The duo sat down for Variety’s Actors on Actors where Pompeo got real about the early years of the hit show and revealed a lot about her former co-star, Patrick Dempsey. When Henson asked the “Grey’s” actress if she ever had a desire to quit, her answer was almost too much for fans.
“There were many moments. It’s funny: I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off,” Pompeo said, adding the first decade there were “serious culture issues, very bad behavior” and it was a “really toxic work environment.”
Pompeo, who’s never one to shy away from the equal pay discussion, spoke up about being grossly undervalued when compared to Dempsey.
“He was being paid almost double what I was in the beginning. He had a television quote. I had never done TV,” she told Henson. “‘He’s done 13 pilots.’ Well, none of them have gone. I didn’t even realize until we were renegotiating Season 3. No one was offering that up,” Pompeo continued.
It was her kids, and a shift in front of the camera, that made her stay.
“Once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family,” she said. “But after Season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera. It became my goal to have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about, because we had so much turmoil for 10 years. My mission became, this can’t be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes.”
She also said her husband gave her some solid advice.
“My husband says, ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed.’ But if you have to walk, don’t be a victim. If you don’t get what you want, put your big-girl panties on,” she said, adding, “You can know your worth, but if they don’t know it, you can’t cry.”
Ellen Pompeo also credits Shonda Rhimes‘ determination to change the environment that pushed her to continue with the series.
“Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. That’s what’s kept me. Patrick Dempsey left the show in Season 11, and the studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead. So I had a mission to prove that it could. I was on a double mission,” she said.
In the end, Ellen Pompeo won, proving she’s a boss after negotiating a contract for $20 million + per year.