Ellen Pompeo talks watching herself age on 'Grey's Anatomy': 'That's a motherf***er'

Ellen Pompeo’s been with TV’s Grey’s Anatomy from the start, since the ensemble drama debuted in 2005. Of course, it was a huge hit, and as the seasons passed, she’s watched as co-stars, including Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey, slipped away.

When she appeared on Monday’s episode of the Armchair Expert podcast, host Dax Shepard asked her if she ever worries about being the last person to leave the party.

“Of course. All the time... I do not want to be the grapes dying on the vine. Like, already, to watch myself age from 33 to 50 now on screen, that’s not so fun,” Pompeo said. “You really see it, because I’m in the same clothes. I’m in the same character. So the way I see myself aging is… that’s a mother***er.”

Pompeo said that’s despite her conscious efforts to keep her ego in check.

“I don’t lie about my age. I don’t put anything in my face. I don’t want to tell myself any lies. I’m not doing myself any favors,” Pompeo said. “But certainly, I think, to dip out sooner rather than later, at this point, having done what we’ve done, to leave while the show is still on top, is definitely a goal. I’m not trying to stay on the show forever, no way.”

Pompeo explained that she’ll know it’s time for her to leave the Shonda Rhimes show.

“The truth is, if I get too aggravated, and I’m no longer grateful there, I should not be there,” she said.

Ellen Pompeo has starred in "Grey's Anatomy" since it debuted in 2005. (Photo: Bob D'Amico/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Ellen Pompeo has starred in Grey's Anatomy since it debuted in 2005. (Photo: Bob D'Amico/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

There have been times when she wanted to leave, but the timing has never quite been right for her departure.

“You go through obviously 16 years and at different points in your life. When you want to get off the roller coaster, you actually can’t. You’re not in a year where you can get off,” Pompeo said. “And then in a year when you can get off, you’re like, ‘Wait, this is amazing.’ My commute is six minutes. At this point, I’m so blessed that the executive producers of the show make my life so fantastic that I have a very set amount of hours. I know where I’m gonna be. I know exactly what time I’m gonna come home. I’m home for dinner with my kids every night.”

Pompeo shares three children — ages 3, 6 and 10 — with husband Chris Ivery. Her life has been all about them, she said, since she welcomed her first at 39.

Ellen Pompeo stars in a March 2020 episode of "Grey's Anatomy.". (Photo: Bonnie Osborne/ABC via Getty Images)
Ellen Pompeo stars in a March 2020 episode of Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Bonnie Osborne/ABC via Getty Images)

“Do I want to be in a trailer in Atlanta at midnight? And be FaceTiming my kids good night?” the Old School actress asked. “I don’t want to do that to them. My mother died when I was 4. I grew up without a mother, and I want to be home with them every single night.”

On top of the normal feelings about wanting to be with her kids, Pompeo said she struggles with fear that she’s going to die when her children are 4, the age she was when her mother died in a struggle with drug addiction.

“I kind of am obsessed with death. I think about it all the time. I think about my own death all the time,” Pompeo said. “I always think something bad is gonna happen. I’m working on that.”

She’s already processed some of her feelings about her mother’s death. Where there was anger toward her mother for leaving her, there’s now compassion. She now better understands addiction and how her mother, who had five children when she died, didn’t have any resources available in a world that didn’t talk about addiction.

“And then all my milestones, like when I turned 40 or 39, the age she was when I think she passed, then... what would she have been able to accomplish had her circumstances in life been different?”

The 17th season of Grey’s Anatomy is expected to premiere this fall.

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