Isaiah Washington: Ellen Pompeo ‘took $5 million’ payout stay quiet


I probably should have done more coverage of the insidery book about Grey’s Anatomy, How to Save a Life. The book featured an “oral history” with many of the actors about the biggest plot twists of the show and all of the drama behind-the-scenes. While I respect Shonda Rhimes for being a badass boss, Rhimes totally lied for years when she talked about her “no a–hole policy.” All of the actors on Grey’s sound like huge a–holes, and the casting melodramas kind of prove that the show was always a toxic work environment. And yes, Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey were a huge part of that too. I think we realize now that Ellen is massively problematic!

Anyway, one of the original scandals on Grey’s involved Isaiah Washington and whether or not he used a homophobic slur and whether or not it was about TR Knight. Isaiah was the one who lost his job at Grey’s, but the How To Save a Life book reveals that there was a lot more happening behind the scenes than just a beef between Isaiah and TR. Apparently, Isaiah and Patrick Dempsey got into a fistfight at some point, and Isaiah says now that Patrick was always the biggest toxic element on the show.

Not holding back. While reflecting on his past roles, Isaiah Washington called out his experience on the allegedly “toxic” Grey’s Anatomy set as an example of mistreatment.

“Every single day I was a problem that was being reminded, ‘You’re No. 4 on the call sheet. You’re not the star of this show,”‘ Washington, 58, told Tavis Smiley from KBLA Talk 1580 radio on October 21. From Washington’s perspective, his time on the medical drama was just a prelude to him being “used as a scapegoat” to cover up other problems on set. Washington used his 2007 firing, after he allegedly used a homophobic slur, as an example of the supposed “agenda.”

“It was easy. I didn’t know that it would stick to me so hard. But I found out why,” he claimed. “It was an agenda to cover up for the toxic and bad behavior of many of my former castmates on that show. And the top of that would be Patrick Dempsey.”

Washington’s allegations against costars including Dempsey, 55, come after a recently released book, How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy, brought back the conversation about the fight that led to his exit. In Lynette Rice‘s tell-all, writer Mark Wilding opened up about the explosive fight between Washington and Dempsey.

“It was my episode. I think one of them had been late to set one day and the other one then decided to pay him back by being late himself. Then it sort of exploded,” Wilding detailed. “They got into an arguing match, and then before you know it they were physically fighting. I was standing there in video village. I’m, like, six feet four inches. I’m bigger than both of them. But I didn’t really jump in right away because I’m like, I don’t know if I want to get involved.”

At the time, it was reported that Washington used a slur in reference to his costar T.R. Knight, which he denied. He previously provided his perspective in the book, saying, “We learned that we [had] to watch what we say. We [had] to make sure we [were] more accountable.”

Washington continued: “I did everything that the producers and the network asked me to do. I came back under great stress, and thought I was doing the job I was hired to do. I thought that was going to speak for my future at Grey’s, but apparently that wasn’t the same vision that the network and studio had for me.”

During his interview, Washington alleged that Pompeo was “unnerved” by the success of her other costars. “She couldn’t believe that everybody was more interested in me and Sandra [Oh] and everybody else than her. So I am not shocked that she said what she said [about Denzel Washington],” the Law & Order alum said. “She really thinks that she’s cool with Black people like that, but she’s not.”

Washington also claimed that the Life of the Party star “took $5 million dollars under the table” during the height of the Me Too era “to not tell the world how toxic and nasty Patrick Dempsey really was.”

[From Us Weekly]

Eh. I think all things are likely true – Isaiah was fired for cause, because he was disruptive on the set, getting in a fistfight with the lead actor (Dempsey) and using a homophobic slur. Now, I absolutely believe that Dempsey and Pompeo were just as toxic as everyone else, but they were the “leads” and so no one could do sh-t about it other than try to manage them. Did Pompeo get paid off to not talk about Dempsey? Eh. Maybe, maybe not. I’m sure she has a lot of stories about Dempsey. But I bet he has some stories about her too.

