In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo said women need to be vocal to get paid what they are worth professionally. The actress recently signed a deal to earn more than $575,000 per episode of the show, which will add up to just over $20 million per year, making her the highest-paid actress on TV. The interview is worth reading in full, but here are some of the most telling points of the conversation Pompeo had with THR’s Lacey Rose.
Pompeo explained that it took her years to become comfortable with asking for more, a trait she says can only be acquired with age. She says the reason young starlets are paid significantly less than their male co-stars is because Hollywood tosses actresses aside at a relatively young age. That short shelf-life intimidates women from asking for more.
I’m 48 now, so I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m OK asking for what I deserve, which is something that comes only with age. Because I’m not the most ‘relevant’ actress out there. I know that’s the industry perception because I’ve been this character for 14 years. But 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-ckin’ skill.
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 sh-t — certainly less than her male co-star and probably with no backend. And they’re going to pimp her out until she’s 33 or 34 and then she’s out like yesterday’s trash, and then what does she have to take care of herself? These poor girls have no real money, and the studio is making a fortune and parading them like ponies on a red carpet. I mean, Faye Dunaway is driving a f-ckin’ 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.
The actress, who grew up in a “blue-collar, mob-heavy Boston suburb,” was raised by her father and grandfather after her mother died of an overdose when Pompeo was just five years old. She blames her humble beginnings for making her afraid to sound greedy when negotiating her salary.
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 Shonda and say, ‘Am I being greedy?’ But CAA compiled a list of stats for me, and Grey’s has generated nearly $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.’
Pompeo revealed that ABC would pit her co-star Patrick Dempsey (a.k.a. “McDreamy”) against her, saying that if she wanted to leave the show, they would still go on without her and make Dempsey the lead character. “Grey’s” creator Shonda Rhimes helped Pompeo to find her voice.
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. So, she got to a place where she was so empowered that she was generous with her power. Now, what did that look like? It looked like her letting me be the highest-paid woman on television, letting me be a producer on this show, letting me be a co-executive producer on the spinoff and signing off on the deal that the studio gave me, which is unprecedented.
Pompeo explained that just promoting women into positions of power isn’t going to fix the corruption at the top of the food chain, but that it begins with empowering women to feel comfortable with power in the first place.
I should also say this: I don’t believe the only solution is more women in power, because power corrupts. It’s not necessarily a man or a woman thing. But there should be more of us women in power, and not just on Shonda Rhimes’ sets. Look, I only have a 12th-grade education and I wasn’t a great student, but I’ve gotten an education here at Shondaland. And now my 8-year-old daughter gets to come here and see fierce females in charge. She loves to sit in the director’s chair with the headphones on yelling ‘Action’ and ‘Cut.’ She’s growing up in an environment where she’s completely comfortable with power. I don’t know any other environment in Hollywood where I could provide that for her. Now I hope that changes … and soon.