Ellen Pompeo has played Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy for 14 years now, but according to a totally honest new interview, it wasn’t until costar Patrick Dempsey left the show in 2015 that she had a stronger leg to stand in terms of asking for — and getting — what she wanted out of the show.
“For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Pompeo said that she approached her longtime costar and on-screen McDreamy about joining forces to negotiate as a team, but that he “was never interested in that.” Since her character is the namesake of the show, Pompeo said she once asked for more than Dempsey on principle, but was denied the pay increase. She considered leaving, but decided against it. “You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house,'” she explained to THR.
After Dempsey left the show, Pompeo admitted she “had a nice chuckle” about the fact that ratings spiked. But it wasn’t long before the show tried to rush in a replacement instead of letting her helm the ship on her own.
“The truth is, the ink wasn’t even dry on his exit papers before they rushed in a new guy. I was on vacation in Sicily, decompressing — it was a long working relationship and it was a tumultuous end and I needed a moment to just chill with some rosé,” she recalled. “And they’re calling me, going, ‘What do you think of this guy?’ What do you think of this guy? And they’re sending pictures. … I couldn’t believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there.” The replacement, Martin Henderson (AKA Dr. Nathan Riggs), was written out of the show last season.
Pompeo is now sitting on a plum deal with the show — she has signed on for seasons 15 and 16, and will be making $575,000 per episode, plus other bonuses including royalties and producing credits (on both Grey’s and the upcoming spinoff). And while salary transparency isn’t always the norm in Hollywood, Pompeo hopes to set an example for the rest of the industry and beyond.
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(photos via John Sciulli/Getty Images for ADCOLOR + Bob D’Amico/ABC via Getty Images)