Ellen Pompeo reveals how she negotiated her $20 million salary

"You have to be more interested in business than you are in acting," the Everett native said.

Actress Ellen Pompeo attends the 300th "Grey's Anatomy" Episode Celebration last November in Hollywood. –VALERIE MACON / AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2005, Ellen Pompeo says she was initially hesitant to audition for a new show called Grey’s Anatomy out of the fear she would be pigeonholed as a TV actress.

More than a decade later, her work as the series’ eponymous character has paid off.

Pompeo now has a $20 million per year contract for Grey’s, which makes her the highest-paid actress on a primetime drama, according The Hollywood Reporter. Her deal also includes an additional $6 million to $7 million in bonus and other financial incentives.

She’s not a movie star. But Pompeo, who grew up in Everett, is fine with that.


“Acting, to me, is boring,” she said. “An actor is the least powerful person on set, so I don’t care about chasing roles. Plus, at my age, it’s pretty unrealistic. Not that I can’t do a cool cable thing, but I’m not going to have this whole second life as a movie star. I’m not f*****’ Julia Roberts.”

In a colorful interview, the 48-year-old actress said that after 14 years on Grey’s, she learned how to stand up for herself and how to ignore perceptions of prestige in favor of financial success.

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

While she may not be perceived as the most “relevant” actress in Hollywood, being good as the same character for 14 years requires “f*****’ skill,” Pompeo said.

“I’m not necessarily perceived as successful, either, but a 24-year-old actress with a few big movies is, even though she’s probably being paid s*** — certainly less than her male co-star and probably with no backend,” Pompeo continued.

“These poor girls have no real money, and the studio is making a fortune and parading them like ponies on a red carpet,” she said. “I mean, Faye Dunaway is driving a f*****’ Prius today. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a Prius, but my point is, she had no financial power. If we’re going to invoke change, that has to be part of it.”


Pompeo said frightening to listen to “rooms full of Oscar-winning actresses” talk about how they’ve been “preyed upon and assaulted.” And while she acknowledged that network TV shows, including her own, have had their own culture problems, Pompeo said her means of empowerment was not to chase trophies.

“You have to be more interested in business than you are in acting,” she said.

Read Pompeo’s full interview over at The Hollywood Reporter.


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