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64 Responses to “Isaiah Washington: Ellen Pompeo ‘took $5 million’ payout stay quiet”

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  1. AmyB says:

    Hmmmm. as a long time fan of the Grey’s Anatomy show … this rings pretty true. The show was a million times better in the early seasons YES!! And I hated when Isaiah’s character (Dr. Burke) was written off (but we all heard what happened behind the scenes at the time). Yes, definitely seems there were many egos and assholes on that set. Damn! And I still miss Sandra Oh – Christina Yang, she will forever be my favorite character!! I have never heard a bad word about her, there’s probably good reason for that xoxo

    • Jan90067 says:

      Agreed! The first 5-7 seasons were definitely the best, and Sandra should’ve been the star. Have to say, I like Heigl’s Izzy a lot, too (even though she turned into a diva, but her acting was *great*).

      • AmyB says:

        Izzy was a good character for awhile, agreed. Though I hated what they did to her character later. The Denny stuff, and how she left Alex. But I think Shonda was pissed at Katherine Heigl then, for withdrawing herself from her nomination for poor writing and not feeling like she should be there (YIKES)!!

    • Mustlovedogs says:

      Loved Sandra Oh too. Have a look at Her brilliant performance on Netflix’s “The Chair”. Worth a watch x

  2. BlueSky says:

    I agree with the both things can be true. IW is an a-hole and a MAGA that likes to harass BW
    on Twitter. (He once tried
    to come for Soledad O’Brien) he’s a terrible man but I believe him when he says that environment was and is toxic

  3. Becks1 says:

    I watched this show for maybe a season, when I lived with people who were watching it (this was around 2006-7 ish?) and I just didn’t get the appeal. It was like ER but with less medicine and more drama and sleeping around, and I thought Ellen Pompeo was the weakest link. She reminded me of dishwater and I didn’t get why there was a competition over her or whatever.

    So basically….I can believe that it was a toxic environment, when you have those kinds of ensemble casts but a few people are supposed to be the stars regardless of popularity – it just sounds like its a messy messy show to be a part of.

    • Noki says:

      Ellen should thank her lucky stars she got this gig. Its funny how when they have a hiatus she doesnt seem to do anything else. Others tried their hand at some romcoms etc ,i cant name anything else she has been in.

      • Yup, Me says:

        Ellen’s character is the standard bland white woman linchpin trope. A character NOBODY cares about but her white womanness makes her the main character so we, the audience, have to watch all these tedious scenes centering her (while waiting for the other characters and their stories to return to the screen). See also Suki (Anna Paquin) in True Blood and Piper in Orange is the New Black.

      • Paisley25 says:

        I believe she’s said that her initial contract didn’t allow her to do anything outside of Greys. That’s one of the reasons she wanted a big salary bump during the renewal.

  4. Jan90067 says:

    I just got into Grey’s a few months ago, at my sister’s urging, and I have to say, I love it. But I will NEVER understand Pompeo’s casting. She is the WORST actor of all of the cast (incl. the ever changing interns), and to me, the weakest link of the show.

    I’m almost done w/Season 17 now, and I have to say, watching it now, gives me anxiety (the way it mirrors what is/has happened with Covid & BLM). I almost want to skip through it to Season 18.

  5. GrnieWnie says:

    “she’s thinks she’s cool with black people like that, but she’s not” lololol. This just makes me laugh. It’s true, isn’t it? Some people think they’re cool with a certain group, but then they fail to translate that into their actual behavior.

    For example, once I worked at this cafe with all these hippy girls who played indigenous music over the speakers. But then when a woman came in and asked to waive tax but forgot her tribal ID card at home (and they all know this woman is indigenous), they gave her such a hard time. I’m like…can’t you see the problem here? You can’t say you’re cool with some group, celebrate their music or whatever, and then behave just like everyone else who dumps on that group. Like you actually have to modify your behavior through a process of empathy. Waive the damn tax.

    • Surly Gale says:

      Or pay it themselves, because let’s face it, we owe the indigenous peoples big time. I’m w/you GrnieWnie we need to translate our admiration and appreciate for a culture into how we treat each individual person in each individual interaction we have. We need to treat them with the same respect we expect to be treated. It’s basic love thy neighbour as thyself. In this case, it’s love thy host, dammit.

  6. jbyrdku says:

    I saw Ellen Pompeo on an episode of Punked, and she was a giant asshole to the waitress. Never liked her after that.

    • MaplePlains says:

      YES!!! This. I can’t unsee her assholery and think about it every time I watch Grey’s. In fact, I kind of root against Meredith Grey because of it.

