Ellen Pompeo Says Grey's Anatomy Was a 'Toxic Work Environment' for the First 10 Years

Ellen Pompeo has been vocal about Hollywood’s pay disparity — and now, she’s opening up about another behind-the-scenes struggle.

Sitting down with Empire‘s Taraji P. Henson for Variety‘s latest Actors on Actors chat, the Grey’s Anatomy star got brutally honest about her first decade with the beloved ABC series, admitting there were “many moments” in which she wanted to quit.

“It’s funny: I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off,” she said. “The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment. But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family.”

“At 40 years old, where am I ever going to get this kind of money?” she continued. “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.”

Pompeo said she made it her mission to help turn the situation around.

“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,” she said. “My mission became, this can’t be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes.”

“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. [Creator] Shonda Rhimes has been amazing. She lets us be mothers. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

As for the storyline, the actress said she and Rhimes “decided to rewrite the ending.”

“That’s what’s kept me,” she said. “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.”

Last year, Pompeo revealed that she had negotiated for an annual paycheck of $20 million — making her one of the highest-paid actresses on TV. But in her chat with Henson, she said Dempsey, 53, was earning “almost double” her salary in the beginning.

“He had a television quote. I had never done TV. ‘He’s done 13 pilots.’ Well, none of them have gone,” she said. “I didn’t even realize until we were renegotiating season 3. No one was offering that up.”

Pompeo urged women to know their worth in the workplace — and assert themselves.

“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.”

In addition to making a reported $575,000 per episode (she films 24 a year), along with a seven-figure signing bonus, Pompeo also earns a producing fee on the Grey’s spinoff, Station 19.

But despite her impressive compensations, Pompeo told Henson she hasn’t “been challenged creatively at all” as of late.

“Every once in a while we do an amazing storyline,” she said. “But for the last five years, I’ve had other milestones that we were trying to achieve behind the camera.”

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