Ellen Pompeo on 7 seasons of ‘Greys’: ‘Watching myself age on TV is miserable’

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I only watched the first couple of seasons of Grey’s Anatomy but it’s still on after twelve(!) seasons as one of Shondaland’s staples. It also remains popular, and has been renewed through next year. Out of all the stars of the show, we probably hear the most about Patrick Dempsey, who exited last season maybe amid a scandal, and also Jesse Williams, who just speaks so eloquently about issues of race and representation. Longterm star Ellen Pompeo, 46, gets papped occasionally and once in a while we hear a minor gossip story about her, but she pretty much keeps her head down and does her work. (Unlike, say, all the drama around Katherine Heigl, although it would take so much entitlement to rival that.) So that’s why it’s nice to hear about Pompeo’s career strategy. She’s talking about it with People to promote a new ad campaign with Philosophy focusing on women and aging. (Philosophy are those overpriced lotions and shower gels with titles like Hope in a Jar, Pure Grace, and Purity.) While these ad campaigns are all about the money (I mean the older we get the more money we have, right?) I do like that they’re focusing on issues of body confidence and aging. If the cosmetic companies are going to co-opt women’s issues at least they’re helping change the media conversation around them.

“My decision to stay on Grey’s was based solely on age,” Pompeo reveals in an exclusive interview (on newsstands everywhere Friday!). “At 33, I was wise enough to know my clock was already ticking in Hollywood.”

The actress, who says she got a “super late start” in the industry, landing her first roles in her mid-20s, admits that if she’d been younger, “I probably would have done my time, then gone out to search for other things.” But as her contract renegotiations loomed she “was definitely aware of how challenging it would be to find other roles in my late 30s and early 40s.”

Ultimately, Pompeo opted to keep donning Dr. Meredith Grey’s scrubs — a decision that, several seasons later, leaves her with no regrets. “I thought, ‘Why would I leave something that is super successful and pays me great to search the landscape?’ I decided that I would stay on Grey’s and be grateful and try to ride it out for as long as I could. And I am very happy that I made the decision to stay. It’s only gotten better with time.”

The one hangup Pompeo’s had over the years? Seeing herself grow older on the small screen.

“Watching myself age on TV is miserable. To be honest, it’s the toughest part of my job,” she says.

Pompeo hasn’t caught up on any old episodes of Grey’s — save for the pilot — because it’s “intense.” But the actress says she’s taking the aging process in stride.

“But as uncomfortable as watching myself age is, I don’t think focusing on physical beauty is necessarily the best thing for your mind. It’s a natural thing that we all do, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest thing. The older you get, the more you realize life isn’t about your looks. Everyone ages, and it’s okay.”

Now, Pompeo wants to help other women approach aging with a sense of fearlessness. Teaming with Philosophy, she will appear in videos (such as the below) on coolager.com that aim to initiate positive conversations about aging.

[From People]

It sounds smart of her to stick to a show for which she’s highly paid and knows she’ll continue to be employed, but it also speaks to how much harder women have to hustle to get jobs in Hollywood as they age. In a similar vein it’s nice to see that older women and women of color have a home on television and increasingly on streaming media platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, but what about movies? I heard a very interesting segment on NPR earlier this month contrasting the portrayal of working women in 80s films (think Diane Keaton in Baby Boom) vs. now, when they’re often relegated to secondary and supporting roles. The excuse given is that films need to an appeal to an international market, which is also the same excuse we heard Sony executives giving internally for not hiring minority actors for major roles. It’s complete horsesh-t and it’s an easy out for the people in control. The executives don’t want the status quo to change because it doesn’t personally benefit them.

Here’s the ad with Ellen for Philosophy. I love how they subverted retro ageism. This is very clever.

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photos credit: Philosophy

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28 Responses to “Ellen Pompeo on 7 seasons of ‘Greys’: ‘Watching myself age on TV is miserable’”

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  1. Mandy says:

    I really appreciate that she was honest about why she stayed on the show while still sounding incredibly grateful. I’ve always liked her. I loved her ep of Punked back in the day when she got so pissed at a waitress for hitting on her boyfriend. She’s a tough girl too!

    • susiecue says:

      Yeah and so real about the age stuff too. People try to be all “namaste” but truth hurts: getting older, seeing your youth and beauty fade, is TOUGH.

  2. Morgan says:

    I remember an interview with her years ago where she talked about how actors always think the grass is greener somewhere else but she totally gets that staying on one show has bought her the nice lifestyle she has and she doesn’t want to disrupt her family always striving for more. It’s a refreshing viewpoint.

