"Actors come and go. It's our business," Ellen Pompeo says

By Sharon Kanter and Aurelie Corinthios
October 24, 2018 03:00 PM
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Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; John Shearer/Getty; Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Fans were devastated when longtime Grey’s Anatomy stars Sarah Drew and Jessica Capshaw were written off the show this spring — and some immediately blamed series lead Ellen Pompeo, who had recently negotiated a $20 million salary.

Pompeo, 48, has vigorously denied the accusations, and series creator Shonda Rhimes has also stressed that the actresses’ exits were strictly creative decisions.

Speaking to PEOPLE at the Marie Claire Power Trip, a women’s empowerment conference, Pompeo opened up about her relationships with her former costars, with whom she remains friends.

“Of course [they are missed]. We don’t see them every day anymore, of course, because they don’t come to set,” Pompeo said. “We all have gone through the experience of what it is to work on Grey’s, which is deep, intense and emotional. We do 10 months out of the year, but actors come and go. It’s our business.”

“You do movies with people, you get close,” she continued. “TV shows are worse because you work together year after year after year. You go through births and deaths and, you know, hard days and bad days. It’s like a family and it isn’t. You know, it’s weird — everyone throws around that word family, and it kind of is, but then it kind of isn’t.”

  • For more on Ellen Pompeo, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
Credit: Kathryn Wirsing

Drew, who played Dr. April Kepner for nine seasons, has said watching the show after departing is too painful, and Pompeo can understand.

“Of course I don’t know firsthand and I don’t want to speak for anybody, but I think it’s probably a rush of emotions, because it’s almost like the party goes on after you leave,” she said. “I don’t want to hear that the party kept going all night long and that it got better or had more people or was more fun, you know. And actors are emotional creatures. We’re very sensitive.”

RELATED VIDEO: Ellen Pompeo Slams Implication Her Pay Rise Led to Grey’s Anatomy Staff Shakeup

Ultimately, while she was shocked at the backlash she faced over Drew and Capshaw’s exits, Pompeo said it has only empowered her to publicly discuss her salary even more. Now, it’s her goal to encourage other women to speak up and demand what they’re worth — and support one another.

  • For more on Pompeo, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
Credit: Amanda Friedman

“Women are so institutionalized by the patriarchy, they don’t even realize it,” she said. “If we can’t stick together and support each other, then you’re 20 steps behind where you need to be.”

“We can’t compete against each other and compare ourselves to one another,” she continued. “it’s not productive, and it’s not healthy. It’s not good for our mental health. We need to take care of each other and support each other and love each other, and that, I think, feels better. And supports a healthier state of mind.”