While most of the core cast members from the first season of Grey’s Anatomy have departed the long-running medical drama, Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey, has stuck with the show since its first episode aired in 2005. Pompeo’s character is arguably the most important one on the series. Showrunner Shonda Rhimes has even said that without Pompeo, the show won’t go on.
“Ellen and I have a pact that I’m going to do the show as long as she’s going to do the show,” Rhimes told E! News in 2017. “So the show will exist as long as both of us want to do it. If she wants to stop, we’re stopping… I want to keep it feeling fresh. As long as there are fresh stories to tell and as long as we’re both excited about the stories being told, we’re in. So, we’ll see where that takes us.”
Ellen Pompeo makes a lot of money on Grey's Anatomy
Why has Pompeo stayed on the series for so long when so many actors have left? Part of it is the financial security that comes with being on a hit show. In 2019, InStyle reported that Pompeo negotiated for a pay raise that made her the highest paid woman on a television drama to the tune of $575,000 per episode. Staying on the series has also provided her with a steady career, which means she can spend more time with her family instead of chasing roles.
“For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career,” she said on Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast (via People). “I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So the idea that I have this great husband and these three beautiful children [and] a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart. And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles.”
Ellen Pomepo views being on Grey's Anatomy as a 'blessing'
Pompeo added that her age also had something to do with the decision. As she started the series when she was 33, she was nearly 40 when her six year contract was up. She admitted that if she had been younger when she started on the show, she may have left the series but “I knew coming up on 40, it’s like, I don’t want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging. I’d rather just see this as the blessing that it is.”
Starring on Grey’s Anatomy has also led to a passion project for Pompeo, “which is to sort of start to talk about and break down systemic racism in the healthcare industry” which Pompeo said “is something that has plagued us forever.” The actress said that being on Grey’s Anatomy has given her “a real window into that” issue. “So Grey’s has been a gift and I choose to see it that way,” she said.
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