    And I think she looks lovely as she ages.

  3. Locke Lamora says:

    Grey’s is the only Shonda show I keep watching. Scandal ( and I can’t watch Kerry’s crying face foi too long)and HTGAWM ( I really tried because I love Viola, but I couldn’t ) got too crazy too fast. Grey’s did too, but it kinda worked with the show.
    I love Ellen, unlike most actors, she seems very pragmatic and level headed. And it’s refreshing to hear someone honestly say they are not thrilled about getting older. She’s one of those rare actresses who both look really beautiful but really interesting at the same time.

    And isn’t it sad that a man who’s in his mid 30s, like say, Hiddleston is a young up-and-comer, yet a women of the same age is considered to be past her prime?

  4. Nola says:

    Wow, I really love her honesty. There’s so much truth in this article.
    I wish younger actors would take her advice as well. Too many young actor want to leave a successful series to go be in movies. A lot of them don’t realize how good they’ve got it until it’s too late.

  5. Hoopjumper says:

    This site is great for this kind of question: other than Clooney, are there any actors who have successfully transitioned from TV to film by leaving a show before it’s canceled? Steve Carrell, maybe, but I don’t think his movies did particularly well, especially the ones that came out while the Office was still on…

    • perplexed says:

      I think Jennifer Lawrence did television (about 2 years?) before becoming a movie star, but perhaps she was so young when she did tv no one bothered to classify her as a tv star. Maybe it helps that the tv show wasn’t well-known.

    • Caity says:

      Maybe Michael B Jordan? He was on FNL and Patenthood. Not exactly a huge TV star, but successful, and then broke out with Fruitvale Station.

    • JenniferJustice says:

      Joseph Gordon Levitt – he came from Third Rock from the Sun. He transitioned so quietly and smoothly into movies, I don’t even know when it happened.

    • perplexed says:

      Here’s a list of people who did soaps before transitioning. Was surprised that Leo D was on Santa Barbara and that Brad Pitt was on Another World. Eva Longoria is the only one on this list I wouldn’t classify as a movie star, but nonetheless this list had a couple of surprises:

      http://www.womansday.com/life/entertainment/a2452/10-surprising-stars-who-started-in-soap-operas-117818/

    • CeeCee says:

      Meg Ryan was on a soap. Tom Hanks was on a show back in the ’80s – name escapes me. Alan Alda – now I’m reaching way back!

  6. Abby says:

    Greys was my favorite show for a really long time. My husband quit watching after his cousin died at 24 of colon cancer–he couldn’t deal with the sadness around medical stuff. I ended up super behind after having my son and after he was born, I mainly just watch shows with my husband because time is too scarce. But I have such a soft spot for Greys. I watched in college from the very first episode, before DVR. When it switched to Thursday’s, I would tape record it and cover the tv with a blanket because I was getting ready to go out. The episode where Denny died (and the second part) made me cry more than any other tv show EVER. Except for maybe when George died. Gah. Good stuff. Sad I quit watching, but i just ran out of time. Used to watch scandal, but I stopped that when we had our second baby. It got too crazy–right when she and fitz got together for real. I miss the “fixer” days.

    I don’t watch anything these days except the Mindy project (occasionally) and longmire. I am a freelancer and every second my kids are asleep until I go to bed I’m working or maintaining the house. Season of life!

  7. tracking says:

    Grey’s is pretty bad now (I just can’t without Sandra Oh) but I’ve always liked this actress if not her character. I truly appreciate that she hasn’t messed with her face, even though the temptation must be there.

  8. Krista says:

    It sounds like she works to live, not live to work. Her advise is good for people in almost any profession.

  9. Bellagio says:

    I watched Grey’s Anatomy since episode 1 and while the show might have lost that initial magic , it is still great TV entertainment. The acting was superb in the first few seasons (Izzy, George, Lexie,Addison,Adele) . They introduce new characters, but I just don’t think they are memorable enough and for some reason I cannot connect (Wilson, Edwards, Amelia..) and yet I keep watching. Why? Because the issues and topics this show tackles are rarely dealt with on network TV. There is a scene where a surgical team finds out midway through surgery that the patient on the operating table is a mass shooter. It’s heartbreaking and maddening and polarizing at the same time.
    Ellen speaks the truth. She is also surrounded by strong women who encourage her for who she is. That is a rare work environment for women in Hollywood. Why would you want to leave that? The show itself is about Meredith’s evolution and it doesn’t shy away from putting the character through highs and lows. These days, movie starts are not bankable like they used to be, movies rarely open big, unless it’s a kids movie or a superhero flick. Putting yourself out there, going from an audition to audition and hearing all kinds of demeaning comments about your looks just because you’re not a woman between ages 18-21, no need for it. Can anyone name a woman that became a movie star past the age of 40? It’s sad.
    Personally, I find TV shows more evolved and entertaining than anything that is coming out of Hollywood currently. Do I really want to spend $20 for seing another jacked up man saving us from the bad guys, while almost losing my hearing in 2-3 hours in a freezing movie theater ?!
    No, thank you. For that money I can have Netflix for a month, bottle of wine and a takeout meal.

