Ellen Pompeo had to play hardball with Grey’s producers to get equitable pay


Ellen Pompeo has played the main character on Grey’s Anatomy for 14 years. The show still gets 12 million viewers and is second in ratings only to The Good Doctor on ABC. This gave Ellen the power to demand $20 million a year going forward. She told The Hollywood Reporter that her deal includes half a million per episode, signing bonus, backend on this show and a Grey’s spinoff and a place for her Calamity Jane production company on the Disney lot. She’s disclosing this in the hope that other women in Hollywood will start making deals that also match their worth. Go Ellen.

On knowing her worth: I’m not the most “relevant” actress out there. I know that’s the industry perception because I’ve been this character for 14 years. But the truth is, anybody can be good on a show season one and two. Can you be good 14 years later? Now, that’s a fuckin’ skill.

On why Patrick Dempsey’s onscreen demise changed the game: “For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don’t need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years. I don’t know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that.”

On Grey’s immediately replacing Dempsey with another dude: “I couldn’t believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there.”

On how she negotiated her record-breaking new deal: “What happened is that I went to Shonda and I said, ‘If you’re moving on to Netflix and you want the show to go down, I’m cool with that. But if you want it to continue, I need to be incentivized. I need to feel empowered and to feel ownership of this show.’”

On her meeting with Harvey Weinstein: “My agent once sent me to see Harvey, too. I went right up to his room at the Peninsula, which I would never normally do, but Harvey was a New York guy, so it made sense. Plus, it was in the middle of the day, and he had an assistant there. He didn’t try anything on me. Had he, I’m a little rough around the edges and I grew up around some very tough people, so I probably would have picked up a vase and cracked him over the fucking head. But I also feel completely comfortable saying that I walked into that room batting the shit out of my eyelashes. My goal in that room was to charm him, as it is in most rooms like that.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

Ellen is the main character on Grey’s Anatomy and believes she’s getting her due. She’s right, and any male actor in her position would have been given a similar deal. I love her attitude on this. Ellen once asked for $5K more than Dempsey on principle and they wouldn’t give it to her, likely because of their bs leverage tactics she discussed. She doesn’t say much more about the Dempsey drama other than “it was a tumultuous end.” I don’t think there is any love lot there. Ellen stressed more than once in the interview that she made the choice to secure her family financially but that this does satisfy her creatively. She finds her creative outlet now in producing, which is why she worked that into her deal. She said her path is not for those who want variety in acting because they’d have to be willing to stay as one character. I like how practically and realistically she breaks this down. Ellen gave Shonda much of the credit for teaching her the business end of Hollywood and how to make it happen. I can believe that. And Shonda is just as committed to Ellen, saying, “The show will go on as long as Ellen wants to do it.”

I’m conflicted about Ellen’s Weinstein story. Its hers and I want to respect that. Maybe I don’t understand her point about batting her eyelashes. I appreciate she is trying take some responsibility about going to the meeting but I’m not sure she worded it properly. It’s questionable when people who were seemingly not in danger imply that they would have escaped without harm. I don’t find it fair to the victims.

Photographed by Mike Rosenthal_O9A02800



Photo credit: Michael Rosenthal/The Hollywood Reporter and WENN Photos

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59 Responses to “Ellen Pompeo had to play hardball with Grey’s producers to get equitable pay”

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  1. Liberty says:

    Great to know that even a show created by and run by a woman had its female star in a corner, fighting for equal pay. This should tell you everything you need to know about the Hollywood level of sincerity and reality away from the media lens. Good for her getting her deal made.

    • Umyeah says:

      But isnt Shonda a producer?

    • Ytbtet says:

      Right? I was shocked to hear this is happening on Rhimes show

    • Turtle says:

      Ellen negotiated her deal with the network, not with the actual producer of her show. I’m sure Shonda did what she could, but she wasn’t the one drawing up the contract. This was a really great interview. And it sets a precedent. Actors will be referring to this interview for years to come.

      • Jeannie says:

        Yes! @turtle. Actors will be referring to this interview for years to come. Good. If it means women get paid as much as men, n don’t have to negotiate for scraps, then good.

    • Jeannie says:

      She’s the only one i could recognize from that show (i never watched it, but some of my friends love it n would quote it). I literally only know dr. Mcdreamy (as i believe he’s called, wasn’t there another hot one?) because his wife is a really cool makeup artist. But let all networks and studios take a page from the negotiating handbook of the showtime show, shameless. Who’s driving the show? That person should get paid more.

  2. Léna says:

    I love that she went after Woody Allen on twitter a few days ago.

