Ellen Pom­peo on own­ing your sh*t

InStyle (USA) - - In Style -

When ac­tress Ellen Pom­peo ap­peared on the cover ofthe Hol­ly­wood Re­porter in Jan­uary for a story ti­tled “How I Fought to Be­come TV’S $20 Mil­lion Woman,” women at In­style, and ev­ery­where, ap­plauded. Not only for the dol­lar amount Pom­peo se­cured—her deal nets her $575,000 per episode of­grey’s Anatomy, now en­ter­ing its 14th sea­son—but for how hon­est and dis­arm­ingly blunt she was about pri­or­i­tiz­ing fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity over the fickle glare of big-screen star­dom. In the end, it seems like a phi­los­o­phy worth shar­ing.

LAURA BROWN: Ellen, your salary ne­go­ti­a­tion, and the way you dis­cussed it so frankly, was to­tally baller, if I can use a dude term. ELLEN POM­PEO: Ha! Lis­ten, I’m so thank­ful. It’s so hard for me be­cause I’ve been on Grey’s Anatomy for­ever, and I don’t chase rel­e­vancy or tro­phies. There’s a price to pay for that, you know? A lot of girls would rather have the at­ten­tion, and then­they re­al­ize in their 40s that they have no money to feed theirkids and they’re fucked. It’s been a healthy path for me. I made the choice to be OK with no awards and no at­ten­tion and make it about just go­ing to work and punch­ing the clock. Which I think is health­ier for the ego later down the line. LB: I think it’s es­sen­tially ask­ing your­self: How do you de­fine suc­cess? EP: Right. The def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess, I think, is dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­body. That’s the most im­por­tant thing to note. But my def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess is hap­pi­ness. LB: Do you re­mem­ber the first time you fought for your­self pro­fes­sion­ally? EP: I mean, I’ve been fight­ing since the very be­gin­ning. When I started this show, I didn’t know that on a SAG con­tract you’re not able to rene­go­ti­ate un­til Sea­son 3. So it wasn’t un­til Sea­son 3 that I found out I was ac­tu­ally be­ing paid less than [co-star] Pa­trick Dempsey. LB: Even though it was Grey’s Anatomy and you were Mered­ith Grey. EP: Even though it was Grey’s Anatomy. But the truth is, he had done 12 pi­lots be­fore me, and I hadn’t done any. I had no TV quote. I’d only done movies. So he sim­ply had more TV ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt. LB: So then, when you found that out, what did you do? EP: I said, “Well, I have to be paid the same as him.” I wasn’t try­ing to get more. I was just try­ing to get the same. LB: What was the first re­ac­tion? EP: In all ne­go­ti­a­tions they don’t im­me­di­ately give in, and this is also quite a big cast, so they have ev­ery­body to deal with, but even­tu­ally we got what we wanted. I would say the only time you ever have a good ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion is if you’re com­pletely will­ing to walk away. That’s the only real strength you have. And I never re­ally was there un­til this last round. I asked for ev­ery­thing on­grey’s be­cause I saw a piece of pa­per that told me it had gen­er­ated $3 bil­lion for Dis­ney. That in­for­ma­tion changed the game for me: know­ing my num­bers and hav­ing in­for­ma­tion as to what my ac­tual worth was. Over the years lots of char­ac­ters have come and gone, lots of writ­ers have come and gone. The one thing that’s re­mained on the show is me, so that’s how I ar­rived at my con­fi­dence. LB: When you were given more re­spon­si­bil­ity on the show, how did you feel? EP: Shonda [Rhimes, the cre­ator of Grey’s Anatomy] had said to me, “What do you need to stay?” And I said if I could take on more and feel own­er­ship of this show and be a pro­ducer, then I’d be in­spired to stay. I needed in­spi­ra­tion— we work 10 months out of the year, so I can’t ap­pear on other tele­vi­sion shows or any­where else per my con­tract. I needed to have more du­ties other than act­ing. LB: Does that own­er­ship make you feel stronger? EP: One hun­dred per­cent. And also from a busi­ness stand­point, what I learned on this show … it’s been quite an in­ter­est­ing jour­ney. Like I men­tioned in the­hol­ly­wood Re­porter ar­ti­cle, we had a lot of cul­ture prob­lems I was de­ter­mined to change. The way we run the show now has the ac­tors feel­ing in­volved, hav­ing a say. It makes ev­ery­body in­vested in a way they never were be­fore. But had I not had those hard­ships or stepped on all those sharp stones, I would not have learned any of these lessons, so I’m grate­ful for all of them, hon­estly. LB: How im­por­tant is fe­male friend­ship and be­ing good to other ladies in all of this? EP: Oh my god, it’s ev­ery­thing. It’s ev­ery­thing. LB: What women have helped you on your way up? Ob­vi­ously, Shonda is the main one. EP: Yeah. And Deb­bie Allen. I met her on the set of­grey’s. She plays Cather­ine Avery on the show. She came on first as an ac­tress, and then she be­came an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. Deb­bie is the one who kept say­ing, “You are a di­rec­tor. You don’t even re­al­ize it. You’re stand­ing around telling ev­ery­body what to do. What you’re do­ing is di­rect­ing—you might as well sit in the chair.” And I was like, “No, I don’twant to ... Iwant to be home with my kids.” So she’s re­ally the one who in­spired me. She has been so gen­er­ous with

