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Ellen Pompeo Opens Up About Past 'Toxic Work Environment' on Grey's Anatomy

Things weren't so McDreamy behind the scenes

Amanda Bell

It's no secret that Grey's Anatomyhas had some serious behind-the-scenes drama spill out into public view. From actors openly insulting the quality of writing to people being fired for using slurs to reports of jealousy over certain stars being elevated over others, ABC's hit medical drama has been at the center of a lot of juicy real-life news bites.

Now, Ellen Pompeo is opening up about what the environment on the set of Grey's was really like before she and creator Shonda Rhimes decided to make some major changes to their workplace.

In a conversation with Empire star Taraji P. Henson for Variety, Pompeo described toxicity on set during production of the first 10 seasons of Grey's Anatomy. "The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment," she said.

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Pompeo added that once she started having kids, she felt the need to stay on board to provide for her family, so in recent years she decided to help usher in some important shifts to the culture on set.

"After Season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera. It became my goal to have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about, because we had so much turmoil for 10 years," she said. "My mission became, this can't be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes. Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. That's what's kept me."

Ellen Pompeo, Grey's Anatomy​

Ellen Pompeo, Grey's Anatomy

Eric McCandless, ABC

Pompeo also discussed Patrick Dempsey's exit from the show and said that Dempsey was paid "almost double" her salary in the early seasons. Although they have recently exchanged some pleasantries through interview soundbites, the former on-screen lovebirds have not kept in touch since Dempsey left the drama in Season 11. The actress suggested that his exit fueled her desire to stay on Grey's Anatomy.

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"Patrick Dempsey left the show in Season 11, and the studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead," Pompeo said. "So I had a mission to prove that it could. I was on a double mission."

She was obviously successful in completing that mission, since the show has now been renewed through Season 17, and Pompeo said she and Rhimes "turned the culture around." However, Pompeo seemed more excited by her progress behind the camera than in front of it.

"I haven't been challenged creatively at all," she told Henson. "Every once in a while we do an amazing story line. But for the last five years, I've had other milestones that we were trying to achieve behind the camera."

Grey's Anatomy will return to ABC this fall for Season 16, airing Thursdays at 8/7c.

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​Camilla Luddington and Michelle Forbes, Grey's Anatomy Season 15, Episode 19: "Silent All These Years"

Camilla Luddington and Michelle Forbes, Grey's Anatomy Season 15, Episode 19: "Silent All These Years"