Ellen Pompeo may forever be known as Dr. Meredith Grey—and that's ok with her.
Going into her 17th season on Grey's Anatomy, the longtime actress is practically synonymous with the hit ABC series at this point. Unlike many of her former co-stars, who have moved on to other acting projects, Pompeo hasn't taken on another role in 15 years aside from voicing a Doc McStuffins character and appearing in Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" music video in 2015. But, as the star explained on the Jemele Hill is Unbothered podcast, the way her career has shaped out was a conscious decision.
"I made choices to stay on the show," the mom of three told Hill. "For me personally, a healthy home life was more important than career. I didn't grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So, to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart, and so I made a decision to make money and not chase creative acting roles."
"I don't like chasing anything ever, and acting to me in my experience was a lot of chasing," the self-proclaimed "hustler" continued. "You gotta chase roles, you gotta beg for roles, you gotta convince people...and although I produce and it's the same kind of a thing, I think I still do it from a place of, I'm never that thirsty because I'm financially set."
Pompeo—who is mom to Stella, 10, Sienna, 5, and Eli, 3—famously publicized her $20 million salary in 2018. As she explained to Hill, being the lead of the show spurred her to fight for her fair share.
"I'm saying to myself, 'Well, wait a second. This is my face,'" she said. "Now, yes, other people created the show, Shonda Rhimes created the show and that we'd be nowhere without that and the studio made the show and put the show on the air. I'm not saying people don't deserve what they have—I'm just saying, 'Why should all these people make hundreds of millions of dollars off of this, which I'm the face of, and I not get wealthy too from it?'"
Pompeo also honed in on the show's profitable power beyond the TV screen. "It didn't make a lot of sense for me to sort of walk away because I knew it was such a downloadable show," the actress said. "I knew the streaming numbers, so it just made sense I want a piece of this pie, too. I'm not just going to have one bite and walk away and let everybody else keep profiting for years."
Choosing to stay on the show was also a matter of time and age for now-50-year-old Pompeo.
"I got in the game late," she said. "I didn't start Grey's until I was 33 and then I started having kids at 40...If I started the show when I was younger, 25, I probably would have dipped out when I was 31, 32 [when] my six year contract was up."
Instead, she was a 40-year-old mom in Hollywood with a stable lead role. "I knew coming up on 40, it's like, I don't want to be out there chasing things, running after things, begging. I'd rather just see this as the blessing that it is."
While she understands why actors "run away" from work they're well known for, Pompeo clarified that's not the case for her. "At my age and where my life is, I'm not trying to run away from anything. "It is who I am. I made my choices and I'm cool with it."
"Grey's has been a gift," she acknowledged. "There's some doors I can break open or at least start some conversations to do some good in the world."