Onscreen, Grey's Anatomy is all about breaking down boundaries and addressing important issues, and the show's star has proven that she's willing to lead by example and be open about the pay gap in Hollywood. In a recent interview for Variety, Ellen Pompeo revealed that Patrick Dempsey made twice her salary on Grey's Anatomy, despite the fact that she played the show's titular role — and she only found out the disparity in their salaries after working on the show for three seasons.
Pompeo — who has starred on the record-breaking medical drama for 15 seasons, and is now a producer on the show — opened up to Taraji P. Henson about the difficulties of asking for what you're worth as a woman in Hollywood. "[Dempsey] was being paid almost double what I was in the beginning. He had a television quote. I had never done TV," Pompeo recalled during Variety's "Actors on Actors" series published Wednesday, June 5. "'He’s done 13 pilots.' Well, none of them have gone [to series]. I didn’t even realize until we were renegotiating Season 3. No one was offering that up."
Even more infuriatingly, despite playing Grey's Anatomy's main character, Pompeo explained that after Dempsey's character was killed off in Season 11, the network assumed that the show wouldn't continue on without him. "Patrick Dempsey left the show in Season 11, and the studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead," she recalled. "So I had a mission to prove that it could."
Pompeo has been incredibly open about the differences in the ways she and Dempsey were treated by the network during their time on Grey's, and how his decision to leave the show in 2015 marked a turning point in her career. "For me, Patrick leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me — 'We don't need you; we have Patrick' — which they did for years," she revealed in a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that."
She continued, "At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me." Pompeo even admitted that she considered leaving Grey's Anatomy after that incident, but eventually decided to stay, out of principle and love for the show. "I'm sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, 'I'm not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.'"
After Dempsey left the show, Pompeo reasserted her agency and creative control, eventually negotiating a contract that made her the highest-paid actress on a primetime drama, along with a new role as producer. Since then, she has advocated for women everywhere to stand up against discrimination and know their worth when it comes to salary negotiations. "Be confident and don't take any sh*t," Pompeo advised women at the ELLE Women in Hollywood event in 2018. "Hopefully, we're paving the way and educating young women and making that easier for them. But I guess you have a to be a b*tch, right? Don't be a afraid to be a b*tch."
Thankfully for Meredith and McDreamy fans everywhere, Pompeo doesn't harbor any hard feelings for Dempsey in the wake of everything that went down behind the scenes on Grey's Anatomy. "We haven't spoken since he's left the show. I have no hard feelings toward him," Pompeo said on a December 2018 episode of Jada Pinkett Smith's Red Table Talk. "He's a wonderful actor, and we made, you know, the best TV you can make together. That's a talented man right there. And he did 11 amazing years."
While Pompeo's incredible honesty about the differences between the way she and Dempsey were treated might make rewatching episodes of Grey's Anatomy a little bittersweet, her determination to shine a light on the unfair way women in Hollywood are treated is truly inspiring.