  7. Keri says:

    I stopped watching after season 15. Got over it.

  8. Wiglet Watcher says:

    Patrick Dempsey is from a Maine town near me. People that knew him are still around and they have tons of stories about him. He got bullied here and there Being a theatre kid in a rough town and instead of becoming kind he became a bully before he left Lewiston. When he comes back here he expects to be a local hero and acts like an entitled jerk. He is also rumored to have affairs, but no surprise there.
    He’s locally known as an a***ole.

    • Aang says:

      I’ve never seen one episode of Grey’s. To me Patrick Dempsey will always be that kid on the lawnmower who paid the cheerleader to date him after she spilled wine on her mom’s suede jacket. I don’t even remember the name of the movie.

      • Zoro says:

        Can’t Buy Me Love… I will always love this movie no matter how terrible Patrick Dempsey may or may not be (not saying this proudly, just putting it out there). 🙂

      • stelly says:

        Same! I had a VHS copy of that movie once upon a time. That suede outfit was fire!

      • Courtney B says:

        @zoro Never apologize or feel ashamed. Lol I think many of us of a certain generation feel a crazy amount of affection for that movie.

    • Lorelei says:

      @Zoro, same! I love that movie SO MUCH. It’s totally one of those movies that will make me drop whatever I’m doing to watch it if it happens to be on.
      I’ve known for years that Patrick Dempsey is allegedly a total assho!e, but I try so hard not to think about it because I can’t bear to have that movie ruined. ) :
      I always wanted to find something similar to that suede getup, spill red wine on it, and go as Cindy Mancini for Halloween one year, lol. But I don’t look a thing like her and it would never work. (Also, her car! I STILL want that car.)
      It’s really sad to think about what happened to the actress IRL. She was so beautiful and (imo, at least) talented— I never understood why she didn’t have a more successful career after Can’t Buy Me Love.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        I had to look up her later years.
        She struggles with drug abuse, left Hollywood. Attempted to kick her habit. Had a hysterectomy and the doctor Sent Her Home with MORPHINE!? A known addict. Of course she overdosed. I hope her family got damages.

  9. sally says:

    The one person I’m interested to hear from in in this is TR Knight actually. I know I’m in the minority here, but I really liked George and felt he was one of the strongest actors in the early seasons. He left/was made to leave not long after Washington, no? and his career hasn’t been the hottest ever since. Loved him in everything I’ve seen him in though, so I wonder what else was at play there, despite the obvious.

    • AmyB says:

      You are not the only one who loved George O’Malley LOL! Most Grey’s fans love him, still do, and his death was one of the worst on the entire show! People still lament about it to this day, no joke!!! He was one of the best developed & interesting characters, and TR Knight played him so well. However, I think this incident with Isiah Washington was said to sour things, and TR said later, he was essentially “forced” to come out of the closet publicly. Which was something he really did not want to do at the time. I guess later, he wanted to leave, so his character got axed in the worst way. Still hate Shonda for that one – and that damn plane crash in Season 8 haha!!!

      George O’Malley is definitely one of the most beloved characters on Grey’s by far – Even after 18 seasons. He and Christina Yang are two of my favorites.

      • Sally says:

        Oh I’m so glad to hear that! Not that he was forced to come out, of course, but that people like him 😆😅 I never really made it past season 3, but the people I watched it with and who kept watching didn’t like him, so I assumed that was a mote general take. 😅

    • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

      I liked his character a lot, too- thought he was very good playing George. He was also extremely adorable with those big eyes of his.😀

    • Lorelei says:

      @Sally, me too! He was one of the best characters and I remember feeling horrible for what he went through so publicly at the time; I was still watching it back then, but not for much longer after that. Does anyone know if he’s ever spoken out since, or if he’s in this book at all? Because ITA with you— he’s the one I’d be interested in hearing from. He seems to be very private, though.

  10. Mia4s says:

    Shonda’s “no a–hole” policy, like most similar policies that producers and show runners have is more of a: “no a-holes who cannot sufficiently hide their a-hole-ery or only those a-holes who make us enough money from certain fans to allow us to feel we must overlook said a-hole-rey” policy.

