Ellen Pompeo on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: 10 Things She’s Said About Her Record-Breaking Tenure

Ellen Pompeo Grey's Anatomy

Not only does Ellen Pompeo star on the longest-running American primetime medical drama, she also became the highest-paid actress on a primetime drama in 2018 after landing a $20 million-per-year deal with ABC parent company Disney. Not bad for an actor who was a still a relative unknown when Grey’s Anatomy premiered 15 years ago!

In the past decade and a half, as other Grey’s actors have come and gone, Pompeo has stayed the course, appearing in more than 360 episodes and asserting her power behind the camera with producing and directing roles. And when people thought Grey’s would end after Patrick Dempsey left in 2015, she proved that sexist skepticism wrong, keeping the show ABC’s top-rated scripted series.

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Here’s what Pompeo has said over the years about her 16-seasons-and-counting Grey’s tenure.

“It’s all because I didn’t leave Grey’s Anatomy.”

“Actors always think the grass is greener somewhere else. I didn’t want to do that,” Pompeo told the New York Post in 2013 as the show celebrated 200 episodes. “I have an amazing life. I have a house five minutes from the studio, I have a house in the Hamptons, a house in Malibu, a beautiful daughter whom I see every night, and it’s all because I didn’t leave Grey’s Anatomy.”

“A lot has changed…”

“I remember my publicist telling me at the beginning of the show … I think it was like [about] Elle magazine or something, she said, ‘They don’t put TV stars on the cover of magazines,’ and I thought, ‘Oh wow … that feels terrible. OK?’” Pompeo recalled in a 2016 Cosmopolitan interview. “The wonderful news is 12 years later, now that’s no longer a truth, and TV girls can be on magazine covers. I can’t, because I’ve been on the same show for 12 years and I’m not that interesting. I’m not the new, hot thing so you can’t exploit me in that way, but that’s another sort of prejudice that did exist, that I watched exist, and I’ve watched go away, which is great. A lot has changed over 12 years.”

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Bonnie Osborne/ABC

“Can you be good 14 years later?”

“I’m 48 now, so I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m OK asking for what I deserve, which is something that comes only with age,” the actress revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 after negotiating her Disney deal. “Because 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 f—kin’ skill.”

“Producing is something I really enjoy. That’s my creativity now.”

“What I said to Shonda is the truth: ‘I don’t get to do anything else, and that’s frustrating for me creatively. I make 24 episodes of TV a year, and as part of this deal, I cannot appear anywhere else. And directing is cool but, to be honest, it just takes me away from my kids,’” she said to THR, recalling conversations with Shonda Rhimes about her contract renegotiation and her future. “Then I said, ‘So, it’s got to be a ton of money. And it has to help me with my producing because producing is something I really enjoy. That’s my creativity now.’ Acting, to me, is boring. An actor is the least powerful person on set, so I don’t care about chasing roles. Plus, at my age, it’s pretty unrealistic. Not that I can’t do a cool cable thing, but I’m not going to have this whole second life as a movie star. I’m not f—kin’ Julia Roberts.”

“The fans will let us know when it’s time to stop.”

“I’m really open to whatever the universe presents,” Pompeo told Variety later that year. “I don’t know how long the show will go on. I know the network and the studio like to say they see no end in sight, but I think the audience will tell us when the show is no longer a fan favorite. I think it’s quite arrogant to assume the show can go on forever — I don’t like that approach. Right now, we’re very lucky to have the fans still hanging on, and I think the fans will let us know when it’s time to stop the show.”

Gilles Mingasson/ABC via Getty Images

“The people keep inspiring me to do it.”

“As a performer and as an artist, your goal is to move people and touch people, and we’re still doing that 13 years later, so it’s pretty hard to stop when you feel that you are moving people that much,” the Meredith Grey portrayer added in the Variety interview. “As long as the audience is still so interested and so moved, it helps me keep going. It really does. I’m really doing it, at this point, because the people keep inspiring me to do it. They really do.”

“I made a decision to make money.”

“If I started the show when I was younger, [like] 25, I probably would have dipped out when I was 31, 32, when my six-year contract was up,” Pompeo explained on the podcast Jemele Hill Is Unbothered in August. “I knew coming up on 40, it’s like, I don’t want to be out there chasing [film roles]… begging. I’d rather just see this as the blessing that it is. … A healthy home life was more important than career. I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood… I [now] have this great husband and these three beautiful children, so to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart. And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles.”

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“The way I see myself aging, that’s a motherf—ker.”

“To watch myself age from 33 to 50 now on screen, that’s not so fun,” Pompeo told Dax Shepard on his Armchair Expert podcast in August. “Because you really see it, because I’m in the same clothes, I’m in the same character. So the way I see myself aging, that’s a motherf—ker.”

Grey's Anatomy Facts Ellen Pompeo

Mike Rosenthal/ABC

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

“The not getting bored and phoning it in, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she added in her interview with Shepard. “You’ve got to know when you can slow down and when you can speed up. I just try and check myself all the time. There’s been whole seasons where, if there’s too much on-set drama going on, my mechanism is really just to check out… which is definitely frustrating for other actors.”

“I’m not trying to stay on the show forever.”

“Certainly I think to dip out sooner rather than later, at this point, having done what we’ve done, to leave when the show is still on top, is definitely a goal,” Pompeo told Shepard. “I’m not trying to stay on the show forever. No way. The truth is, if I get too aggravated and I’m no longer grateful there, I should not be there.”