Grey’s Anatomy will never die; the series just got extended another two seasons and Ellen Pompeo’s paycheck has significantly increased with production credits. She is extremely honest about what she asked for and why.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo said she was initially reluctant to audition for Grey’s Anatomy in 2004, when she was still averse to television acting, but things in the film industry had dried up. Her agent twisted her arm. Her fate was sealed.
She is now making $20 million a year, or $575,000 an episode, plus other bonuses associated with producing and signing her new contract. These might not be the nitty gritty details an actor would usually dive into in an interview, but Pompeo’s group discussions at her local Time’s Up meeting, she told THR, have opened the floodgates. At 48, Pompeo said she’s comfortable with where she’s at, and seems to think chasing the “movie star” label is a fool’s errand, cash-wise:
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.
Wow, the Faye Dunaway and Prius slam in one! Pompeo also dove into the rivalry between her and Patrick Dempsey, saying they were often pitted against one another in negotiations. She said she still doesn’t know what he made, and attempted to reach out to him to see if they’d like to approach the powers that be together, but he was never interested. Eventually, Pompeo pushed to see what kind of leverage she really had—it wasn’t as much as she thought:
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? 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.”
Eventually, Dempsey left the show—which lead to a ratings spike. Pompeo said she “had a nice chuckle about that,” but was surprised that producers were almost immediately sending her pics of potential new male co-leads, like the network “felt like they had to get a penis in there.”
Pompeo credited her transformation (huge paycheck) to Shonda Rhimes, her friend and mentor, who has become even more of a powerhouse since Grey’s Anatomy was born. She said her loyalty to Rhimes has been rewarded, and Rhimes is “generous with her power,” and when it came time for new negotiations, she asked if she was being greedy. Pompeo discovered the show she starred in had generated about $3 billion for Disney, and decided that she deserved what she was asking for. Also, she needed the incentive:
Acting, to me, is boring. An actor is the least powerful person on set, so I don’t care about chasing roles. Plus, at my age, it’s pretty unrealistic. Not that I can’t do a cool cable thing, but I’m not going to have this whole second life as a movie star. I’m not fuckin’ Julia Roberts.
Pompeo also said that the last few months of sexual misconduct scandals have confimed her path because “I’ve chosen to financially empower myself so that I never have to be ducking predators and chasing trophies.”
Read more of Pompeo’s harsh and interesting perspective here.