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Grey's Anatomy Star Ellen Pompeo Recalls Encouraging Words Al Pacino Told Her That Still Resonate When Playing Meredith

Meredith behind podium on Grey's Anatomy
(Image credit: abc)

Ellen Pompeo has been acting for over two decades now, and in that time she’s had the opportunity to cross paths with some of Hollywood’s elite. Behind having picked the brains of her A-list co-stars on Grey’s Anatomy — including Debbie Allen, Patrick Dempsey and even guest stars you may have forgotten were on the show, like Leslie Odom Jr. — the Meredith Grey actress has also sought out advise and wisdom from those outside the hospital’s walls as well. To that end, her podcast Tell Me's latest ep features a story about some encouraging words she received from nine-time Academy Award nominee Al Pacino. And apparently none of them were "hoo-ah."

After Grey’s Anatomy wraps its 18th season, Ellen Pompeo is signed on to star as Meredith Grey for at least one more year. The actress and executive producer has long voiced her opinion that they should end the show, and questions are already circulating about whether Season 19 will be its last. Amid such speculation, Pompeo spoke with Nikki Toscano on Tell Me (opens in new tab) about the latter's work on The Offer, the Paramount+ series about the making of The Godfather. At which point Pompeo shared that she once met Al Pacino, who gave a breakthrough performance in the mob classic, and his encouraging words still resonate with her:

He said, ‘Ellen, I’ve been playing Salomé my whole career,’ and he said, ‘That’s what we did in the theater. We played the same characters night after night, month after month. The Greeks, the Romans, the origins of theater are that you played the same character over and over and over. There’s no shame in that.’ In that moment as a young actor, really with being so self-critical, his generosity of spirit, it literally just was like the biggest hug anyone could have ever given me in that moment.

That really brings a whole new perspective to Ellen Pompeo having played Meredith Grey for so many years, and it’s definitely an appropriate story to recall at this time in her career. The podcast host recalled the iconic actor’s “gentleness” in pointing out that he’s been tethered to his own career roles for as long as he's had them. Pompeo’s playing one character for 18 years is not a bad thing in any respect, especially considering how long that’s been a tradition in the theater. 

However, when you feel like you’ve been doing something for too long, how do you know when to let go? Ellen Pompeo recently spoke about the possibility of Grey’s Anatomy continuing without Meredith, assumedly at some point after Season 19. And while she's not saying exactly how the show would continue on, she believes in the idea.

On the show, her character was guilted into remaining at Grey Sloan Memorial after she attempted to accept a job in Minnesota, leading her to rant about why she wasn’t allowed to move on when so many others had. If any part of that scene was rooted in Pompeo’s truth, isn’t it just better to let her go?

No decisions are likely to be made anytime soon, as Grey’s Anatomy’s Season 19 is still months away. The two-hour Season 18 finale, meanwhile, will air at 8 p.m. ET May 26 on ABC. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what new and returning shows will be hitting your televisions soon.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.