Ellen Pompeo, TV's Highest-Paid Woman: 'I've Chosen to Financially Empower Myself'

'Grey's Anatomy' star, who makes $20 million a year, says creator Shonda Rimes "empowered" her to ask for what she wanted

'Grey's Anatomy' star Ellen Pompeo says creator Shonda Rimes "empowered" her to ask for what she wanted. Credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Ellen Pompeo is officially the highest-paid woman on television, reeling in $20 million a year, but the actress reveals in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter that getting to this point was hard-fought.

"I'm 48 now, so I've finally gotten to the place where I'm OK asking for what I deserve, which is something that comes only with age," she told the publication. "Because I'm not the most 'relevant' actress out there. I know that's the industry perception because I've been this character [Meredith Grey] for 14 years. But the truth is, anybody can be good on a show season one and two. Can you be good 14 years later? Now, that's a fuckin' skill."

Pompeo currently brings in $575,000 per episode for her starring role in Grey's Anatomy, and her new contract also includes a seven-figure signing bonus and two full backend equity points on the series, which are estimated to add up to an additional $6 million to $7 million.

The actress is also set to produce this spring's Grey's spinoff, as well as champion a legal drama she's hoping to put out through her production company, Calamity Jane. And on top of all that, Pompeo also recently sold an anthology drama to Amazon focusing on different American fashion designers.

According to Pompeo, being in the industry has shown that her "path" veers toward producing, and this revelation, coupled with the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, has helped her to gain clarity in how and what to ask for.

"In the last few weeks, a lot of us actresses in town have been having these meeting [as part of the Time's Up initiative]," she said. "We've been sharing stories and trying to figure out how we can promote change and use our voices to help other people. And I'll tell you, sitting in rooms full of Oscar-winning actresses listening to how they've been preyed upon and assaulted is frightening. 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."

Part of what has helped Pompeo feel emboldened to make demands for her own career, she said, is getting an "education here at Shondaland" – watching and learning from her friend and mentor, Grey's creator Shonda Rimes.

"In Shonda finding her power and becoming more comfortable with her power, she has empowered me," Pompeo said. "And that took her a while to get to, too. It was part of her evolution. … So, she got to a place where she was so empowered that she was generous with her power. Now, what did that look like? It looked like her letting me be the highest-paid woman on television, letting me be a producer on this show, letting me be a co-executive producer on the spinoff and signing off on the deal that the studio gave me, which is unprecedented."

"Now, maybe it's my Irish Catholic upbringing, but you never want to [be perceived as] too greedy," she continued. "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.'"