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How Ellen Pompeo Negotiated Her Salary to Become the Highest-Paid Actress in a TV Drama

Olivia Bahou

Ellen Pompeo is now the highest-paid actress in a primetime TV drama, her $20 million yearly salary earning her the title. But the paycheck wasn’t handed to her: The Grey’s Anatomy star fought for what she believes she deserves.

In a new feature with The Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo reveals the behind-the-scenes battle for her salary, and how showrunner Shonda Rhimes helped empower her during the negotiations.

"As a woman, what I know is you can't approach anything from a point of view of 'I don't deserve' or 'I'm not going to ask for because I don't want other people to get upset,'" Rhimes told THR of having Pompeo demand the best possible deal. "And I know for a fact that when men go into these negotiations, they go in hard and ask for the world."

Pompeo admits that she was hesitant at first, but seeing how much the franchise earned empowered her to stick up for her piece of the pie. “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 said.

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“For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me—‘We don't need you; we have Patrick’—which they did for years,” she revealed.

“I don't know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that. At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Pompeo also discusses her experience with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. “My agent once sent me to see Harvey, too. I went right up to his room at the Peninsula, which I would never normally do, but Harvey was a New York guy, so it made sense. Plus, it was in the middle of the day, and he had an assistant there. He didn't try anything on me. Had he, I'm a little rough around the edges and I grew up around some very tough people, so I probably would have picked up a vase and cracked him over the fucking head,” she said.

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“But I also feel completely comfortable saying that I walked into that room batting the shit out of my eyelashes. My goal in that room was to charm him, as it is in most rooms like that. You think, ‘Not only do I have to show that I'm a good actress, but that director also has to in some way fall in love with me and at least become enamored with me.’ That never felt right or good to me. And I've had conversations with my agent 17 years later where I said, ‘You sent me into that room knowing …’ They claim they didn't know.”

Read her full interview on The Hollywood Reporter.