    • Courtney B says:

      Or assholes who shonda likes. She protected IW a good while despite it further harming set issues. Plus Ellen. I always thought the IW issue and Heigl being so outspoken about it really is what pushed Shonda to treat her character so badly later. Heigl was no worse than a number of actors and she won the first Emmy.

  11. Mel says:

    Surprised but not surprised . I still think Isaiah Washington is a massive jerk, he was fired from the series “Soul Food” because of behavior issues. You can be right and still be the jerk. It speaks volumes that Sandra Oh REFUSES to return for a guest spot and doesn’t seem to mess with Ellen Pompeo on social media at all.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      pretty sure Sandra Oh was the classiest one on that set. She’s awesome.

      • lucy2 says:

        She seemed to be one of the who who behaved professionally.
        I feel bad for the crew, standing around waiting while the actors had ego battles and were intentionally late.

        I stopped watching after season 2. I never cared about Ellen’s character.

      • Mel says:

        Everyone seemed to have pretty huge egos and made it their business to act out on it with the exception of Sandra Oh and TR Knight. I never heard any stories about them. The show was/is GREY’S Anatomy, not Burke’s or Shepard’s Anatomy. Typical that those two would come in and think it was all about them.

      • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

        She was also the most compelling character, imo.

  12. Lululu says:

    Is it just me or does Ellen need to stop messing with her face?

    • Erin says:

      Yes and I have never understood her appeal. I never really watched Greys but everyone around me did and it just never interested me. I also don’t find PD attractive either so that’s probably part of why I didn’t tune in. Everyone was so obsessed with Md Dreamy (?) right?Yes, he’s conveniently attractive I guess but there are many better looking men in HW. Now learning about both of these mediocre white people being assholes? I just don’t get it.

      • Jan90067 says:

        I found Sloan AND McWidower SO much more attractive…esp. Flood’s Irish accent…swoon!

    • Sunshine says:

      Not just you. She had such a unique beauty in the first couple of seasons. I saw tweaking of her face almost immediately which made expression/emoting so much more difficult. Her eyes are beautiful, but she lost that fresh faced ingenue look very soon into Grey’s.

      Cristina Yang will always be the best character on GA, IMO.

    • Originaluna says:

      Ellen’s face changed completely after giving birth to her daughter. I think she was one of the unfortunate women whose faces just.. Droop after a pregnancy. Her cheeks dropped and I feel something must have happened because she had her son after via surrogacy.

      Anyway, other than that I think probably fillers and stuff but if she were really going under the knife I bet she’d have had a bichectomy or something because her face was very lean and angular before.
      I’m saying this as a 18 season watcher of Grey’s. I also notice these things… That’s my take on her changed face.

  13. Lorelei says:

    I haven’t paid attention to any of this in years, so take it with a huge grain of salt, lol. But Ellen is married to a Black man, and it kind of seems like (this is totally my speculation) she thinks that this automatically protects/exonerates her from ever being labeled a racist, no matter how racist her words or actions are. Sort of like, “But I have a Black friend!” on steroids.

    She used to live right near me in the Village, and she and her husband walked past me once— it took me a minute to realize who they were, but my focus was more on how tall and *extremely* good-looking her husband was. All I remember about her is that she was very tiny, but it’s very common to think a celeb looks smaller IRL than they do onscreen. He was so, SO handsome, I still remember sort of gaping at him, lol.

    • Cait says:

      Her husband is Biracial with a white mother and a black father. He himself was raised in a predominately white environment. He seems to hold some anti-black views himself considering her comments on HBCUs that he is apparently okay with.

      • Lorelei says:

        @Cait, I didn’t know that…how disappointing.

      • Jan90067 says:

        From what I read, IW was *supposed* to be McDreamy. Ellen torpedoed that, saying she was married to a black man IRL, and didn’t want parallels drawn.

  14. KL says:

    This right here. It’s embarrassing that he’s even bringing this up again when that was a major part of the fallout. People don’t forget.

  15. kimberly says:

    not sure how was paid off, she’s the one who let us know she knew Patrick was having the an affair with a lower tier employee …so evidently she didn’t have issues spillING secrets

  16. Gracie says:

    There were a lot of talented actors and pretty engaging characters in the first few seasons, but I stopped watching after Sandra left b/c the only interesting aspect of Pompeo’s character was her friendship with Yang, who was a very complex character. Washington and Dempsey were totally believable as male surgeons – I suspect they may have simply played into their own egotistical tendencies to help with that. None of this is surprising, but my sympathy is for the set workers who no doubt caught up in a lot of it.

