‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why Ellen Pompeo Would ‘Check Out’ for ‘Whole Seasons’

Grey’s Anatomy fans have watched Ellen Pompeo play Meredith Grey for 16 seasons — and counting. The ABC series is the longest-running medical primetime drama of all time. So naturally, fans are always wondering when the actor will get off the carousel that never stops turning. But while Pompeo recently admitted she has checked out in the past, there’s a reason why she’s motivated to stay in recent seasons.

Ellen Pompeo discusses her long run on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

On Aug. 24, Pompeo stopped by Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast and opened up about her leading role on Grey’s Anatomy. The Shondaland actor revealed she debates whether or not to leave the series from time to time. But, of course, we know she chose to stay. 

“Not everybody can do it,” Pompeo said on the podcast. “You have to have a certain constitution to be able to say, ‘This is me. I like the stability, I like punching a clock.’ With that, comes … you have to make sure your performance isn’t boring. You have to make sure you’re not phoning it in.”

But how has Pompeo managed to continue on for over 15 years? The actor admitted she has checked out because of the work environment on Grey’s Anatomy. However, she tries to take things as they come, even checking herself along the way.

“Not getting bored and not phoning it in is definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” Pompeo said. “You gotta know when you can slow down and when you can speed up. I have to just try to check myself all the time. There’s been whole seasons where, if there’s too much on-set drama going on, my mechanism is really just to check out… which is definitely frustrating for other actors.”

In the past, Pompeo has been candid about the toxic work environment on Grey’s Anatomy. During Actors on Actors in 2019, the 50-year-old shared the first 10 years of the show were filled with “culture issues” and “very bad behavior.” Nevertheless, Pompeo has since worked on changing the culture surrounding the show.

“After Patrick [Dempsey] left, I said, ‘OK, I am going to stay. I am going to prove that they need me. But also, I really wanted to change the story of the experience of the show,” Pompeo said on the Armchair Expert podcast. “I wanted to see if we could turn the culture around and we could make the set a happy place.”

Ellen Pompeo knows the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ platform can be used to do good in the world

Now, Pompeo has another reason to stay on Grey’s Anatomy. In recent seasons, the ABC medical series has touched on important topics the actor is passionate about. And ultimately, Pompeo knows the show’s massive platform has the ability to spread awareness.

“At this particular moment, being engaged in the story, having some control over my storyline, and talking about things that are interesting, is kind of what helps,” Pompeo told Shepard on the Armchair Expert podcast, noting the human trafficking and big pharma storylines in season 16. 

“That’s the great thing about Grey’s and, at this juncture, keeps me going,” she continued. “Because the show is such a monster, we have this enormous platform. We have some sort of leeway to talk about human trafficking, to talk about sexual assault, to talk about big pharma … I think it’s an important platform. So I try to stay in a place of gratitude.”

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