  10. Myrna says:

    Pompeo is from Everett, MA – which is a low – mid income community on the outskirts of Boston.
    Quite an accomplishment to come from such humble beginnings to have made it in Hollywood and I’m particularly proud since I am originally from Boston and have fond memories of Everett where one of the 1st Dunkin Donuts opened – I had never seen so many varieties of donuts in my life – LOL!
    There’s another donut place Everett is know for – Mike’s! 😉

    I love Greys in spite of the fact that it’s not as good for the past 3-4 seasons or so – but I’ve grown to LOVE the Jackson/April storyline.

    Pompeo is lovely and has aged, yes…but I wish she didn’t tweak her face at all…because she has, whether or not she admits it…and it would give her message about aging more credence.
    But I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for women who work on film…it would freak me out to watch myself age season to season in front of millions.

    • Another Nina says:

      Pompeo comes from old money. Many actors referred to it in their interviews in earlier interviews. They said something along the line – that she was so easy to deal with that it came as a surprise that she was born in a rich family…

      • Myrna says:

        hmmm
        She’s from Everett far as I know and there arent any rich families there at all.
        There are nicer homes owned by some families who may have worked their way up and achieved success, but def no old money – FAR from it!
        I’ll have to do some more research!

      • Myrna says:

        Just confirmed..Ellen Pompeo in no way is from old money. Friends from Everett who know her say that her dad was a successful tradesman and she lived in a nicer house, but by no means were they rich or of old money!
        Everett and Old Money in the same sentence is an oxymoron.
        I know Everett well, but I don’t know her personally.
        I grew up in an adjacent city with a similar demographic.
        So I restate that I am proud of her for the success she achieved!

  11. KBeth says:

    I like her attitude, she’s a smart woman who seems to have her head on straight.

  12. Mimz, says:

    I love the comment thread here – for the first time a post about grey’s anatomy that doesn’t have a million “is this show still on?”. YES it is and although it has changed yes, storylines have suffered like any other show, new cast, it keeps relevant and the message behind it is so powerful.. I am 30 now, and riddled with lots of issues, and I remember when I watched the most recent episode where Meredith was attacked by a patient, I thought like everyone else including Ellen, oh no, Meredith attacked again? *eyeroll*. But then, the message was so strong, the emotions so raw, I cried so much because I could relate in a deep level.
    Anyway, I am a die-hard grey’s fan, i will keep watching until they end the series, because, obviously, it won’t get cancelled.
    And oh, I love Ellen IRL, she’s always honest about her choices without sounding whiny (looking at you Patrick). She sounds grateful and excited for work.

    Ps- Im still sad Callie has left us, but we’ll survive.

  13. Elle says:

    It seems like a lot of women would be happier if they just stopped staring at their faces and bodies in the mirror/screen. Yes, physical beauty affords advantages in life, but plenty of “ugly” women are happier and more interesting than so many of these beauties droning on about losing their looks. Ellen, you’re rich, safe, and healthy. Cheer up, woman!

    • Elizabeth says:

      She seems grateful and happy for what she has. I’m not hearing droning, really–just a beautiful woman’s understandable dismay at the prospect of losing an asset that, like it or not, is highly valued in this world. As another poster implied, I much prefer this kind of honesty over phony protestations of peace with the inevitable aging process, blah-di-blah. (Recognizing, though, that for some, the protestations are genuine.) Also, she does acknowledge that it’s unhealthy to fixate on aging, so she seems to have her priorities straight. (Sound of loud applause.)

  14. TrixC says:

    I always thought she was remarkably youthful looking, even in the first season she was in her mid 30s and believably playing a character in her twenties.

  15. LadyAnne says:

    I just can’t quit Grey’s. Ellen sounds like a smart woman, I love her honesty and work ethic.