In the era of “Me Too” and the Time’s Up campaign, Ellen Pompeo is speaking up about her experience as Meredith Grey, and she’s not being coy about her salary.
The actress recently discussed her contract negotiations for Grey’s Anatomy in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. She explained the subtle by fundamental differences between the way men and women in the entertainment business assess their worth and ask for money.
The 48-year-old actress said that, despite being the eponymous “Grey” in Grey’s Anatomy, it took many years for her to learn to fight for her payment and recognition. A big part of that was the departure of Patrick Dempsey, who played Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, in 2015.
“For me, Patrick leaving the show 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. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that.
“At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn't I?” she asked rhetorically. “It's my show; I'm the number one. I'm sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, "I'm not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house."
The actress went on to explain that when Dempsey left his role on the show, it gave her a chance to try and break the pattern, and assert herself in a position of control.
“So, what does it look like when he leaves the show? First, it looks like a ratings spike, and I had a nice chuckle about that,” she said. “But 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 — 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 was like, ‘Are you people f—ing nuts? Why do you feel that you have to replace this person?’ I couldn't believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there.”
Pompeo said that a combination of circumstances allowed the show to succeed without necessarily casting a “replacement” for McDreamy, instead allowing her to maintain a place as the central figure in the show.
The actress didn’t elaborate much more on her contentious relationship with her former co-star, but she addressed rivalry and back-stabbing among actors in general, saying that women need the same tools to be financially empowered as business women as men have.
“I talk to a lot of girls who are on network shows, and they have the same culture problems that we had,” she said. “Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that we had a real problem at Grey’s for a long time. On the outside, we were a massive success, but there was all of this tumult on the inside: It was a lot of rivalry, a lot of competition. It starts with actors behaving badly, and then producers enabling them to behave badly.
"And, by the way, I'm guilty of it, too," she added. "I saw squeaky wheels getting all the f—ing grease, so I was like, ‘OK, that's how you do it,’ and I behaved badly as well. I mimicked what I saw. I'm not perfect.”
Pompeo signed a deal at the end of 2017 which will make her the highest paid woman in a dramatic TV series.