Careers

The advice from Shonda Rhimes that helped Ellen Pompeo land a $20 million contract

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Photo courtesy of Getty

For well over a decade Ellen Pompeo has dominated primetime television as Dr. Meredith Grey, the star of ABC's blockbuster "Grey's Anatomy."

Now, a new contract guaranteeing her a $20 million salary has made her the highest-paid actress on primetime TV. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), the 48-year-old opens up about her career journey and why negotiating roles behind the camera has been the key to her success.

Pompeo says the show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, played a crucial role in empowering her to demand more in her career. When the actress asked her for negotiation advice, Rhimes recalls telling Pompeo, "Decide what you think you're worth and then ask for what you think you're worth. Nobody's just going to give it to you."

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Photo courtesy of Getty

Pompeo tells THR that she reached out to co-star Patrick Dempsey to see if he'd be interested in negotiating their salaries together, to prevent the network from playing the two off each other (he reportedly declined.) She also recalls asking network executives for $5,000 more than Dempsey, to prove a point. They refused, she felt conflicted but remained on the show.

After Dempsey left the show in 2015, things took a positive turn for Pompeo. Not only did the show's ratings spike, but she negotiated an unprecedented deal with Rhimes and the production studio that gave her more creative control and ownership of her career.

After Rhimes signed a nine-figure deal with Netflix last August, Pompeo tells THR that she told the creator, "If you're moving on to Netflix and you want the show to go down, I'm cool with that. But if you want it to continue, I need to be incentivized. I need to feel empowered and to feel ownership of this show."

Pompeo secured a contract that, according to THR, includes a salary upwards of $20 million a year and a role as producer of "Grey's Anatomy" and a co-executive producer of the show's forthcoming spinoff.

"I've chosen to financially empower myself so that I never have to be ducking predators and chasing trophies. It's not for everyone." -Ellen Pompeo, star of "Grey's Anatomy"

The actress tells the magazine that she's recently met with other women in Hollywood to discuss how they can bring about change to the culture as part of the Time's Up initiative.

"I'll tell you, sitting in rooms full of Oscar-winning actresses listening to how they've been preyed upon and assaulted is frightening," she says. "And it confirmed that my path really was the right one for me, because I've chosen to financially empower myself so that I never have to be ducking predators and chasing trophies. It's not for everyone. You have to be more interested in business than you are in acting."

While she admits that asking for what she deserves is an ability she's honed over time, Pompeo tells THR that she hopes she can be a positive example to her daughter about the benefits of owning your career.

"My 8-year-old daughter gets to come [to the set] and see fierce females in charge," she says. "She's growing up in an environment where she's completely comfortable with power."

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