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'Grey's Anatomy' star Ellen Pompeo explains why she chose to 'make money' instead of pursuing a more diverse career

US actress Ellen Pompeo arrives for the 5th Annual "InStyle Awards" at the Getty Center in Los Angeles on October 21, 2019.
VALERIE MACON | AFP | Getty Images

For Ellen Pompeo, the decision to continue to play Dr. Meredith Grey on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" for 15 seasons and counting has largely been a practical one. 

"I made a decision to make money," Pompeo said on an episode of Spotify's "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered" podcast, first reported by People

Pompeo, 50,  made a choice to put her family first instead of pursuing a more diverse and creative career. "For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career," she told Hill. "I didn't grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So the idea that I have this great husband and these three beautiful children [and] a happy home life was really something I needed to complete."

"Grey's Anatomy" has been a lucrative role for Pompeo. She's one of the highest-paid women in Hollywood, earning more than $20 million a year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. During season 14, she negotiated a deal for $575,000 per episode, a seven-figure signing bonus, producing fees and back-end equity, among other perks.

It was a groundbreaking moment for Pompeo, who spent years fighting to earn as much as her male co-stars. In one instance, she asked to be paid $5,000 more than Patrick Dempsey, who played Grey's husband on the show for 11 seasons, on principle, since she was the titular character. The studio turned her down. 

"For me, Patrick 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 told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. 

Pompeo didn't originally plan to stay on the show for very long. In fact, when her agent brought her the script for "Grey's," she balked. "I was like, I'm not going to be stuck on a medical show for five years," she said. "Are you out of your f------ mind? I'm an actress."

But when "Grey's" became an immediate hit, Pompeo realized she wasn't going to find a better deal anywhere else. And she's OK with that. 

"I knew coming up on 40, I don't want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging," she told Hill. "I'd rather just see this as the blessing that it is."

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