In 2005, when Grey’s Anatomy premiered to international acclaim, the cast and crew were relieved and ecstatic and excited.
Well, all except the show’s star Ellen Pompeo, known on screens to her fans as Meredith Grey; aka the Grey of Grey’s Anatomy.
“I knew I was f**ked,” she told the Hollywood Reporter in a remarkable interview overnight.
The purpose of her taking up the role was a simple one: she needed to pay her rent. The year before, her attempts at cracking into the Hollywood film scene had stalled and her money was running dry. Her agent suggested she try her hand at a small-screen hospital drama.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to be stuck on a medical show for five years’,” she remembers telling him, as per the Hollywood Reporter. “‘Are you out of your f**kin’ mind? I’m an actress.'”
Of course, pride is only so fun when it pays your bills, so she took the role. That was 14 years ago.
Today, Pompeo is dramatic television’s highest-earning actress, roping in $575,000 per episode, and about $20 million a year. That information hasn’t come from the rumour mill or well-connected sources but from Pompeo herself, in one of the most startlingly refreshing interviews she has ever given.
Pompeo is candid, at times brutal and deliberately lifts the veil on Hollywood, pay and power struggles. She touches on co-star Patrick Dempsey’s exit from the show (“What does it look like when he leaves the show? First, it looks like a ratings spike, and I had a nice chuckle about that.”) and the underrated skill of being on the same show for so many years (“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.”).
But perhaps most importantly, it's Pompeo's frank admissions about pay - and more specifically, how to demand more - that has the industry celebrating.
"Now, maybe it's my Irish Catholic upbringing, but you never want to [be perceived as] too greedy. Or maybe it's just that as women, that's our problem; a guy wouldn't have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode. And as women, we're like, 'Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?'
"I'd call [the show's creator] Shonda [Rhimes] and say, 'Am I being greedy?' But CAA compiled a list of stats for me, and Grey's has generated nearly US$3 billion for Disney. When your face and your voice have been part of something that's generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, 'OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this.'"
And a piece of it she asked for.
A decade-and-a-half later, Pompeo may still be on the show she never wanted in the first place, but she's working on her own terms and for what she thinks she's worth.
And in that industry, and perhaps every industry, that's the biggest win of all.
LISTEN: If women are quitting their jobs in protest of equal pay - doesn't that set us back?