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Ellen Pompeo talks about watching herself age over 16 seasons of 'Grey's Anatomy'

The actor spoke candidly about her experience on the hit medical drama on Dax Shepard's podcast.
Ellen Pompeo has played Dr. Meredith Grey on "Grey's Anatomy" for 16 seasons.
Ellen Pompeo has played Dr. Meredith Grey on "Grey's Anatomy" for 16 seasons.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Ellen Pompeo is getting real about what it's like to watch herself age while starring for 16 seasons on a TV show.

The actor, who has played Dr. Meredith Grey on the hit series "Grey's Anatomy" since 2005, opened up to Dax Shepard during an episode of his “Armchair Expert” podcast and revealed that seeing herself get older has been a surreal and sometimes uncomfortable process.

"To watch myself age from 33 to 50 now on screen, that's not so fun. Because you really see it, because I'm in the same clothes, I'm in the same character. So the way I see myself aging, that's a motherf---er," she said.

Watching her character's story progress over time has made Pompeo very aware of her age, but she's trying to embrace the aging process gracefully.

"I think the overall goal of my life is to always keep my ego in check. I don't want to tell myself lies, I don't lie about my age, I don't put anything in my face," she said.

Many actors dream of finding a stable gig that will last them several years, and Pompeo appreciates how lucky she is. During the interview, the 50-year-old reflected on why she's stayed on "Grey's Anatomy" for so long.

"My commute is 6 minutes. At this point, I’m so blessed that the executive producers of the show make my life so fantastic, that I have a very set amount of hours. I know exactly where I’m gonna be. I know exactly what time I’m gonna come home. I’m home for dinner with my kids every night,” she said.

Her family, she said, is one of the main reasons that she's stayed.

"It's all where you are in your life, and kids have a huge part to play in that," she added. "My mother died when I was 4. I grew up without a mother, and I want to be home with them every single night."

As happy as she is at work, Pompeo is the first to admit that the culture on set at "Grey's Anatomy" wasn't always pleasant.

"I've said very publicly before, we had a lot of issues with toxicity on the set, listen, as every set does. ... It's not anybody's fault, it's never one person's fault. There are many contributing factors," she said.

Over her 16 seasons on "Grey's Anatomy," Pompeo has had the chance to work with many talented actors, and she told Shepard that she was pretty bummed when Sandra Oh moved on from the series. Oh, who played Meredith's best friend, Dr. Cristina Yang, exited at the end of the 10th season.

"When Sandra Oh left the show, I was like, 'Ugh, how do I go on without Sandra?'" Pompeo shared. "She was such an amazing scene partner."

When Patrick Dempsey left after 11 seasons of playing Meredith's love interest, Dr. Derek Shepherd, Pompeo also found herself at a crossroads — but a very different one.

"I could've left because the man left, which is not a story that I want to tell. Like, 'He's not here anymore, so I have to go.' So that story then becomes, 'What can I do without the man?' Because they had put that in my head for so long that I was no good without him," she said. "I had to take over that script and rewrite that story and prove to myself that they were wrong."

As she heads into season 17 of the hit show, Pompeo said she's very aware that there will come a time when she has to move on, and she's hoping to do it on her own terms.

"To dip out sooner rather than later at this point, having done what we've done, to leave while the show is still on top, is definitely a goal. I'm not trying to stay on the show forever," she said. "No way."