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Ellen Pompeo says 'Grey's Anatomy' used to be a 'toxic' workplace with 'bad behavior' — and people think she's shading Patrick Dempsey

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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Ellen Pompeo is known for her candor on many topics, so there were some truth bombs during her recent sit-down with fellow actor Taraji P. Henson for Variety.

The Grey’s Anatomy star, who’s not afraid to talk equal pay or race, talked about how her long-running ABC show, which she has been on for 15 years, has changed in recent years. She made it very, very clear that it’s a better place to work now than it was in the beginning.

Asked if there were times she wanted to quit, Pompeo replied, “There were many moments. It’s funny: I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off. The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment. But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family.”

Ellen Pompeo (Photo: Getty Images)
Ellen Pompeo (Photo: Getty Images)

However, “At 40 years old, where am I ever going to get this kind of money?” she continued. “I need to take care of my kids. 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 said she and creator Shonda Rhimes “decided to rewrite the ending of this story.” They have since “turned the culture around.” And “that’s what’s kept me,” she continued. “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.”

Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey on "Grey's Anatomy" (Photo: Ron Tom/ABC via Getty Images) ELLEN POMPEO, PATRICK DEMPSEY
Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey on Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Ron Tom/ABC via Getty Images)

Pompeo went on to talk more about Dempsey, whom she has said she hasn’t talked to since he left the show in 2015. She spoke of their pay disparity when they started the show — with the Can’t Buy Me Love actor making double what she made as a TV newcomer — and mentioned how while he was the bigger name, his previous TV projects had failed.

“‘He’s done 13 pilots,’” she recalled being told. “Well, none of them have gone [to series],” she said. At that point, Henson burst into laughter and Pompeo giggled too. “I didn’t even realize until we were renegotiating Season 3. No one was offering that up.”

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Pompeo ultimately demanded a salary she thought was fair — and was willing to risk losing the job over it, she said. The end result, of course, was her $20 million paychecks, which she has spoken openly about.

The actress’s unfiltered views have ruffled feathers in the past — and these new comments are no different. Saying that the show had “serious culture issues,” “bad behavior” and was a “really toxic work environment” until the very year Dempsey’s character was killed off isn’t sitting right with many.

Some of the reactions claim she’s “bashing Dempsey” and “holding grudges”:

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Others tried to recenter the conversation to Pompeo’s point about equal pay.

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Grey’s Anatomy wrapped is 15th season last month. For the second year in a row, it was ABC’s No. 1 series. It was recently renewed for two more seasons.

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