Ellen Pompeo on the future of 'Grey's Anatomy' and fighting for higher pay: 'I can see exactly how much that show makes'

Ellen Pompeo has had quite a run as Dr. Meredith Grey on ABC's Grey's Anatomy. But the actress, 51, says it has yet to be determined whether the longest-running primetime medical drama on TV will continue beyond its 17th season, which premieres next month.

"We honestly have not decided. We're really trying to figure it out right now," Pompeo said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. "It's what story do we tell. To end a show this iconic, how do we do it? I just want to make sure we do this character and this show and the fans [justice]... I want to make sure we do it right."

Pompeo also opened up about her challenging childhood in the working-class town of Everett outside Boston. She says her youth was largely shaped by the death of her mother.

"I was quite sad as a child," said Pompeo. "My sisters or my family might have other impressions of me, but I definitely had a very sad childhood because I lost my mother when I was 4. That shapes your entire existence, I think."

Her mother's passing was the motivation for Pompeo to get out and forge her own path in a place that didn't consume her with grief.

"I think it probably made me want to get out of there. That place represented sadness for me, so I thought maybe anywhere but there would be better," explained Pompeo, who now has three children of her own with husband Chris Ivery, whom she married in 2007. "Luckily for me, I found a way to monetize all my emotion."

Pompeo fought for a higher paycheck to continue playing Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Bonnie Osborne/ABC via Getty Images)
Pompeo fought for a higher paycheck to continue playing Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Bonnie Osborne/ABC via Getty Images)

But the journey to stardom wasn't a smooth one. As a struggling actor starting out, Pompeo was cut out of "a bunch of movies," and originally took the role as Dr. Meredith Grey, a surgical intern, in the Grey's Anatomy pilot because she needed the money.

"Then it came to the point where I needed money, so I did the Grey's' pilot. I said, 'I don't want to be stuck on a medical show for six years. I don't think I'll be happy. I think I'll be bored,'" she recalled. But she followed her agent's advice to take the gig, which he assumed would last "only a month or six weeks at best, and these things never go."

But go it did, and 17 years later, Pompeo earns a reported $20 million a year for her work on the show. Still, that financial privilege didn't come easily. Pompeo had to prove to the network that she deserved her hefty paycheck.

"I had a very specific number that I can see that Grey's Anatomy generated. I can see exactly how much that show makes for one of the biggest corporations in the world," she explained.

While the world may always identify her as Dr. Meredith Grey, the actress says she refuses to be confined to her most famous role.

"I looked at myself as if I was in a box when I was 35 years old. Now I'm 50, and I would never look at myself this way," said Pompeo. "With the age comes wisdom. Now I see it as, I can do anything I want, or not do anything at all."

Of course, it's unlikely she'll be doing nothing at all. On Saturday, just a day before the 2021 Golden Globes, she posted an open letter on Instagram to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and “White Hollywood” calling out the organization's lack of diversity. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, it was revealed that the HFPA does not have any Black members among its 87 journalists.

“I would kindly ask, all my white colleagues in this industry, an industry that we love and has granted us enormous privilege… to pull up, show up and get this issue resolved,” Pompeo wrote. “Let’s show our Black colleagues that we care and are willing to do the work to right the wrongs we have created. Now is not a time to be silent. We have a real action item here let’s get it done.”

Pompeo wasn't alone in her criticism of the HFPA. Sterling K. Brown, Kerry Washington, Jurnee Smollett, Amy Schumer and Dakota Johnson shared a Time’s Up post calling out the HFPA, Deadline reported.

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