The actress has appeared on the popular medical drama as the title character, Meredith Grey, for 16 seasons since the show debuted in 2005. She has already signed on to Season 17, which has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, over the years the show has gone through many ups and downs and Pompeo explained why she never joined some of her co-stars in departing from the show.
“You know, I made choices to stay on the show. For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career,” Pompeo said on the “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” podcast (via Vanity Fair). “I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart.”
The mother of three added: “And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles. That’s what, ultimately, I think, the hustler in me — I don't like chasing anything, ever. And acting to me, in my experience, was a lot of chasing. You've got to chase roles, you’ve got to beg for roles, you’ve got to convince people. And although I produce and it’s the same kind of thing, I think I still do it from a place of, I’m never that thirsty because I’m financially set.”
The actress, 50, explained that she considered leaving after it came to light there was a pay discrepancy between her and her male co-star Patrick Dempsy, who was making more money than her despite not being the title character on the show. However, she noted that saying goodbye to the “Grey’s Anatomy” paycheck altogether didn’t feel like the win for equality she wanted.
“I’m saying to myself, ‘Wait a second, this is my face.’ Yes, other people created the show. Shonda Rhimes created the show, and we’d be nowhere without that. The studio made the show and put the show on the air,” she explained. “I’m not saying people don’t deserve what they have. I’m just saying, why should all these people make hundreds of millions of dollars off of this, which I’m the face of, and I not get wealthy too from it? So I just thought it didn’t make a lot of sense for me to walk away.”
Pompeo previously told The Hollywood Reporter that she cut a deal in 2017, two years after Dempsey left the show, that made her dramatic television’s highest-earning actress.
Now, with “Grey’s Anatomy” poised to go into its 17th season, Pompeo acknowledges that her age plays a factor in her decision to stick around and collect her paycheck rather than claw her way back into the movie business.
“I knew coming up on 40, it’s like, I don’t want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging," she told Hill. "I’d rather just see this as the blessing that it is. It’s pretty common for actors to try to run away from stuff. They’re super well-known for something, and they have to get as far away from it as possible. That’s OK, I understand that completely, completely understand that. But at my age and where my life is, I’m not trying to run away from anything. It is who I am. I made my choices and I’m cool with it.”