Ellen Pompeo is now the highest-paid actress on television—and she didn't get there by being a pushover. In a candid interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Pompeo, now in her 14th season starring in ABC's Grey's Anatomy, says she has finally "gotten to the place where I'm OK asking for what I deserve." She says a new contract she pushed for is for $20 million a year, along with a producing fee, a signing bonus, and other perks that will bring in up to $7 million more. But she says for years before co-star Patrick Dempsey's 2015 departure, the studio warned that they could do without her—and he wouldn't enter joint negotiations. "At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey," she says. "They wouldn't give it to me."
She says she felt like leaving, but then thought: "Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy?" Pompeo, a former bartender who grew up in a tough Boston suburb, says her mentor, showrunner Shonda Rhimes, was so "empowered that she was generous with her power." Rhimes says she knows from experience that in negotiations, men "go in hard and ask for the world," and she advised Pompeo to decide what she was worth and ask for it. Pompeo, a co-executive producer on an upcoming Grey's spinoff, says there should be more women in power in Hollywood, "and not just on Shonda Rhimes' sets." "Look, I only have a 12th-grade education and I wasn't a great student, but I've gotten an education here at Shondaland," she says. "And now my 8-year-old daughter gets to come here and see fierce females in charge."