    • KatieBo says:

      I know! I can’t believe it’s not getting more attention!
      I particularly loved that she called out everyone who claimed not to know prior to 2014. The thing of it is, as someone who follows movies and Hollywood news, even I knew about the Dylan Farrow story long before 2014. It is implausible to me that people who work in the industry and for whom this is their ENTIRE life can claim ignorance on the issue. If they are over the age of 25 I find it hard to believe they had no idea.

  3. PPP says:

    I think that the point she’s trying to make with her Weinstein story is that you’re entering a situation with very degraded boundaries anyways. If it’s generally expected that you have to flirt to get an opportunity, that makes it harder to deal with potential predatory behavior. It’s not just that you can’t offend Harvey when he pulls his creepster moves; it’s that you have to actively charm him in a way that invites his behavior. Some other actresses have talked about the fact that you have to “give good meeting,” and how that plays a role in how you are treated by the people you interact with.

    • Maria F. says:

      that is how i understood it. I felt it was a comment on the general culture of auditions. Women having to flirt and charm their way in the meetings with powerful men.

      The interview was so candid. I really admire how honest she was about her achievements, but somewhat also about her disillusions in her career.

      • Sherry says:

        And that goes back to what Sharon Stone said regarding how women are taught/expected to charm men. I doubt any man went into a meeting with Weinstein thinking, “I need to charm the heck out of this guy so he’ll hire me for one of his projects (or not ruin my career).”

    • SM says:

      Well put. This is how I understood it too. It’s because all the women are expected to flort with and charm the men up the professional food chain to get ahead in their carriere. And especially in Hollywood. I don’t remember who but one of the actresses who came out against HW (maybe Lupita) talked about helplesness in this situation, because they are in the business where you often have to overstep out boundaries of inimacy for a role.
      And it is also try why women such as im case of Aziz did not just get up and leave. You may sort of like the guy and hence want to be sexy and charming and often times lean into all the preasure they put you under forcing you do what you do not feel like doing sexually, but to the point you still think that you have to give in so the relationship wouldn’t be over.

      On the issue of equal pay, good for her, there is no Greys Anantomy withouth her.

      And since we are talking about Ellen. Please go to her twitter and look up what she tweeted about Woody Allen. She is awesome and savage. And I love that about her. She is not here to please you or make you comfortavle with your selective wokeness.

    • Des says:

      Yes, that’s my takeaway as well. The bit where she later called her agent and confronted them when the news broke underlines how she thought she understood the degraded boundaries and was playing to her advantage but then realized the degradation went a lot further than she thought, and she couldn’t really trust anyone to have her back. And that’s how it must have been for the HW’s victims but worse.

    • oh-dear says:

      there was more to Ellen’s Weinstein story too – she said she called her agents and yelled at them for putting her in that situation with him. She knew he needed to see her in a certain light, but maybe not that her safety was at risk. She also didn’t say she outsmarted him or was too tough to be a victim, just that she knew what was expected. I think the fact that it could have been a more predatory situation and that no one had her well-being in mind is what pissed her off, and is the story she was telling.

  4. Nicole says:

    Yea I don’t love the Weinstein story either. It implies that “tough” girls can escape assault when in fact that’s a load of crap. Anyone can be a victim of assault.
    On the greys pay that’s insane that she wasn’t paid the most considering her name IS the show. Insane. Also not great that the top actors didn’t go in for equity. It worked for friends and TBBT. And there’s clear leads on the show so they could’ve done it.

    • Annabelle Bronstein says:

      She waded into Kate Winslet territory with the vase comment. I think maybe she was explaining away why she wasn’t a Harvey Weinstein victim? Considering the context of the rest of her interview, I don’t think she meant it as victim blaming.

      Like you said anyone can be a victim. It’s easy to fantasize about what you would do in that situation, but many many badass women find themselves frozen and are unable to fight back (I personally believe it’s a survival instinct). Even people with professional training and muscle memory are sometimes unable to respond to a violent attack. So no one really knows what they’d do if assaulted. Most likely, you’d freeze.

      • Nicole says:

        Exactly. Very few women are able to overcome the fear to fight back. It takes a lot of training and mental strength which in reality we don’t do. The first time I took a self-defense class I froze when doing the scenario with our instructor. He said it was normal and I’m glad he said that

    • lucy2 says:

      There have been several women saying things like that, I think Drew Barrymore was another, implying they are tough enough to get out of the situation.
      I think it is a very common thought to preserve our own sanity and well being – I would do this, I would do that, I’m not going to let myself imagine being helpless and hurt so instead I’m going to imagine myself victorious and escaping.
      I don’t blame anyone for having these thoughts, but I do think it can be harmful when shared publicly, and for victims to read that in comparison to the reality of what happened to them.

  5. littlemissnaughty says:

    I read this last night and kept cheering. She makes so many good points, it’s worth reading in its entirety.