  17. Dizza says:

    So a man who throws around homophobic slurs is calling others toxic? I have no time for someone who wants to defend his use of such a word. Has he ever apologized for saying that? I imagine it felt pretty toxic on that set (as an actor or crew member) after that word was thrown around liberally by one of the stars.

  18. Lisa says:

    I think he’s an a-hole but he was great on the show

  19. Chisey says:

    I don’t like the vague reference to the me too movement. If he’s trying to say that Dempsey was sexually harassing women on set, he should say that. By saying Pompey signed an NDA in the height of me too, it implies sexual harassment without saying it outright, and it pisses me off when people who are fine being clear about other things are suddenly all insinuation and winks/nudges when it comes to sexual harassment.

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      I would believe he used his position in the show and production to pressure and manipulate women. I would also believe those women feared for their jobs if he felt slighted.

      • Chisey says:

        I would believe that too. If that’s what Washington means then he should say so instead of vaguely invoking me too to let people speculate imo

    • MelOn says:

      How would he know she signed an NDA during me too? He was long gone by then. So , I’d just give him side eye about that statement.

  20. Scal says:

    He didn’t even get fired for what he said on set. He issued a apology-it was getting swept under the rug

    THEN he went on to repeat the word again live on camera while the cast was being interviewed at a award show post victory. Learned nothing.

    I love the show-but all the OG actors are wackadoo with the exception of Sandra Oh. I try and just focus on the characters

  21. NotSoSocialButterfly says:

    They’re all toxic. Each one other them.

  22. Lila says:

    I can easily believe that the stars were super toxic. Did anyone ever hear anything about Kate Walsh? She came in so hot I wondered if she got an ego or took grief from the stars.

    • AmyB says:

      I somehow doubt it. She got that spin off show from Grey’s – Private Practice which aired several seasons, I think. I didn’t really watch it. The actress has done some well known stuff later too. She was on that Netflix series, 13 Reason Why about teen suicide, which was all the rave a few years ago. Kate Walsh has guest starred back on Grey’s Anatomy many times, so I sincerely doubt she is a problematic actress.

    • Courtney B says:

      I loved Addison on GA but thought they dumbed her down on PP. KW is such a good actress.
      She did a USO tour in Afghanistan and my hubby met her. Said she was really nice and even prettier in real life.

  23. Sonia says:

    I miss Sandra Oh so badly-and seasons 3-7 were the best written ones, the dialogue was witty and quick, characters were interesting, and they weren’t trying to educate me on everything that is wrong in the world like they do now.

  24. Andyl says:

    I have a complicated opinion of Ellen Pompeo. She is admittedly only in the show for the money and power and control behind the camera – which I give mad props to – especially from a woman (since God forbid a powerful woman acknowledge her power and own it). But I side with the author here about the likely possibility that she doesn’t always operate as righteously as she projects. There’s no excusing Washington’s hate speech, but I do commend him for coming out right for Ellen’s misdemeanors. We all know Dempsey is as big of an asshole as they come, and yet, which actor received more (still withstanding to this day, to boot) coverage tarnishing their reputation? Where’s the full, FULL ON tell on Dempsey? And given Ellen’s openly tarnished relationship with him, what reason does she have to continually stay as quiet as she has on the subject? (Read: money, status on the show and with Shonda, her bond with Shonda…) It sucks because it makes me think less of her.

  25. LouLou says:

    I have not watched the show in years. I always felt like I was putting up with the Meredith storylines to watch the others. Then the show continued to find reasons for half the cast living together, which I did not find believable at all. I finally couldn’t take it when they won a bunch of money (maybe after a lawsuit related to the plane crash) and decided not to keep it and instead build a wing on the hospital. Seriously? Not take any of it to make sure you are set for life? I was also just sick of Meredith being “dark and twisty” forever.

  26. Serena says:

    Ellen can be mad alls he wants but the ‘side-characters’ were always more interesting than hers. I haven’t watched Grey’s since Sandra Oh left, she was my favorite, and I don’t understand why it is still going on – it seems so forced – the storylines and everything..just enough.