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Ellen Pompeo: 'Grey's Anatomy' was a 'toxic work environment' for first 10 years

The actress said it became her "mission" to make the show a better place to work.
/ Source: TODAY

“Grey’s Anatomy” has been a staple of ABC’s lineup for 15 seasons, but star Ellen Pompeo said it wasn’t always smooth sailing on the hit drama.

In an interview with “Empire’s” Taraji P. Henson for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Pompeo, who’s been on “Grey’s Anatomy” since its premiere in 2005, revealed there were serious problems behind the scenes during the show’s the first decade.

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo has been a stalwart on "Grey's Anatomy" since it premiered in 2005.Getty Images

“The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,” she said. “But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family.”

Despite the problems on the set, the lure of providing for her three children proved more important.

“At 40 years old, where am I ever going to get this kind of money?” she asked. “I need to take care of my kids. But after season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera.”

The actress, 49, was determined to make the set a more welcome environment.

“It became my goal to have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about, because we had so much turmoil for 10 years. My mission became, this can’t be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes,” she said.

“(Series creator) Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story,” she said. “That’s what’s kept me. Patrick Dempsey left the show in season 11, and the studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead. So I had a mission to prove that it could. I was on a double mission.”

Pompeo said she was pleased with how things have panned out.

“I now have three kids. And we turned the culture around,” she continued. “I’ve hit some marks that have made me feel accomplished in a different way. Shonda Rhimes has been amazing. She lets us be mothers. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

Ellen Pompeo
Pompeo on "Grey's Anatomy" with former co-star Patrick Dempsey.Getty Images

Pompeo also said original star Patrick Dempsey was pulling in “almost double” what she was making when “Grey’s Anatomy” premiered.

“He had a television quote. I had never done TV. ‘He’s done 13 pilots.’ Well, none of them have gone,” she told . “I didn’t even realize until we were renegotiating season three. No one was offering that up.”

Pompeo, who now earns $20 million a year for her work on “Grey’s Anatomy,” stressed the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

“My husband says, ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed,’” she said. “But if you have to walk, don’t be a victim. If you don’t get what you want, put your big-girl panties on … You can know your worth, but if they don’t know it, you can’t cry.”

Pompeo got a little brushback over her comments and clarified her remarks in a series of tweets.

"Hey! Anyone having feelings over Variety piece. It’s not worth getting yourself upset over not singling anyone a show we all had a part to play in the environment me many workplaces do..We changed that story. That’s the story we all have the power to change!" she wrote.

"None of my comments in print are ever meant to shade anyone," she added. "That’s so not productive. My words about my journey are always meant to inspire and reflect. My shade is very obvious when I’m not subtle about it you all should know that!!

"I’m aware how much love there is for this show and these one has more love than me..I’ve dedicated half my life to it. The show has been a blessing for us all in different ways. The negative vibes...not healthy....and ummmm a doctah," she finished writing, alluding to the fact she plays a doctor on TV.