Ellen Pompeo reveals how she fought for “her worth” in Grey's Anatomy

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Susan Devaney
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Actress Ellen Pompeo reveals her behind-the-scenes fights around pay for Grey’s Anatomy in a frank interview about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. 

It’s been nearly 13 years since Grey’s Anatomy first aired on the small screen, but Ellen Pompeo, the show’s leading actress, has revealed how she had to “own her power” by fighting for her “worth”.

In a frank interview with Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo has spoken candidly about the advice given to her by the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes in propelling her forward:

“Decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s just going to give it to you,” Rhimes told Pompeo.

At the end of 2017, Pompeo signed a new deal with ABC, securing $575,000 (£415, 800) per episode – with a seven-figure signing bonus. Pompeo is now officially the highest-paid actress on a television drama, raking in $20 million (£14.5 million) per year.

But Pompeo hasn’t held back in revealing how many punches she had to pull to get there – especially after her co-star Patrick Dempsey left the show in 2015, resulting in 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,” Pompeo explained.

“There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that.

“At one point, I asked for $5,000 (£3,600) more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey’s Anatomy and I’m Meredith Grey. They wouldn’t give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn’t I? It’s my show; I’m the number one. I’m sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.’”

At first she was hesitant to ask for more money as she didn’t want to seem “greedy”.

“But CAA compiled a list of stats for me, and ‘Grey’s’ has generated nearly $3 billion (£2.1 billion) for Disney,” she said. “When your face and your voice have been part of something that’s generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, ‘OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this.’”

Entering its 14th season, Grey’s Anatomy continues to draw nearly 12 million viewers per week.

Filming 24 episodes per year means Pompeo “can’t appear anywhere else” and has resulted in her being away from her children a lot which is why demanding her financial worth has been so important.

Pompeo also voiced her opinion on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, believing that the only way to move forward as an industry is to give actors and actresses a higher stake in the filming business.

“I don’t believe the only solution is more women in power, because power corrupts. It’s not necessarily a man or a woman thing. But there should be more of us women in power, and not just on Shonda Rhimes’ sets,” Pompeo said.

“Look, I only have a 12th-grade education and I wasn’t a great student, but I’ve gotten an education here at Shondaland,” Pompeo continued. “And now my 8-year-old daughter gets to come here and see fierce females in charge.”

And people have taken to Twitter to applaud Pompeo, saying:

“’I’m the number one’ will be my response to every-damn-thing from now on,” one user wrote. 

“Whether you’re asking for £60,000 or £250,000, good reminder to fight for what you deserve!,” one user posted.

“A must read for everyone, not just women. You have a voice, learn to use it during negotiations! Ellen Pompeo for the win,” one user posted.

Let’s all take a leaf out of Ellen Pompeo’s book in 2018.

Images: Rex Features / Instagram