‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Ellen Pompeo on How Meredith Dealt With Loss

Ellen Pompeo

Last fall, ABC promoted Grey’s Anatomy’s 12th season with a striking poster featuring leading lady Ellen Pompeo and the tagline “Let the sun shine.” While Pompeo’s iconic character, Dr. Meredith Grey, has since weathered plenty of storms, including a brutal attack by a hospital patient, it’s been nothing but blue skies for Grey’s itself.

Instead of flatlining after the high-profile exit of Patrick Dempsey, whose Derek Shepherd died last spring, Shonda Rhimes’ hospital drama has been creatively revived, with some of its most powerful episodes dealing with Meredith’s life after loss. The always-candid Pompeo reflects on the challenges and rewards of a pivotal season and teases some twists ahead.

After the turmoil of last year, how does it feel to have fans embrace this season?
It means a lot. Obviously, I felt an obligation to everyone involved to work my hardest and make sure I was proud of what we’re putting out because the fans were so disappointed with Derek dying. I wanted to show them that [Grey’s] is not going to die with that storyline. We still have a good show.

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Grey’s has become ABC’s top-rated drama. That’s virtually unheard of in Season 12.
I know! Can someone tell the Emmys? [Laughs] Give us some props here!

ellen pompeo, grey's anatomy, finale preview

Ellen Pompeo and Justin Chambers

One of the season’s most riveting episodes was directed by Denzel Washington and found Meredith nearly killed by a patient. How was working with Denzel?
Completely thrilling and inspiring. He had such a fresh perspective—he didn’t really care about what we usually do. Because he’s Denzel, he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. My favorite thing about the episode, besides getting to just hang out with him for the month he was here, was the way he shot it. It looked so different and interesting.

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Meredith started dating again. How did you feel about the way that was handled?
We all worked really hard to make that journey seem authentic, and I think we succeeded. Now here we are without Thorpe [Scott Elrod]. I struggled with the scene of me throwing him out of the bedroom. I was like, that seems a little dramatic. I possibly wouldn’t have written it that way, so that was a challenge for me, but the rest of it made sense. She really liked Thorpe, and that made her feel guilty, so she had to push him away. She felt like she shouldn’t be having fun with another guy. It was too soon.

Might Meredith dip her toe back into dating again before the end of the season?
Oh, she’s dipping! She’s going to dip. She’s getting back on the horse, but not the same horse.

Any hints as to with whom?
It’s not too hard to figure out who it is.

Some fans really want to see Meredith with Alex (Justin Chambers). How do you feel about that?
I’m not particularly interested in it, only because they’re such good friends. But who knows what Shonda wants. Whatever she wants, we have to do, and you have to trust her vision. But without giving too much of a spoiler, it’s not Alex she jumps back into the pond with.

What else can you tell us about Meredith as the season comes to a close? In the episode where I hook up with someone, I’m not in a lighter place at all. I’m in a superdark place.

In the past, you’ve expressed interest in leaving Grey’s. How long do you think you’ll stick around? I don’t know. But as long as it’s successful, it doesn’t make sense to walk away. Right now, this show works incredibly well with my life. I get to be a mother to my kids. [Pompeo has two young daughters.] Working for Shonda, I breathe completely rarefied air. I feel like I have the wisdom to appreciate that now. I’m spoiled here. I get to drive every story. I get paid the same as any man. At Shondaland, women come first, and I don’t think there’s any other place in Hollywood where that’s true.

Grey’s Anatomy, Season Finale, Thursday, May 19, 8/7c, ABC