Ellen Pompeo is standing by her showrunner. The Grey’s Anatomy star says her boss took a lot of unfair heat over how she handled Patrick Dempsey’s exit from the long-running ABC medical drama last year. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Pompeo said Rhimes’ hands were tied when she was tasked with writing Dempsey’s popular character, Derek Shepherd, off of the show. Rhimes ultimately killed the character off in a car crash that no one saw coming.
“I completely understood their anger, angst, and pain,” Pompeo said of the fan reaction. “Nobody wanted to lose Patrick — everybody knew how valuable he was to the show. It wasn’t a choice that we had. We both signed a two-year contract to renew, so it was a situation that came up very abruptly and nobody expected it to happen.”
While she can relate to fans’ sadness over losing McDreamy—including that petition by more than 100,000 Grey’s viewers who vowed to boycott the show— what Pompeo couldn’t understand was the personal attacks on Rhimes.
“What upset me was how Shonda [Rhimes] was attacked,” Ellen said. “I understood their anger. We were sad to lose him, too, but what really disappointed me was the way that people attacked Shonda as if she had some choice…I felt pretty protective of her in that moment and I was pretty disappointed that she got the blame for something that really wasn’t her fault at all.”
While Ellen Pompeo is passionate about defending her boss, at the time that the backlash occurred it probably didn’t help matters that Shonda told late night host Larry Wilmore, she once killed off a character because she didn’t like the actor.
Still, Pompeo reiterated Rhimes’ previous explanation as to why she had to off McDreamy permanently, saying viewers wouldn’t have been happy if he had made his exit from the show any other way, either.
“If the character rides off into the sunset on a white horse, why would he ever leave Meredith?” Ellen told EW. “Then that love story is ruined. “If he were just to walk away gracefully, he’s no longer the knight in shining armor.”
According to E! News, at last summer’s Television Critics Association’s press tour, Rhimes told reporters that while Derek’s death was painful for her to write, it was not a hard decision for her at all. The Grey’s Anatomy creator said she had no other options because it was the only way to preserve Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek’s love story.
“I really couldn’t have the idea that he turned out to be a bad guy who walked out on his wife and his kids, [and have that turn] out to be a true story. To me, that was the only way to make Meredith and Derek’s magic remain true and remain frozen in time,” she said.
Despite a tumultuous 12th season for her character, Ellen Pompeo says she’s still excited to tell more stories on the hit show and she credits the iconic showrunner for all of her hard work in making Grey’s the number one drama series on ABC—with and without McDreamy. Pompeo says she has “always believed” in her boss and that she’s “incredibly proud” to be part of the flagship series that spawned the Shondaland empire.
“I’m always excited to work with Shonda and to be part of whatever she is doing creatively,” Pompeo said. “That’s my girl; I’ve always believed in her, I’ve never doubted her.”
Ellen went on to tout the five, high-profile ABC shows under the Grey’s creator’s belt and said the innovative showrunner “got in pop culture’s ear” and has really changed Hollywood.
“She’s made every studio in this town, every TV network, every person making every movie, every writer, every director, every producer — her message has resonated with every single person that creates content in this town, that people of color, people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, everyone needs to be included, and she’s spearheaded that,” Pompeo said.
Take a look at the video below to see Ellen Pompeo talking about Grey’s Anatomy.
[Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images]