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Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo chat about 'the good, the bad and the ugly' of 'Grey's' set

The past and present stars of the medical drama opened up about their experiences at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and beyond.
ellen pompeo and patrick dempsey
Patrick Dempsey visits Ellen Pompeo’s new podcast, “Tell Me,” to discuss their experiences on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy.”Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

It’s been a bountiful couple of weeks for “Grey’s Anatomy” fans who are just as interested in off-screen action as they are in what goes on in the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.

Several excerpts from Lynette Rice’s book, “How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy,” have put controversies, unforgettable exits and unscripted tensions back in the spotlight. And now a couple of past and present cast members are indulging in some flashback talk of their own, too.

On Wednesday’s episode of Ellen Pompeo’s new podcast, “Tell Me,” the star behind Dr. Meredith Grey sat down with her old McDreamy pal, Patrick Dempsey, to walk down memory lane and share their unique takes.

“Patrick and I, when we did the pilot for ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ we were actually neighbors and didn’t really know each other,” Pompeo told her listeners. And she noted that she doesn’t exactly consider that a coincidence.

“It’s so funny how people who are in your orbit are sort of meant to be in your orbit,” the self-proclaimed “spiritual” 51-year-old continued. “Some people are meant to be in your orbit for a minute to teach you things, and then they get out of your orbit — and you don’t ever want them in your orbit again.”

But despite allegations of tensions between her and her former on-screen husband before his character was killed off during the show’s 11th season, Pompeo is clearly still happy to have Dempsey in her orbit. And Dempsey, 55, seems just as happy about his connection to her and the rest of the “Grey’s” cast all these years later.

Image: Grey's Anatomy (Season 1)
Where it all began: "Grey's Anatomy," season one (2005).Alamy Stock

“I’ve learned so much from the experience, by different relationships with the cast,” he told her. “(Those) have been some of the best life lessons I’ve ever had in my life. And because of the concentrated intensity of the experience, all of it, it really has been a blessing in so many ways because you start to look at the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re here to refine ourselves and to improve, and it was really something that we all kind of lived through together, this amazing journey.”

Without addressing the specifics of “the ugly” times, Pompeo spoke of forgiveness.

“Only we can understand what this journey has been, and we are the only ones who truly understand it and each other,” she said. “We’ve all come through it with a tremendous amount of forgiveness and love for each other. We have learned that lesson, that empathy is the way. We’re living our best lives because of it. So it has been an incredible blessing. I wouldn’t change any of it — even the bad we’ve learned from, and the good we look back on and laugh.”

She added that everyone still loves each other, “like brothers and sisters.”

But as their conversation continued, there was one memory from the show’s seventh season that both she and Dempsey said they didn’t have any love for — the infamous musical episode.

“That musical — we were horrified, right?” Pompeo said.

Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo
Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo on "Grey's Anatomy," circa 2010. Adam Taylor / ABC

The plot took place as a result of an out-of-body experience a seriously injured Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) had and saw most, but not all, of the core cast raise their voices in song.

“I was like, ‘Listen, I don’t want to chicken out here,’” Pompeo recalled. “Like, we’re doing this musical, I want to be all in. I want to commit. I want to try, but I’m a terrible singer. But yes, if you guys can help me sound better, I’m not going to be good, but I also am not going to chicken out.”

Dempsey, however, had a different approach to the episode that, even today, some faithful fans consider cringey.

“I totally chickened out,” he laughed. “I chickened out completely. I was like, ‘No way in hell am I going to be singing.’ It didn’t make sense to me then, and now when you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh, my God! At least they tried.’”

Pompeo called the whole concept “completely ridiculous,” before moving on to a topic that was completely “amazing.” In 2017, two years after Dempsey exited “Grey’s Anatomy,” Pompeo stepped behind the camera for her first turn as director, something she celebrated because series creator and then-showrunner Shonda Rhimes gave her so much freedom.

“And Shonda was so generous and let me air my cut, which was just a game-changer,” the star explained. “The only reason for me to do it was I want to show the audience what my version of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ looks like.”

But she didn’t like the lack of freedom she experienced when an A-list actor joined the set to direct his version of an episode from the show's 12th season.

Denzel Washington directed a 2016 episode titled “The Sound of Silence,” but when Pompeo went off-script to play off the tension she felt from a co-star’s delivery, things got personal.

“Denzel went HAM on my a--,” she recalled as Dempsey laughed. “He was like, ‘I’m the director! Don’t you tell him what to do!’ And I was like, ‘Listen, motherf-----, this is my show! This is my set! Who are you telling? You barely know where the bathroom is.’”

Despite that between-the-scenes drama, Pompeo said she had “the utmost respect for him as an actor, as a director, as everything,” and in the end, she chalked up their exchange to the nature of the work.

“We didn’t get through it without a fight, but that’s actors for you,” Pompeo said. “Passionate and fiery and that’s where you get the magic, that’s where you get the good stuff. It was an amazing experience.”