She’s enjoyed one of the longest-running roles on a current prime-time drama, but for Ellen Pompeo, that’s not due to a simple love for her craft or commitment to a character.
The 50-year-old actor, who’s starred on “Grey’s Anatomy” since the series debuted in 2005, says the reason she’s stuck with her on-screen work is so that she can afford to have the life she loves off-screen.
In an interview for this week’s episode of the “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” podcast, the TV doc spoke openly about her motivation to remain on the medical drama.
"I made choices to stay on the show," she told host Hill. "For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career. I didn't grow up with a particularly happy childhood, so to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart."
She has that with her husband, Chris Ivery, and their three children, and by staying the course with “Grey’s Anatomy,” she also has the job security, schedule and finances that allow her to fully appreciate it all.
But staying the course hasn’t always been easy.
As she explained in an interview with “Empire’s” Taraji P. Henson for Variety’s Actors on Actors series last year, things weren’t great on the set of “Grey’s” for much of the show’s early run.
“The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,” she said at the time. “But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family.”
And in her chat with Hill, she said that’s exactly what’s she’s done.
“I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles," she said, putting it plainly. “I don't like chasing anything ever, and acting to me, in my experience, was a lot of chasing. You've got to chase roles, you've got to beg for roles, you've got to convince people, and although I produce and it's the same kind of thing, I think I still do it from a place of, ‘I'm never that thirsty because I'm financially set.’"
She certainly is that.
Back in 2017, the star made headlines for inking a $20 million deal, making her one of the highest paid female actors on a television drama — which was both a big step forward for her personally and a big step away from Hollywood’s longstanding gender pay gap, too.
But she chalks up her enduring role and fair compensation to more than determination. Pompeo believes it also comes down to age.
"I got in the game late,” she said. “I didn't start Grey's until I was 33, and then I started having kids at 40. If I started the show when I was younger, (say) 25, I probably would have dipped out when I was 31, 32, (when) my six-year contract was up.”
Being more mature and having more responsibilities in life not only influenced her to embrace her current job, it also led her to embrace the fact that, because of it, her fans will always know her as Dr. Meredith Grey.
“At my age and where my life is, I just try to lean into it," she said. "I'm not trying to run away from anything. It is who I am. I made my choices and I'm cool with it.”