Harry Shum Jr. Says Seeing Ellen Pompeo Leave 'Grey's Anatomy' Was 'Like Watching History Being Made'

The Legion of Super-Heroes star spoke with PEOPLE about his new role on the show's 19th season and watching the iconic star make her final bow

Harry Shum Jr. on the red carpet for "Broadcast Signal Intrusion" during the 57th Chicago International Film Festival at the AMC River East Theater on October 14, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images); Ellen Pompeo attends the "Grey's Anatomy" Wrap Celebration at Dream Hollywood on May 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Harry Shum Jr. and Ellen Pompeo. Photo: Barry Brecheisen/Getty; Jon Kopaloff/Getty

For Harry Shum Jr., witnessing Ellen Pompeo's exit from Grey's Anatomy was like watching history in the making — because it was.

The Glee alum, 40, joined the show in its 19th season amid Pompeo's announcement of her gradual exit as the season wrapped. In an interview with PEOPLE, Shum recalls his reaction upon learning the iconic lead was hanging up her scrubs.

"I hope that she gets some really wonderful time off because doing any show for that long, you finally [need] a little bit of a break," Shum says while promoting his new Legion of Super-Heroes film. "I'm happy for her just because of how much she welcomed us onto the show and watching her for so long. It's just the true feat man."

He adds, "And then to see it firsthand has been ... It's almost just watching history being made in front of you when you were watching history being made from very, very far away. So I feel so fortunate to have that."

Grey's Anatomy Season 19 Trailer

Shum, who plays new surgical intern Benson "Blue" Kwan, previously told PEOPLE he was a fan of Grey's from the first season, and the magic hasn't died for him since.

Being welcomed into the fold with open arms and a cast of enthusiastic Grey's veterans to guide him into the new role was telling for Shum.

"I think Chandra Wilson and James Pickens and Ellen Pompeo, they've seen it all, especially on the show. But one thing that was very universal within what they were trying to tell us is that, 'You're here because of you," the actor says. "You're here because of what you bring to the table. Always keep bringing that to the table. Don't let anything hinder that.'"

Shum recalled being welcomed so warmly by Pompeo, who gave all the new interns a plant to care for on their first day. "What a lovely human being. The first time I met her she was just all smiles and just gave us the biggest hug," he adds.

Niko Tero, Adelaide Kane, Midori Francis, James Pickens Jr., Alexis Floyd
James Pickens Jr.

Pompeo has played the hit medical drama's title character since episode 1 and was last seen in the fall finale as she told her colleagues she would be moving across the country from Seattle to Boston. Meredith will make an appearance in the midseason premiere in late February, and will leave her final mark on the show in the season 19 finale.

As for Shum, Grey's isn't the only project holding his attention as of late. He's also starring in the upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes film.

Shum says being a part of the animated flick is "a huge thing" for him.

"The influence that they had on us as a kid is definitely making this even more exciting," he explains. "Just because I was watching it the other day, the film, and I was like, 'What the hell, man? How did I even get here? How did I get to be able to voice these characters and to be part of this huge production?' So the 8-year-old self would be ecstatic right now."

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Season 19 of Grey's Anatomy returns on Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Legion of Super-Heroes will be released on Feb. 7.

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