Ellen Pompeo is a force: The actress has starred as Meredith Grey on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy for the last 15 years, and she has managed to build a happy home life for herself, her three kids, and her husband while doing so.
Ellen recently opened up on Jemele Hill Is Unbothered about her decision to stay on the show and how her children have influenced that choice.
Ellen gets refreshingly frank in the interview about what it means to be a working mom and a woman who is 50 in Hollywood.
“You know, I made choices to stay on the show,” she said. “For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career. I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So the idea that I have this great husband and these three beautiful children [and] a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart.”
She also says that having a steady job that pays well (Ellen makes $575,000 an episode) was something she didn’t want to compromise:
“And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles. 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.”
Ellen touches on her age as well, noting that she didn’t really become famous until she was well into her 30s. That’s not something everyone experiences.
“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, [like] 25, I probably would have dipped out when I was 31, 32, [when] my six-year contract was up, but my age had a lot to do with it. I knew coming up on 40, it’s like, I don’t want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging. I’d rather just see this as the blessing that it is.”
While some actors balk at working in the same role for years upon years, Ellen has decided to just embrace it: “I understand that completely, but at my age and where my life is, I just try to lean into it. I’m not trying to run away from anything. It is who I am. I made my choices and I’m cool with it.”
She also appreciates the opportunities that the show has given her to directly address issues and concerns that many people share around the country and the world: “And I actually have a real passion, which is to sort of start to talk about and break down systemic racism in the healthcare industry. This is something that has plagued us forever. And I think the show has given me a real window into that.”
Mostly, she just appreciates the show for what it has been for her: a gift.
“That’s a platform I’m very passionate about,” she said, “and I’m going to continue down that path and try to do more work in that arena. So Grey’s has been a gift and I choose to see it that way.”
However, even though the show is a good thing, she has previously noted that the first 10 years were pretty rough: “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? 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.”
Ellen took the chance to turn the show into something she could genuinely love: “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.”
She credits show creator Shonda Rhimes with really making the effort to change the problematic culture: “We turned the culture around. We’ve hit some marks that have made me feel accomplished in a different way. Shonda Rhimes has been amazing. She lets us be mothers. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go anywhere.”
Ellen had acted for years prior to landing the role of Meredith Grey in 2005. She had roles in Moonlight Mile, Catch Me If You Can, and Old School. While it’s unknown how long Grey’s Anatomy will run, Ellen announced that she plans to retire from acting when the show does air its finale episode.