Ellen Pompeo was recently interviewed by someone else who is very familiar with on-set drama, Taraji P. Henson, for Variety. Taraji – who will have spent six seasons playing Cookie Lyon on Empire by the time it ends next year – asked Ellen how she managed to clock in every day for 15 seasons. The quick answer would be: a check. But Ellen says there were moments she wanted “off this bus” and says the Grey’s Anatomy of today is way better than when Grey’s Anatomy fist started shooting. Yeah, that’s not exactly a revelation for anyone with any tabloid knowledge of Grey’s early years.
Ellen is 49, so she’s practically spent a third of her life on Grey’s. Ellen responded to Taraji’s question by saying that there were plenty of moments where she wanted to pack up her scrubs and high tail out of Seattle Grace Hospital. But she stuck around because she had kids. And it’s a good thing she stuck around, because things got better on set (and also, got better for her bank accounts).
Ellen says the toxic years all happened in the first ten years of Grey’s. That sound you heard was me practically breaking all my fingers while rushing to type the words: “What season Patrick Dempsey got exploded off the show.” Oh, well would you look at that? Season 11. Ellen says:
“There were many moments. It’s funny: I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off. The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment…after Season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera. 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. Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. 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.”
Shonda Rhimes and Ellen continue to keep that boat afloat, for at least sixteen seasons. Ellen also talked about how she managed to leverage Patrick Dempsey’s salary against her own in an attempt to get a fair pay raise. But that’s all she really said about Patrick. Ellen didn’t name any other names, but let’s just stroll down memory lane to throw out some guesses about why the first ten years sucked behind the scenes.
Maybe it was Katherine Heigl throwing a diva tantrum about the donuts at the craft service table not being good enough for her. Or maybe it was the fight between Patrick Dempsey and Isaiah Washington that ended with Isaiah uttering a homophobic slur and making things awful for T. R. Knight. Or whatever reason T. R. Knight had for wanting the hell out of his contract. Basically, I’m not shocked that Ellen probably dreaded going to in to work somedays. But I bet she was glad the show was set in a hospital. Plenty of beds to lay down on when you need a moment to deal with the massive migraines from working with the cast of Grey’s Anatomy.