Ellen Pompeo has starred on Grey’s Anatomy as its central protagonist – Meredith Grey – since it made its debut in 2005. Had she not been afraid of struggling to find other work in Hollywood as she aged, she likely would have left the show years ago.

Ellen Pompeo On Hollywood Ageism

Pompeo, now 46, was just 33 when she had signed on to Shonda Rhimes’ hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy. Though she was only in her early 30s at the time, she was already fearful that she was past her prime in show business and that opportunities would be drying up. It was because of that fear that she stuck with the TV drama instead of pursuing other film or TV opportunities.

“My decision to stay on Grey’s was based solely on age,” Pompeo told People magazine. “At 33, I was wise enough to know my clock was already ticking in Hollywood.”

If Pompeo had been younger when she landed the once-in-a-lifetime role, she admits that she may taken the chance on leaving.

“I probably would have done my time, then gone out to search for other things,” Pompeo added. “I was definitely aware of how challenging it would be to find other roles in my late 30s and early 40s. I thought, ‘Why would I leave something that is super successful and pays me great to search the landscape?’ I decided that I would stay on Grey’s and be grateful and try to ride it out for as long as I could. And I am very happy that I made the decision to stay. It’s only gotten better with time.”

While Pompeo is appreciative of the longevity of Grey’s and how the show has – despite the odds – not only improved in its latter seasons but is also enjoying massive ratings, there is one thing she’s not thrilled about – watching herself age on screen.

“Watching myself age on TV is miserable. To be honest, it’s the toughest part of my job,” the actress admits, adding, “But as uncomfortable as watching myself age is, I don’t think focusing on physical beauty is necessarily the best thing for your mind. It’s a natural thing that we all do, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest thing. The older you get, the more you realize life isn’t about your looks. Everyone ages, and it’s okay.”

Pompeo has been talking about aging as she promotes a campaign with Philosophy about having positive conversations about the process.

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