me and so up­lift­ing.

LB: What’s a char­ac­ter trait you have that you will never apol­o­gize for? EP: My hon­esty. I crave­hon­esty­wheniread­in­ter­views. Butmy hon­esty has got­ten me in trou­ble. I’ve tried in the past to de­fend peo­ple and come from a good place—but the way my words get edited, my in­ten­tions get mis­un­der­stood, and then I end up hurt­ing feel­ings. I for­get that my words can be edited to cre­ate a cat­fight.

LB: So how do you deal with that? EP: I try to ad­dress it. Any­time I know some­thing has come out that other peo­ple per­ceive as hurt­ful, I im­me­di­ately call that per­son and apol­o­gize. You have to own it when you’re wrong. I’m not per­fect, you’re not per­fect, and no one can ex­pect us to be. The clos­est we can get is to be true and re­spect­ful to each other.

LB: Do you have any tips for com­mu­ni­cat­ing with­peo­ple above you in­apro­fes­sional hi­er­ar­chy? EP: Yeah, I lead with kiss­ing ass.

LB: Please elab­o­rate. EP: Well, you al­ways want to start with the pos­i­tive. Come from a place of grat­i­tude—which is not some­thing I al­ways led with when I was younger. I try to think about what it would be like to be that per­son and have to hear peo­ple com­plain. And I at­tempt to never call any­one with only a prob­lem—i’ll also have a so­lu­tion.

LB: What makes you feel the most em­pow­ered at work and in your daily life? EP: I think what makes me feel the most em­pow­ered is when I trust my gut and it pays off.

LB: What are you am­bi­tious for? EP: I’m am­bi­tious to spend as much time with my kids [Stella Luna, 8; Si­enna May, 3; and Eli Christo­pher, 1] as I can. To find that bal­ance be­cause I do like work­ing. I re­ally en­joy be­ing in the world and ac­com­plish­ing things. And nowmypro­duc­ing­ca­reer is re­al­ly­wheremy am­bi­tion is.

LB: What three things would you sug­gest for some­one who wants to re­ally own their shit?

EP: OK, first, I would say to own your shit you have to be 100 per­cent hon­est, 100 per­cent real about your ex­pe­ri­ence, and not be wor­ried about what peo­ple think of you, which is hard. It’s hard to get that when you’re younger. There’s some­thing about age that frees you up and you care so much less about what peo­ple think. Sec­ond, talk the talk and walk the walk. Tobe fair, if youneedy­our im­age to get jobs or your next job, you have to be more care­ful about what you say. I do un­der­stand that. Three, stop try­ing to be per­fect. You can’t feel like, “I have to be per­fect. I have to dress per­fect. I have to look per­fect. I have to be on ev­ery red car­pet.” You can’t do it all, and you have to be OK with your flaws. I’m not down with this fuck­ing per­fec­tion, you know? I’m not try­ing to come off as some­thing I’m not. Own­ing your shit is own­ing who you are and not try­ing to be any­body else. n

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