‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Ellen Pompeo Reveals Why She Stayed on the Show After Sandrah Oh and Patrick Dempsey Left

Ellen Pompeo has been the backbone of Grey’s Anatomy since its inception. Her portrayal of Meredith Grey has been one of the only constants throughout all 16 seasons of the show. Over the course of the show, other prominent characters, who seemed like mainstays of the series, have fallen by the wayside and Pompeo is one of the only original cast members left still standing. So, what has made her stick around as most of her coworkers left?

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo | Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

How did Ellen Pompeo feel about Sandrah Oh’s exit from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?

Anyone who watched the early seasons of Grey’s knows that Meredith and Cristina Yang’s friendship was one for the history books. So when the actress behind the character, Sandrah Oh, decided to leave the show, fans wondered how Grey’s could continue. Apparently, Pompeo also shared some concerns at the time.

“To be honest, when Sandra Oh left the show I was like, ‘Ugh. How do I go on without Sandra?'” she said on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast . “Because, as amazing as Patrick [Dempsey] is, he wasn’t really in the show that much. His impact is so huge obviously, he’s such an iconic part of the show, but more of my work, my day-to-day scenes, were with Sandra. And she was such an amazing scene partner. Then I was like, ‘Is there a show without Sandra?'”

When Oh left, Pompeo seriously considered leaving as well.

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“Sandra’s a different kind of actor,” she said. “She was on a super successful show before Grey’s… You never doubt whether Sandra’s gonna work again, right? She’ll work forever, right? But me, I was like, ‘Am I gonna work again or am I just gonna be so typecast?'”

Why did Ellen Pompeo stay on ‘Grey’s’ after Patrick Dempsey left?

Pompeo was thrown again when Patrick Dempsey, who played her husband Derek Shepherd, left the show in 2015. But unlike when Oh left, Pompeo felt invigorated by Dempsey’s exit.

“When Patrick left, I had something to prove,” she said. “Because now we circle back to that negotiation conversation. He left season 11 and then I was renegotiating season 12, so I could’ve left because the man left, which is not a story that I want to tell, like, he’s not here anymore so I have to go.

“So that story then becomes, what can I do without the man? Because they had put that in my head for so long, that I was no good without him. So then I had to then rewrite the ending of that story and say, ‘Well, who’s right? Are they right or am I right? Am I actually good without him?’ So I had to take over that script and rewrite that story and prove to myself that they were wrong in all the things they put into my head over all of those years.”

In fact, Dempsey’s exit was a turning point for Pompeo, not only to prove her worth but to change how things were done on set.

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“After Patrick left I said, ‘OK, I am going to stay. I’m going to prove that they need me,'” she said. “But then also I really wanted to change the story of the experience of the show and I wanted to see if we could turn the culture around and we could make the set a happy place. It was a lot of bad behavior being taught, being shown, being copied, so that was another challenge for me.

Pompeo has since done five seasons without Dempsey and season 17 of the show is in pre-production. She is also now a producer of Grey’s, so she has definitely proven her worth with and without Dempsey and Oh.