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Grey’s Anatomy set was a toxic work environment, says Ellen Pompeo

The actress who plays Meredith Grey in the long-running series said there were “many moments” where she wanted to leave during the first 10 years.

Grey’s Anatomy set was a toxic work environment, says Ellen Pompeo

Ellen Pompeo said the Grey's Anatomy set was a toxic work environment. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images North America / Gregg Deguire)

Ellen Pompeo, who plays the lead role in Grey’s Anatomy, has revealed in a Variety interview that the set of the medical drama series was a “toxic work environment” for the first 10 years and there were “many moments” where she wanted to leave.

Pompeo said: “The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behaviour, really toxic work environment.”

However, the actress decided to stay once she started having kids. “It became no longer about me,” she said. “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.”

The now 49-year-old actress dished on her work issues to Empire actress Taraji P Henson in Variety’s Actors on Actors chat.

Pompeo added that it then became her mission to make changes at work. “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.”

The actress, who now has three kids, is glad that she’s played a part in changing the culture. “I’ve hit some marks that have made me feel accomplished in a different way. (Creator) Shonda Rhimes is amazing. She lets us be mothers. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

She and Rhimes also worked on changing the ending after the departure of Patrick Dempsey in season 11. “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,” said Pompeo.

Pompeo has also been very vocal on the issue of pay equality. She’s now one of the highest-paid television actresses, having negotiated a US$20 million (S$27 million) annual salary for her role in the series. She revealed that Dempsey, who played Derek Shepherd on the show, was paid “almost double” her salary in the beginning.  

“My husband says, ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed,’” Pompeo 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.”

Source: CNA/sr