For 14 years, we’ve tuned in to the work, life and cliffhanger-filled drama of Meredith Grey of the hit medical show Grey’s Anatomy. Now, over 300 roller-coaster-ride episodes later, the woman who plays her is finally getting her due.
Late last year, Ellen Pompeo signed a new deal that will earn her $575,000 per episode of Grey’s, totaling more than $20 million a year — making her the highest-paid actress on a TV drama. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she recounted how, now at age 48, she finally feels she can fight for what she deserves. And honestly, it’s an empowering message we can all get behind.
Let’s count the ways Ellen inspires us:
She credits her mentors. It’s nearly impossible to talk about Ellen Pompeo without also bringing up another industry powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes. Pompeo credits her boss and mentor — who’s gone on to grow her Shondaland production company and signed a major Netflix deal last year — for helping her realize she had leverage in negotiations. “In Shonda finding her power and becoming more comfortable with her power, she has empowered me,” Pompeo said.
For the rest of us, seeking out a mentor means connecting with someone in your field whose work you admire. Whether you have a weekly lunch or meet for coffee every few months, find someone who can be a sounding board in your career path.
She fought for what she’s worth. Celebrities: They’re just like us! As in, negotiating compensation is tough for women in any industry, regardless of fame. “A guy wouldn't have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode,” Pompeo said. “And as women, we're like, ‘Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?’”
It’s time to kick that thinking to the curb. Knowing that your current pay can dictate your future earnings should propel you to ask for more. Here are some tips on when and how to ask for that pay bump — and get what you deserve.
She knows her business. Part of advocating for what you deserve is also showing your value to the company. Translation: Break out the numbers.
Worried about coming off as greedy, Pompeo had her agency pull stats around just how profitable Grey’s was to the network. It was the leverage — and personal motivation — she needed. “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,’” she said.
She grew her own career. Pompeo has been clear that acting isn’t her main jam. To help grow in her profession and take on more creative roles, she worked to become a producer for Grey’s and a co-executive producer on its spinoff. Her latest signing includes pilot commitments and office space for her production company. She has a potential new legal drama in the works with ABC, and she recently sold an anthology drama to Amazon.
If you’re feeling stalled, creating a career map can help you realize what you really want to get out of your 9-to-5, and you can make an action plan to get it in place.
She pays it forward. Pompeo’s success wasn’t created in a vacuum. So she empowers colleagues around her, like giving actors scripts early on when she’s directing an episode to allow them entry into the creative process. She also recognizes that helping to move the needle also means getting more women involved.
She’s already seen how this kind of change can impact future generations. “Now my 8-year-old daughter gets to come [to set] and see fierce females in charge,” she said. “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.”
Congratulations, Ellen! This TGIT, we’re raising a glass to you.