Things We Learned From Ellen Pompeo’s Enlightening ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Story


The Hollywood Reporter has released a dense and incredibly honest look at Ellen Pompeo’s rise to being the highest-paid actress on a dramatic TV series for Grey’s Anatomy. The piece is a fascinating look at grit, determination, and the often difficult navigation of Hollywood that women have to endure in order to “make it,” or even keep a job. It’s a tale of an artist not wanting to be put into a box, then ultimately finding freedom through hard-nosed negotiations and success. It’s absolutely worth the read, but here are some choice snippets.

Pompeo never wanted to be on Grey’s Anatomy. The show that’s now entering its 14th season and will pay her $20 million a year was a burden to even audition for. She was concerned she would get stuck on a medical drama for five years, now series creator Shonda Rhimes says the show will go on “as long as Ellen wants to do it.”

Patrick Dempsey leaving in 2015 was the first step to her mega-deal. According to Pompeo, the two were played off each other in order to keep salaries down. Even though she was the title character, at one point in earlier negotiations, ABC wouldn’t even give her $5,000 more than Dempsey.

“For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise,” she said. “They could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don’t need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years. I don’t know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals.”

Which, in turn, led to a lesson in negotiations between the sexes. Rhimes paints a picture of women having the wrong point of view for asking for more money saying: “As a woman, what I know is you can’t approach anything from a point of view of ‘I don’t deserve’ or ‘I’m not going to ask for because I don’t want other people to get upset.” And I know for a fact that when men go into these negotiations, they go in hard and ask for the world.”

Her worth is something Pompeo, by way of Rhimes, learned to ask for. The Hollywood Reporter points out that Grey’s Anatomy is now a multi-billion dollar IP with over 300 episodes in circulation around the world. She was the star, she was Meredith Grey.

“Decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s just going to give it to you,” Rhimes said. Especially now, 14 seasons in, when Pompeo is seemingly just hitting her stride.

“I’m not the most ‘relevant’ actress out there. I know that’s the industry perception because I’ve been this character for 14 years. But the truth is, anybody can be good on a show season one and two. Can you be good 14 years later? Now, that’s a f*ckin’ skill.”

And yes, she has a Harvey Weinstein story to tell.

“My agent once sent me to see Harvey, too. I went right up to his room at the Peninsula, which I would never normally do, but Harvey was a New York guy, so it made sense. Plus, it was in the middle of the day, and he had an assistant there. He didn’t try anything on me. Had he, I’m a little rough around the edges and I grew up around some very tough people, so I probably would have picked up a vase and cracked him over the f*cking head.”

The biggest takeaway is a summation of her career and what she’s learned over her dozen-plus years as Meredith Grey. With this deal, Pompeo has landed backend points on the series, backend on a Grey‘s spinoff, a producer credit, a signing bonus and a huge paycheck. It came because she learned that she was worth it, and asked for what she deserved:

I’m not necessarily perceived as successful, either, but a 24-year-old actress with a few big movies is, even though she’s probably being paid shit — certainly less than her male co-star and probably with no backend. And they’re going to pimp her out until she’s 33 or 34 and then she’s out like yesterday’s trash, and then what does she have to take care of herself? These poor girls have no real money, and the studio is making a fortune and parading them like ponies on a red carpet. I mean, Faye Dunaway is driving a fuckin’ Prius today. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a Prius, but my point is, she had no financial power. If we’re going to invoke change, that has to be part of it.

For what it’s worth, Faye Dunaway has an estimated net worth of around $40 million. It’s not Pompeo money, but that’s not bad.

Read the entire story at The Hollywood Reporter.