficulty of what she was going through [personally], plus what she is going through on the show this season — playing the mother of a deformed baby. And Joely knocked it out of the park. This is the best she has ever been."

In Richardson's last episode, which airs Tuesday, Nov. 14 (at 10 pm/ET), fans will be able to see the Nip/Tuck characters 20 years into the future. ("Aged," the actress looks a lot like her mother, Vanessa Redgrave.) "It explains where Julia has gone," Richardson says. "Dylan [Walsh] and I cried when we read the script."

Is Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy keeping the door open for Julia's possible return? Pick up the Nov. 13 TV Guide for more on Richardson's farewell.

See Tuesday's Interviews & Features for much more on Nip/Tuck's time-tripping Nov. 14 episode.

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