Ellen Pompeo discusses race issues, pay disparity and toxicity of 'Grey's Anatomy' sets with Taraji P Henson

'Very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,' Ellen Pompeo told Taraji P Henson while recollecting the initial years of Grey's Anatomy

                            Ellen Pompeo discusses race issues, pay disparity and toxicity of 'Grey's Anatomy' sets with Taraji P Henson

In another riveting episode of Variety’s ‘Actors on Actors,’ Hollywood stalwarts Taraji P Henson and Ellen Pompeo were paired with each other to talk about their individual career graphs, focusing on their career-defining projects. This, of course, would be incomplete without talking about ‘Empire’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and the talented women did not hold back on anything – especially Pompeo.

In the context of pay disparity and work culture, Pompeo said that there were many moments while she was on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that she wanted off the bus. “We had a serious, serious culture problem on Grey’s for a good number of years – I would say the first ten years… Very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,” she said.

However, despite the many reasons to say goodbye to the ABC show, Pompeo, who was a new mother in season 6 decided to stay for the pay. “Because I had someone other than myself to think about. At that point – also, I was 40 years old – and I thought where am I ever going to get this kind of money, and I need to take care of my child so I am going to stay,” she told Henson, who seemed to relate to the sentiment.

Over the past decade since then, Pompeo claims she saw the changes that happened on camera and behind the camera, which has inspired her. “It became my goal to turn that set around and have an experience there that I can be happy about and proud about. We have had so much turmoil for ten years,” she narrated adding that she no longer wanted the show’s legacy to be - – Fantastic to the public, and a disaster behind the scenes.


Soon after, along with the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes, Pompeo decided that they want to rewrite the ending of the story. “We want to start a new chapter and turn the culture around behind the curtain. We brought in Debbie Allen as our directing executive producer and we made some changes, and we had to reimagine what behind the scenes at ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ looked like.”

Pompeo and the others have been on a mission to change the story for the past five years. “Also, Patrick Dempsey left the show in season 11, and the studio and the network believed that the show could not possibly go on without the male lead. So, I had a mission to prove that I could carry the show and the show could continue,” she said adding how it was, of course, a collaborative effort of the whole team that made it possible.

When Henson went on to ask if there was a pay disparity and if was ever rectified, Pompeo claimed that the first two seasons her co-star Dempsey was paid almost double of what she was getting, because he had a TV quoting price, owing to the 13 pilots he had done at the time. Then again, she made a strong point: “None of them have gone.”

Henson, who broke out laughing at this, said, “I know that story,” adding how she too was paid much lesser than her co-star Terrence Howard on 'Empire' initially, but people loving her character Cookie so much definitely helped her call the decision-makers to the table and demand a raise.

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