‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Ellen Pompeo Reveals Patrick Dempsey’s Exit Was A Major Turning Point For Her Paycheck

The star of the ABC medical drama reveals how she became TV’s highest paid actress on a primetime drama.

Grey's Anatomy Star Ellen Pompeo talks salary
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The star of the ABC medical drama reveals how she became TV’s highest paid actress on a primetime drama.

Ellen Pompeo has no problem talking money. After signing her latest two-year contract with ABC, the Grey’s Anatomy star is the highest paid television actress today, with earnings of more than $20 million per year. Pompeo’s paycheck doesn’t even include the backend equity points on the series, which could bring her up to $7 million more, as well as a producing fee plus backend on the upcoming Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.

In a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Ellen Pompeo revealed that she originally scoffed at her agent’s suggestion that she audition for Grey’s Anatomy. Ellen had already caught the attention of movie producers and didn’t want to be tied up for years on a TV medical drama. But in 2005, Ellen made her debut as Seattle Grace intern Meredith Grey, and she’s been scrubbing in ever since.

Ellen Pompeo revealed that it was her Grey’s Anatomy boss Shonda Rhimes who empowered her to demand the best possible deal. Rhimes reportedly told Pompeo to “decide what you think you’re worth and then ask for what you think you’re worth. Nobody’s just going to give it to you.”

“I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m OK asking for what I deserve, which is something that comes only with age,” Pompeo told to THR.

“But the truth is, anybody can be good on a show season one and two. Can you be good 14 years later? Now, that’s a f**kin’ skill.”

Ellen Pompeo Plays Meredith Grey

While the early years of Grey’s Anatomy featured Meredith Grey’s romance and subsequent marriage to Dr. Derek Shepherd (aka McDreamy, played by Patrick Dempsey), Ellen Pompeo says Dempsey’s exit earned her a big paycheck boost.

“For me, Patrick leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise,” Ellen said.

“They could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don’t need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years. 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. 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.”

By the time Dempsey left Grey’s in 2015, Ellen Pompeo had her stats in a row.

After doing her own research, Ellen asked for what she felt she deserved, revealing she went to Rhimes and told her, “If you want it to continue [the show], I need to be incentivized. I need to feel empowered and to feel ownership of this show. I make 24 episodes of TV a year, and as part of this deal, I cannot appear anywhere else…So, it’s got to be a ton of money.”

And it is. But while Ellen Pompeo is raking in the bucks as an actress on one of TV’s top medical dramas, her comedic counterparts aren’t doing too bad, either. In 2017, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara earned a whopping $41,500,000, according to Forbes. Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco earned $26,000,000 — and those shows are half-hour sitcoms. Still, with a nine-figure paycheck of her own, Ellen Pompeo is laughing all the way to the bank.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.