Ellen Pompeo is dramatic television's highest-paid actress. In 2018, she'll make about $20 million per year. Surprised by that? You should be. Pompeo really dug her heels in to get her salary, as per a candid essay she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter's cover story. The essay makes one thing clear: Pompeo did not get this salary by accident. And most actresses who work as hard as the Grey's Anatomy star won't get the same compensation.
First of all, Pompeo, 48, wasn't able to push for a higher salary until Patrick Dempsey left Grey's Anatomy in 2015.
"They could always use him as leverage against me — 'We don't need you; we have Patrick' — which they did for years," Pompeo explains. Dempsey left the show for greater ventures like Bridget Jones' Baby, and without his star presence, Pompeo could prove her weight. She made the show work without the male love interest. (Of course, as Pompeo outlines in the essay, production was eager to shove another man in the mix. The new fellow, who was played by Martin Henderson, exited the show at the end of season 13. According to Pompeo, he left because viewers weren't enamored with him.)
Second, Pompeo stands behind Shonda Rhimes, arguably the most powerful woman in television. Rhimes paved the way for Pompeo, acting as a mentor and encouraging her to fight for her own worth. THR notes that Rhimes just signed a nine-figure deal with Netflix.
"In Shonda finding her power and becoming more comfortable with her power, she has empowered me. And that took her a while to get to, too. It was part of her evolution. It's also why our relationship is so special. I was always loyal to her, and she responds well to loyalty," says Pompeo.
With Rhimes leaving for Netflix, Pompeo requested ownership of Grey's Anatomy. She's now a producer for the show. She's also a co-EP of the upcoming spinoff.
And third, Pompeo traded something in return for her high-end deal. She is wedded to Grey's Anatomy until ABC decides to cancel it, which won't happen until Pompeo allows it. Pompeo will never win an Oscar, she says. (I disagree, and I hope the directors out there take note. Pompeo deserves it.) She decided to pursue financial stability in lieu of hopping movie-to-movie, hoping for one big cash cow somewhere along the road.
Pompeo wrote the essay in the hopes of illuminating the struggles women, especially women talent, face in Hollywood. She points out in the piece that the young women we see at awards shows are often less financially solvent than they seem. A 22-year-old Hollywood newcomer might get an impressive-looking salary for her first big movie, but, as per Pompeo, she doesn't usually receive a percentage of the movie's profits. Pompeo blasts studios for using underpaid young actresses as cash cows, "parading them like ponies on a red carpet," profiting off their star power before they're discarded like "yesterday's garbage," left without financial stability.
Ideally, emerging Hollywood will read Pompeo's essay — or, for that matter, Jennifer Lawrence's piece in Lenny Letter or Robin Wright's comments on the matter — and start to build a better business for women.
Read the essay full over at The Hollywood Reporter. Like, actually read it. Pompeo isn't here to fuck around, although she does use the word "fuck" a lot. (She also says she would have whacked Harvey Weinstein over the "fucking head" with a vase if he'd tried anything, so.)
Read These Stories Next: