With 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in the bag, actor and executive producer Ellen Pompeo has probably been crushing your heart with her portrayal of Meredith Grey for longer than your little ones have been alive. Plenty of fan-favorite characters have left or been dramatically killed off over the course of the soapy show’s time on ABC, which means those actors were able to pursue other projects with their free time. Not so for Pompeo, who now reveals she opted to stay at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital for the comfortable life a steady TV gig provided her.
During a recent appearance on the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast, she explained that she “made choices to stay on the show. For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career. I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart.”
Ultimately, sticking to one (wildly successful) show helped the 50-year-old establish life at home with husband Chris Ivery and their three kids. She called the career choice “a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles,” which clearly paid off — she’s now dramatic television’s highest-paid actress and calls many of the shots as one of the show’s executive producers, too.
After growing up in a tumultuous environment as a kid, Pompeo credited her savvy as a sign of “the hustler in me — I don’t like chasing anything, ever. And acting to me, in my experience, was a lot of chasing. You’ve got to chase roles, you’ve got to beg for roles, you’ve got to convince people. And although I produce and it’s the same kind of thing, I think I still do it from a place of, I’m never that thirsty because I’m financially set.”
That isn’t to say her time on Grey‘s has been entirely, well, McDreamy. In 2019, she revealed she almost quit the show due to what she called a “really toxic work environment.”
“There were many moments when I wanted off the bus,” she told Taraji P. Henson at the time. “It’s funny how it works. I never sort of wanted off the bus in a year that I could get off the bus, you know? We had a serious, serious culture problem on Grey’s for a good number of years — I would say the first 10 years. We had serious, serious culture issues. Very bad behavior, really toxic work environment.” But she and creator Shonda Rhimes put in the work to make the show a better place, which led to her staying longer as its central lead, even after Patrick Dempsey bid adieu to his character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, in 2015.
For Pompeo, his exit was a wake-up call. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Wait a second, this is my face,'” she told podcast host Jemele Hill. “Yes, other people created the show. Shonda Rhimes created the show, and we’d be nowhere without that. The studio made the show and put the show on the air. I’m not saying people don’t deserve what they have. I’m just saying, why should all these people make hundreds of millions of dollars off of this, which I’m the face of, and I not get wealthy too from it? So I just thought it didn’t make a lot of sense for me to walk away.”
All of those decisions ultimately led to the show’s 17th season, which is set to debut in the fall and — yes — will cover the coronavirus pandemic, Us Weekly notes. After everything Meredith and Pompeo have gone through, will they make it out safely? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
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