‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Ellen Pompeo Gets Really Honest About Why She Didn’t Leave the Show After the First Six Years

Everyone might be leaving or dying on Grey’s Anatomy, but not Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). The Shondaland character has been around since 2005, and she continues to be a powerhouse as the show enters its 17th season. But why did Pompeo stick around as Meredith for all these years? Recently, the Grey’s Anatomy actor revealed why she hasn’t decided to leave the hit medical drama after over 350 episodes.

Ellen Pompeo reveals why she chose to stay on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on 'Grey's Anatomy' Season 16 laughing
Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ | Gilles Mingasson/ABC via Getty Images

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In the Aug. 3 episode of the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast, Pompeo opened up about her decision to stay on Grey’s Anatomy for 17 seasons. Ultimately, the actor didn’t leave for other projects because she wanted to provide her family with financial security. Though Pompeo’s decision paid off. In 2018, she became the highest-paid actor in a TV drama, making $20 million annually.

“I made choices to stay on the show,” Pompeo said. “For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than a career. I didn’t grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart. And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles.”

She continued, “I don’t like chasing anything, ever. Acting, 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’m never that thirsty because I’m financially set.”

Pompeo also noted she understood the value of her show. 

“It didn’t make a lot of sense for me to walk away,” she said. “I knew it was such a downloadable show, I knew the numbers — the streaming numbers. So it just made sense, I want a piece of this pie, too. I’m not just gonna have one bite and walk away and let everybody else keep profiting for years.”

Why Ellen Pompeo says she might’ve left ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ after the first six years

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Still speaking on the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast, Pompeo pointed out that her age also influenced her decision to remain on Grey’s Anatomy.

“I got in the game late, Jemele,” Pompeo said. “I didn’t start Grey’s until I was 33. Then I started having kids at 40 … If I started the show when I was younger — 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.”

She added, “I knew coming up on 40, 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.”

What will Ellen Pompeo do after she leaves ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?

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For now, Grey’s Anatomy will go on as long as Pompeo and creator Shonda Rhimes want to continue. 

“Ellen and I have a pact that I’m going to do the show as long as she’s going to do the show,” Rhimes told E! News back in 2017. “So the show will exist as long as both of us want to do it. If she wants to stop, we’re stopping.”

She continued, “As long as there are fresh stories to tell and as long as we’re both excited about the stories being told, we’re in. So we’ll see where that takes us.”

Meanwhile, showrunner Krista Vernoff hinted the pact is still intact during an interview with Deadline published in April 2020. 

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“I will not start planning the end of Grey’s Anatomy until Shonda and Ellen and ABC all sit down together, tell me that this really the end this time,” she said. 

But whenever Grey’s Anatomy comes to an end, Pompeo knows her journey’s not over yet. Pompeo told Hill:

I’m kind of open to whatever. There’s a project right now that I’m actually talking to some people about that looks really fun, that I’d really like to do if it comes together … Whatever’s meant to be for me, I think my mom’s up in heaven and she pulls all the strings. All I do is wake up in the morning with an open mind and an open heart, and I just see where the day leads me. Whatever’s meant to be for me, will be. I truly believe that. I’m at peace.

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