In a seriously excellent interview with the Hollywood Reporter last week, Ellen Pompeo, star of hit US medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, shared some frank, expletive-laden career advice to all women: ‘Ask for what you want’ and don’t stop till you get it.
Ellen would know. She recently secured a cool $20 million a year for the next two seasons of the acclaimed TV show which, after 14 seasons, continues to draw in 12 million viewers a week and rakes in the mega bucks. The pay rise makes Pompeo the highest earning female actor on TV.
But the road to getting what she wanted (and what she felt she deserved) was far from seamless.
Rejecting the line of diplomacy so often toed by celebrities in interviews, Pompeo opened up about her long fight for pay equality on the show and her anger at being made to feel secondary to former co-star, Patrick Dempsey for ten seasons. She even went on to expose Dempsey, suggesting he was unsupportive of her pursuit for equal pay.
“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 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.”
Pompeo admits that Dempsey leaving the show in 2015, came as a relief.
“For me, Patrick 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.
In what can only be described as poetic justice, Grey’s Anatomy experienced a ratings spike following Dempsey’s departure, with Pompeo admitting she “had a nice chuckle about that.”
Ultimately, Pompeo’s strong relationship with the show’s producer, Shonda Rhimes, gave her added leverage to seek a pay rise. But while she believed she was ultimately deserving of the pay increase she was requesting, she still struggled with the perception she was appearing ‘too greedy’– a trait she believes many women, angst over.
“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,” she told the Reporter. “Now, maybe it’s my Irish Catholic upbringing, but you never want to [be perceived as] too greedy. Or maybe it’s just that as women, that’s our problem; a guy wouldn’t have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode. And as women, we’re like, ‘Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?’ I’d call Shonda and say, ‘Am I being greedy?’
Pompeo goes on to further praise Rhimes, suggesting that when influential women use their power to sponsor and support other women, the opportunities are endless.
“[Shonda Rhimes] got to a place where she was so empowered that she was generous with her power,” Pompeo explained. “Now, what did that look like? It looked like her letting me be the highest-paid woman on television, letting me be a producer on this show, letting me be a co-executive producer on the spinoff and signing off on the deal that the studio gave me, which is unprecedented.”
It’s fair to imagine that Pompeo will play the same part for future generations of women climbing the ranks in Hollywood.
Ellen Pompeo for the fucking win pic.twitter.com/XtqLbZP4lX
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) January 17, 2018
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) January 17, 2018
THANK YOU @EllenPompeo for sharing your thoughts, your fight, your achieved autonomy. An important contribution to the equality, respect, and dignity discussion. ❤️ Hope all the networks and studios are listening. https://t.co/q4eqjYw5gZ
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) January 17, 2018