Ellen Pompeo Talks "Changing the Narrative" With Salary Reveal

Photographed by Mike Rosenthal
Ellen Pompeo

The Hollywood Reporter cover story was a chance to "turn the page and tell a story about a woman who is in power and who is winning," the 'Grey's Anatomy' star said.

Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo addressed the circumstances around her groundbreaking interview with The Hollywood Reporter, when she revealed the salary negotiations behind her big $20 million payday.

The actress said that at first she was “very hesitant to talk about my salary” for the cover story but decided, along with the publication, that it was time to change a narrative that had seemed negative throughout the fall and winter.

“The confluence of events with TimesUp and #MeToo — there was a lot of negative stories in the press about women being victimized, and I think The Hollywood Reporter saw this as an opportunity to change the narrative,” she said, adding that while it was important for those stories to come out, the mood was “quite dark.”

The Hollywood Reporter felt some responsibility to change and turn the page and tell a story about a woman who is in power and who is winning. We were all too depressed at the state of things,” she added.

It was not only a matter of timing, but also the fact that she had leverage following the departure of Patrick Dempsey and numbers to back her up.

"It's hard to know your worth," she said. “I was lucky enough to have access to that data, because it’s very challenging to quantify your own worth. I was in a unique position where I had a concrete number of the sales the show had generated — from the coffee cups, the greeting cards, the T-shirts and all the merchandise, along with the international sales on the show.”

Lions being a marketing conference, Pompeo was with Edelman CEO Richard Edelman, and the two discussed the future of endorsement deals and brands. Edelman said that Hollywood stars currently have “very low trust levels” by consumers, in part because consumers believe stars will endorse any brand that pays the most cash. Pompeo defended stars over influencers (who have themselves been under attack this week), saying influencers are only promoting a perfect image.

“The truth is that we get followed around, we have a much more public profile and you are able to see a broader spectrum of what celebrities and true high profile people are about, what types of things they support and who they are with, rather than some influencer who is taking photos in a store in a controlled environment," she said. "The influencers I find are very hard to trust.”

She addressed her own presence on social media, saying that while she admits, "sometimes I shoot my mouth off," there is nothing she regrets. She addressed her recent online spat in which she called out Fox News host Laura Ingraham who had said negative things about LeBron James, which Pompeo dismissed as “pure racism.”

“I have no patience or no tolerance and I get really nasty, because racism is nasty,” she said. “I’m not afraid to voice an opinion back. If someone is saying something so clearly offensive to me I also feel a right to converse back to them. That’s the whole idea behind social media, we can now be in touch with each other.” She said she hoped the dialogue could be constructive but told critics: “Feel free to unfollow me.”

Pompeo also added that following Brie Larsen's speech at Women in Film about film reviewers of color, she is going to make a concerted effort to reach out to minority journalists and bloggers. She noted that at a recent junket, only three of the 35 journalists who interviewed her, though mostly women, were people color. “I was shocked by the amount of white women who walked through the door, and that is no solution at all,” she said. “Next time I am going to make sure ahead of time, I’m going to check with the outlets that people of color get to come in, and now I know to request that.”