Ellen Pompeo has played Meredith Grey for almost two decades, and it’s hard to imagine the world of television without Grey’s Anatomy in it. But while working on everyone’s favorite medical drama almost certainly keeps her busy, Pompeo has also just launched her very first podcast.
With Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo, she hopes to use her platform to engage with fans in a new way, while elevating the voices of others and encouraging open-minded discussion. “I want the show to be a place of listening, learning, and growth,” Pompeo said in a press release. “I hope to introduce and highlight people from all different backgrounds and industries and create a space for thoughtful conversation.”
BAZAAR.com catches up with Pompeo to find out why it was time to start a podcast and what fans can expect from Season 18 of Grey’s Anatomy.
We’re here to talk about your new podcast, Tell Me. Why was it the right time for you to start a podcast?
Well, I can’t really deny the fact that I’ve had this unbelievable support for my television show, for our television show, for 18 seasons. That’s really a long time for people to continue to support me. I’m always reminded of how many young women that I influence every time I leave Los Angeles. No one in Los Angeles cares, but when I go on vacation or I go away for the summer, there’s so many young girls who look to me and are influenced by things. So I just thought that it was a way to provide these fans with another piece of content. Young women are always asking my advice. I don’t look at social media so much, so it’s not like I’m going to start answering things there, and we’re so restricted by the characters. Then when you try to give advice on that, it goes the wrong way, because people are trying to pick up a sound bite.
So I thought the podcast was a great way to use my platform, give something back to my fans, and just put out some positive content. To have on some authors who have interesting things to say, some actors who I can have fun with. I really wanted to get back to my audience. They have supported me so passionately for so long, and I wanted to give them another thing.
And podcasting is a new medium, right? It’s like a whole new area of media that didn’t exist. I produce a TV show every day, and this is like a completely different type of producing. I just thought it would be fun to try something new.
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You’ve had some amazing guests on the show so far, including Patrick Dempsey, Yara Shahidi, and Cindy Crawford. Who would your dream guest be? And can you tease what’s coming up?
I think I’m having Melinda Gates, and I’m very excited to speak with her. My dream guest is the same as everyone’s: Michelle Obama.
The podcast is all about listening and staying open-minded, and learning from other people. Have you learned any lessons yet from the guests you’ve had on, and have there been any surprises?
Well, I learn from all of them. I loved Adam Grant‘s book Think Again. That to me really stands out. His book is so important right now. Everyone has such strict ideas about their own belief systems. I think that we could all benefit by being more open-minded and having more empathy toward other people. I’m guilty of having strong opinions myself, but I’m trying to be more empathetic and understand why people think the way they do.
I loved what you said to him about putting off a phone call because you were anticipating what the other person was going to say, and then they ended up proving you right, and you had a very emotional reaction to that. It’s so hard, isn’t it, to keep putting yourself back out there?
It is. Yeah. I spoke to the person who I had that conversation with today actually. I said, “You made it on the podcast. I talked about it.” It was quite a moving moment for me to get proven right and to have that emotional reaction, and then have to move past it and forgive.
So I love the fact that I got to tell that story on the podcast and that you mentioned it—that makes it feel valuable to me. Thematically, there’s this idea of protecting our energy or protecting ourselves, but in relationships, you have to put yourself back out there. Just the theme of having to dust yourself off and get back up again is, I think, one we always need to be reminded of.
I loved your conversation with Patrick Dempsey, too, especially when you talked about directing two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and how you had two very different experiences, because it can be quite restrictive directing network TV. You suggested that you might like to direct either a movie or for a streaming service. Is that something we can expect after Grey’s? Are you developing anything?
I am. I am developing something with a brilliant writer, and I hope that the people we are developing it with decide to make it, and you and I can talk all about it hopefully someday.
It’s really exciting that you’re heading in that direction, because you’ve spent so much time in the industry.
Yeah. I mean, directing is not my goal. As a career, I could never direct and direct and direct and direct. It takes up so much of your time, and I really like to do a bunch of different things. But it’s certainly a fun, challenging, creative outlet.
Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, can you give us any behind-the-scenes gossip about Season 18?
Well, I think it’s known now that that Kate Walsh is on for a few episodes. She’s coming back. We had the best time. It’s so fun when the original cast comes back, because we just have this nostalgic bond. It’s really emotional.This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
I love the full-circle moments we’ve been able to have to connect, to know that we went through something intense together and it still lives and people still love it. It makes it all worth it.
I’m sure people are going back and starting from the beginning, especially with streaming services now. It’s so exciting to find a show when you’ve got so many years you can watch.
I think that that’s why the show has lived for so long. I don’t want to speak out of turn, because now every studio is streaming, but I know for a while there, Grey’s was the only show that was on a streamer, and actually still new episodes were being created. So that put us in a unique position to have a lot of eyeballs.
What’s it like working with Scott Speedman?
Oh, isn’t he a cutie? He’s great. He and I have great chemistry where we’ve been friends for quite a while and we know each other socially, and he’s just so easy. We’re always talking about how to make the scenes a little better, a little more interesting, not so on the nose. Network TV is challenging in that way. Everything is very on the nose. So we try to bring everything a little off-center and make it a little cooler. I feel very grateful to get to work with him this season.
You really boosted the conversation about women being paid what they’re worth and not being ashamed of it. Do you think the industry has moved on since you did that?
Well, there’s certainly not equity, right? So the conversation must continue. Again, I’ve said this a lot—I’m very lucky and I sit in a position of privilege and I was able to quantify my worth because we can see, in real time, the revenue that Grey’s Anatomy generates. If you’re unable to quantify the money you are responsible for generating, it’s a little more challenging. It’s certainly valuable to say, “I know my worth and I need to get paid this,” but it’s harder to convince a company or a corporation to give you that, because they’re only looking at a spreadsheet. They’re not looking at you as a human being.
I was really happy to see Angela Bassett is getting paid a huge salary for 9-1-1—she’s an icon who deserves every penny and more. I think that it’s important for us to consistently try to fight for actors of color who may not sit in the same position of privilege as white actors, and continue to try to make that conversation be ever present too.
I also loved what you said about how you are the focus of Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s okay to have a woman as the lead and not bring in a love interest necessarily, and you leveraged it that way.
I love romance, but we have to be mindful of what we’re teaching young women, right? So I love having Scott Speedman. We got super lucky, but it’s got to be the right person. It just can’t be romance for romance’s sake. It has to be the right person, and then it makes sense.
In the past, you’ve talked about potentially stepping away from acting after Grey’s. Are there any directors who you’re still desperate to work with who could tempt you back on?
Well, I made that statement before the advent of streaming. I said that, probably, I don’t know, 10 years ago, when having been on a network show for 10 years at that point and being my age, I thought, “Oh, it’s over for me.” But look at how far we’ve come, thanks to my amazing companions in this world we called acting. Women have made so many strides behind the camera, in front of the camera. It’s a completely different world now. With streaming and with the talent out there and with, unfortunately, the decline of movies and movie theaters, there’s a lot more interesting TV and many, many opportunities for me now—much more so than there would’ve been 10 years ago. So I’m sure I will do something else. I’m sure I will act after Grey’s.
You can listen to Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo everywhere podcasts are available. New episodes are released every Wednesday.
This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US