    I balked at the Weinstein part as well but I think mentioning batting her eyelashes means that she knows these situation require a certain “charm” and that the power was ALL his so she was going in there knowing she had to sell herself, so to speak. And that for every actress, in almost every situation like that, it’s about that power. It’s also possible that she realls would have reacted the way she describes. She may have in other situations. We don’t know. And I don’t think it’s the most interesting or important part of the piece.

    I love that she acknowledges that it took for Shonda to get to a position of power to allow her to get there as well. THAT is what it means to support women. Because Patrick f*cking Dempsey sure didn’t.

    • Lizzie says:

      i agree with your assessment on the Weinstein part. I think she was acknowledging there is a precarious give and take in the business that can easily be taken advantage of when the power imbalance is so enormous.

    • holly hobby says:

      I’m sorry in terms of contracts the only people who banded together to get equitable pay was the Friends cast. I think Big Bang cast the men took a pay cut so the women can get higher pay but that’s it.

      There is no rule that says your co-worker has to go along with you to get equal pay. I’m not blaming Dempsey on this.

  6. Mia4s says:

    This was an interesting read even for someone like me who is not a fan and hasn’t watched the show in a decade. She’s not a great actress, not a particularly interesting one, but she found her niche and absolutely worked it to her advantage to get PAID. She’s not lamenting all the great Oscar nominated films she could be doing, she’s not aiming for a franchise, she’s not in it for the “art”. She sees her limitations and is honest about her goals, I respect that.

    • Ytbtet says:

      The thing is I think most actors crave variety and getting you know getting better writing and a chance for different opportunities and like ellen wrote this strategy that she used wouldn’t work then

      To me the problem is women have less meaty roles and fewer opportunities so that leads to lower pay as well

  7. Des says:

    There’s a lot of really good stuff but it was interesting to read the gossipy bits about Shonda and Patrick (since we’re doing gossip here). The line about Shonda being very good to those who are loyal to her really underscored a lot of old stories – it explains why Isaiah Washington was invited back on the show while TR Knight and PD were killed off and KHeigl became an industry byword. Don’t piss off Shonda.

    It also makes me reevaluate PD’s passive aggressive farewell round of interviews where he was like “we’ll see how everything works now that I’m now”. He probably had the studio convincing him that he was indispensible for 10 years at that point.

    • Bridget says:

      PD was a low key douche. That’s what no one really talks about – even here, you have to read between the lines, but you can tell that Ellen did not like him. People always forget that the original dust up between Isaiah and TR was over Patrick repeatedly being late.

      Though Shonda and TR eventually made up. He recurred on The Catch.

      • Des says:

        Oh good point! I’d forgotten about that because it always gets folded into the f-word controversy. Tumblr used to be very pro-PD and were angry at Shonda for firing him and Ellen for not sticking up for him because he used to give these interviews implying he was half in love with her coz she was his work wife or whatever and I wonder if minds have changed now that she’s exposed him.

      • Bridget says:

        They were not close. Not only was he a douche and a PITA onset (again – it says a lot that he felt so comfortable declining to negotiate with Ellen) but she was pissed that he was having an affair with a young woman onset. Which, certainly looks different nowadays.

      • lolamd says:

        Wait sorry why was Shonda mad at TR?

      • phaedra says:

        I think, and I could be wrong about this: TR was mad at Shonda because she didn’t immediately come to his defense. And he felt he was punished for speaking out, with reduced screen time. He had a point. But I don’t know if it was Shonda punishing him, or the writers, or whomever. It’s always sounded like a really toxic set.

      • Bridget says:

        He was unhappy about a lot of things. He wasn’t happy with how theIsaiah Washington debacle was handled, and he was extra unhappy with what they did with the character George, and extra EXTRA unhappy that his screen time was reduced the way it was. It’s hard to tell what happened there – his was a character that didn’t really click, and he was (for a while) super close to Katherine Heigl, who didn’t exactly endear herself on that set. And that’s the one thing I come back to – you can tell who the writers didn’t like, because some of the stories kind of sucked. Sandra Oh? Was always freaking awesome. As was Bailey. But Izzie and George? Eh. . . At least he didn’t have to try to resuscitate a deer.

  8. Umyeah says:

    Wouldnt Shonda have some pull in salary negotations? im pretty sure Shonda is a producer

  9. minx says:

    She’s very, very fortunate because she is only modestly talented. To her credit I think she realizes that.

    • Scal says:

      She acknowledges that and is honest about her ability to get work in movies. She mentioned how she wanted control and financial security and she’s earned that so she doesn’t care about being ‘a award winning actress’. Winning awards doesn’t pay the bills like $20 million a year is.

  10. msd says:

    Everyone should read the whole interview. It’s refreshingly candid about the business. I can actually see it influencing many other women on TV

  11. Msw says:

    That was a great article. I recommend reading it all. I had no idea she was so sweaty, for one thing.

