Pompeo, who now makes over $20 million a year, relied on this great advice from Shonda Rhimes to ask for what she’s worth
Meredith Grey has little to be grey about these days.
That’s because Ellen Pompeo, who plays Grey on ABC’s medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” recently inked a deal worth over $20 million a season, making her the highest paid actress on dramatic television. While Hollywood stars typically don’t reveal the sausage making behind such deals, the active participant in the #TimesUp women’s empowerment movement recently gave a revealing interview to The Hollywood Reporter about gender and pay equality.
While the long-running TV show has been a hit for over 12 years, Pompeo says that she’s long been unhappy with her compensation. She was also annoyed that despite being the lead, her share of the nearly $3 billion franchise was relatively meager. She was also reportedly paid less than Patrick Dempsey, the male lead on the show who left the cast in 2015. “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—t — certainly less than her male co-star and probably with no backend,” she said.
“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?” the 48-year-old actress told the entertainment trade publication. “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—kin’ Prius today.”
Pompeo initially thought she had some leverage when Dempsey left the show— thinking that ABC would take its time to fill up the spot and wouldn’t want her to walk away too. But she was astounded at the speed in which they found a replacement in Martin Dempsey. “I couldn’t believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there,” she said.
So what did Pompeo do? For one, she consulted Shonda Rhimes, the “Grey’s” showrunner who’s continuing the program despite having recently moved all new projects to Netflix. Pompeo was inspired by Rhimes, known for pushing strong women both on and off screen, who simply asked her “What do you want?”
In turn, Pompeo got her agents to create a list of statistics, which included how much money she’d made for Disney, ABC’s owners. Then, she got the courage to ask for a huge raise. “A guy wouldn’t have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode,” she says. “As women, we’re like, ‘Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?’ I’d call Shonda and say, ‘Am I being greedy?’”
Disney eventually agreed to most of her demands: Pompeo now makes about $575,000 an episode and has a stake in the series’ financial success. She also thinks more women should get ownership or a percentage of profits. “With Tidal, Jay Z’s empowered artists by giving them a piece, and it makes them more invested. I love it,” she said. “Like the music business, we need to get to a place where actors have more ownership over what they do.”
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