Ellen Pompeo Says 'Ballsy' Katherine Heigl Was '100% Right' About 'Grey's Anatomy'

The actor said Heigl, who was maligned for speaking out about working conditions on the ABC series, was "ahead of her time."
Katherine Heigl, left, and Ellen Pompeo at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2006.
Katherine Heigl, left, and Ellen Pompeo at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2006.
L. Cohen via Getty Images

It has only taken our culture over a decade to reckon with the truth: We absolutely did Katherine Heigl dirty.

Scrubbing back into some mid-aughts “Grey’s Anatomy” drama, Ellen Pompeo has come to her former co-star’s defense more than a decade after she controversially exited the long-running medical drama.

Heigl was branded as a villain for clashing with the powers behind the ABC series after publicly criticizing the harsh working conditions on set and later withdrawing her name from Emmy contention over lackluster material.

But Pompeo is now praising Heigl for making “ballsy” comments at the time.

“I remember Heigl said something on a talk show about the insane hours we were working, but she was 100% right — and had she said that today she’d be a complete hero, but she was ahead of her time,” she said in an episode of her “Tell Me” podcast released on Wednesday.

“Of course, let’s slam a woman and call her ungrateful when the truth is she’s 100% honest, and it’s absolutely correct what she said,” Pompeo continued. “And she was fucking ballsy for saying it. And she was telling the truth. She wasn’t lying. Also, when you’re younger, you’re so excited to be there and you’re so happy to be invited to the party that you’re willing to do whatever it is they’re asking you to do.”

Heigl indeed faced backlash over a 2009 appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” where she described her “17-hour” workday as “cruel and mean.”

Heigl addressed those comments while endorsing the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees strike in a lengthy Instagram post in September, remarking that she got her “ass kicked for speaking up.”

Pompeo, who now also serves as one of the executive producers on “Grey’s Anatomy,” explained that the culture has thankfully evolved since Heigl’s days, adding that “happier actors” mean there’s “not as much drama.”

“I’m very lucky now with my schedule on ‘Grey’s,’” she said. “I get to cut back, and overall I’m happy for the production as a whole because we have cut back tremendously. Back in the day, we used to do crazy, crazy hours.”

While Heigl has since starred in a slew of projects, including Netflix’s “Firefly Lane,” she has spoken about how being labeled “difficult” took a serious toll on both her career and mental health.

“I may have said a couple of things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to, ‘She’s ungrateful,’ then that escalated to, ‘She’s difficult,’ and that escalated to, ‘She’s unprofessional,’” she told The Washington Post in an interview last year. “What is your definition of difficult? Somebody with an opinion that you don’t like? Now, I’m 42, and that shit pisses me off.”

Heigl said that she was “quickly told to shut the fuck up” amid the fallout from her comments.

“I asked my mom and my husband to find me somewhere to go that could help me because I felt like I would rather be dead,” she told the Post. “I didn’t realize how much anxiety I was living with until I got so bad that I had to really seek help. You can do a lot of inner soul work, but I’m a big fan of Zoloft.”

Heigl previously expressed interest in returning to the series and wrapping up her character’s arc, but creator Shonda Rhimes has said she’s unequivocally “done with that story.”

“I’ve turned that idea over in my mind a thousand times and thought about how it would go,” Rhimes told TVLine back in 2013. “And I don’t think so.”

“Grey’s Anatomy,” currently standing as the longest running medical drama in television history, was renewed for a 19th season in January. Apart from Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr. are the show’s only remaining original cast members.

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