  12. Svea says:

    Makes me want to start watching Greys again.

    • StormsMama says:

      I just started Greys on Netflix. I had never seen even one episode. And I began with season 1 episode 1 at beginning of January. I’m up to mid season 3.
      I’m in love. Totally get why it was such a hit. Excited that there are so many stories ahead.

      Really excited to read this piece. Have a ton of respect for her. She’s a smart woman.

  13. kk2 says:

    This interview was amazing. I read it 2x and will probably go back again. So much gossip too.

  14. lucy2 says:

    I really applaud her for both being persistent in her own career and salary, and for being so very candid while discussing it.
    I bailed on Grey’s at the beginning of Season 3, never cared for her character, and am amazed it’s still chugging along on TV, but now I have to say I’m a fan of Ellen as a person. And I’m really happy to know she’s out there, producing and making things happen for herself and others. This is what we need more of!
    “In Shonda finding her power and becoming more comfortable with her power, she has empowered me.” And Ellen is going to empower others by sharing this too.

    Also, WTF Patrick Dempsey? What a jerk.

  15. Jess says:

    I adore Ellen and love her attitude about everything, it’s so refreshing. Women deserve equal pay, yet a lot of us are taught to just be thankful for a job and not to come off rude or like a greedy bitch asking for more money. I just checked her twitter and Instagram and she seems so genuine, like she’d fit in with my girlfriends.

    She’s throwing shade to Patrick in such a subtle way and he deserves it. Why the hell would you not want to team up with your costar and negotiate contracts together, especially since it’s HER show and always has been. Guarantee he made millions more than her, and obviously felt like he was the star. I love how she mentions the ratings spiked after his departure, lol. I still watch the show, as ridiculous as it gets sometimes I’ll always love it. I love that we’re getting to see Meredith soar without Mcdreamy drama always holding her back, apparently a nice parallel for Ellen and Patrick, get that money girl!

  16. homeslice says:

    Good for her getting her due. I can’t stand that show or her character and I don’t see her parlaying it into anything after it ends. If you don’t get the roles while you are on the “hot” show, you are not getting them after it ends.

    Oh and all these actresses Monday Quarterbacking with their vases and what not…STFU.

    • phaedra says:

      Agree you could read it like it’s Monday Quarterbacking. And that’s annoying. But, I think you can read it another way too. What if she said that as a warning? Like she wants to be known as someone who would throw a vase, so don’t even try. Like Jeannie Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “I have my father’s gun and a SCORCHING case of Herpes.”

  17. KL says:

    Can we please stop picking apart the words women choose to use to tell their own stories? “I’m not sure she worded it properly” is extremely condescending. It’s her story; she can word it however she wants.

  18. Caroline says:

    Even though I stopped watching after Shonda fired Patrick, I have nothing but respect for both her and Ellen.

    Ellen is so self-aware and has literally made the most of her talents and luck. And I think she’s trying to show other actresses there are trade-offs between financial security and “artistry.” As she says, she’s no Julia Roberts, and nor or any of these other actresses but if you wanna live a nice life and have longevity in the biz there are worse things than being on a hit TV show.

    A perfect cautionary tale would be Julianna Marguiles, who left ER thinking she could translate her smoking hot chemistry w Clooney into a movie career. Instead, she went nowhere and crawled back to TV w a few guest spots and a couple mediocre series, only to have her entitled, diva a$$ rescued by the Kings on the Good Wife. Ellen was wise to chart a better path.

  19. will says:

    I can’t believe people still watch this show

  20. shouldawoulda says:

    The tactics Shonda used to keep woman down on her shows is interesting to know. They all do this, including Shonda.

  21. Miss M says:

    I still watch Grey’s. But I always had the impression their environment is toxic.
    I also felt Ellen didnt like the actress playing “Little Grey” to the point the actress asked to leave. But I am happy to be wrong about it.

  22. Ozogirl says:

    I guess Shondra isn’t as progressive as some may think.

  23. tracking says:

    She tried to get Dempsey to negotiate together–they were the co-leads–and he refused (he likely made more than her for a long time). Otherwise, why should she? She is the lead–it’s her character’s name on the show. The fact that she had to fight so hard to receive appropriate compensation for her anchoring role on such a lucrative show is bullshit.

  24. MellyMel says:

    Selfish? She’s the star of the show. It’s called Grey’s Anatomy and she’s the Grey. The fact that it took 14 years for her to get this type of deal is ridiculous! She’s not the selfish one in this.

  25. Mel says:

    I am honestly sorry that this is your takeaway from this very honest and enlightening interview.
    It is a point that can be made, sure, but if that’s all you keep from it…

  26. sunshine gold says:

    Agree! Do you think Mark Harmon goes in and negotiates for the cast of NCIS, or for himself? C’mon.