She’s weathered her share of cuts and bruises. In her 12 seasons on the ABC medical hit “Grey’s Anatomy,” Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey rose from resident to chief of general surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.
She also dealt with the loss of husband Derek (Patrick Dempsey) in a car crash, leaving her a widowed single mother who starts her life over. She loses her hearing after being attacked by a patient. And she’s a witness in the cooly brutal custody trial between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw). The finale of season 12 airs Thursday.
Through it all, Pompeo, as Meredith, has remained competent and collected, warm and attentive, and a woman fully capable of operating on her own. That’s all thanks to Shonda Rhimes, the creator, head writer, executive producer, and showrunner of “Grey’s.”
“I see life and death and I see how short life is and how quickly it can change. That’s made me appreciate my life so much,” says Pompeo. “I appreciate being healthy. I appreciate being well. I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to have this life. Shonda embraces mothers and motherhood. I’m able to have a family. I get paid as much as any man would get paid. I get to have a say in most things at my job.”
That being said, Pompeo watches episodes along with the rest of us. Sure, she can ask to see them ahead of time. But — why?
“It’s so interesting that no one really knows. A lot of it is done in the editing process after. We shoot one thing but the process doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end until Shonda is finished editing. She completely changed one story line in the finale in the editing,” says Pompeo.
So when the finale airs, “I have to watch it on Thursday. I could have asked to see the whole thing but I don’t have that much time. I saw a good four minutes of the show. I know what we filmed but I don’t know what she changed or moved around. I know how it ends. My final voice over is over the ending.”
For Pompeo, a standout moment was having Denzel Washington direct the mid-season premiere, which saw Meredith being brutalized by a patient. A close runner-up: the custody battle, and its shocking resolution. “They’re almost like little movies, these standalone episodes. We’re going to do more of that next year. I’m really excited about that,’ says Pompeo.
What she won’t do is predict Meredith’s arc in season 13 (the show has been renewed by ABC, surprising exactly no one). “I lasted 13 seasons on the show because I never do that. I’m lucky enough to work for the biggest show-runner on television and I’m smart enough to trust her,” says Pompeo.
The actress never takes her good fortune for granted.
“The humility is something I embody in my own life. I’m incredibly moved all the time. Yesterday I was on a plane and the flight attendant said to me that ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ was the only thing that made her feel better. I hear stories about people in hospital beds with cancer and they watch ‘Grey’s’ and it makes them feel comforted. I’ve been so humbled by the way this show moves people,” she says.
In real life, Pompeo is married to Chris Ivery, and is the mom of daughters Stella and Sienna. Her oldest, says Pompeo, understands what mom does for a living.
“My six-year-old, yes, now she’s starting to. She’s seen people come up to me and hug me. She knows there’s a show and everyone loves it. She actually has told me she’s proud of me,” says Pompeo. “She’s the best thing in the world. They both are. They’re adorable. I try and explain to her that people want to hug me because the show helps them.”
Which is why she’ll never complain about the show’s devoted and vocal fans. “To have the ability to reach people at this level has been a moving experience for me,” says Pompeo.