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Ellen Pompeo Says Denzel Washington Is Part of Why She Didn’t Quit ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

The actress also explains how she and Washington ”didn’t get through it without a fight.“

Ellen Pompeo had former costar Patrick Dempsey as a guest on her podcast this week, and during their talk she revealed that Denzel Washington played a big role in her decision to stick with the long-running drama.

As Pompeo explained, the episode Washington directed, 2016’s “The Sound of Silence,” came at a pivotal period for the show, and for Pompeo herself. Season 12 was the first season without either of Pompeo’s longest standing co-stars: Sandra Oh, who exited the show in 2014 at the end of Season 10; and Patrick Dempsey, who left at the end of Season 11 in 2015.

“[Co-star and Executive Producer] Debbie Allen was like ‘What can I do to keep Ellen interested? What can I do to keep Ellen here?'” Pompeo said to Dempsey. “Because after you left I was like, ‘Oh why do I have to stay here? I gotta go now everyone’s gone. Sandra’s gone. Patrick’s gone.'”

But, Pompeo said, “Debbie was like ‘No, no you gotta stick around I’m gonna bring in a surprise for you.’ And she would never tell me who it was, but she knew I was a big fan.”

According to Pompeo, Allen kept the suspense going right up until Washington walked onto the set. “Debbie kept saying ‘I have a surprise for you, I have a surprise for you.’ And I would say ‘Oh Debbie, come on, what is it? And then all of a sudden, there he comes.”

Looks like that whole thing worked, because Pompeo is still there and will be headlining the 18th season starting this week. So thank The Equilizer himself for keeping Meredith Grey at Seattle Grace.

But as much as Pompeo admired Washington, there were a couple of (well meaning) bumps along the way. In the episode, Meredith’s jaw is wired shut. At one point, she has to hear another character apologize, and during the scene Pompeo stepped out of her role to coach the other actor’s performance.

“I yelled at him and I was like ‘Look at me when you apologize. Look at me.’ And that wasn’t in the dialogue. And Denzel went ham on my ass,” she said. “He was like ‘I’m the director, don’t tell him what to do.’ And I was like ‘Listen motherf—er, this is my show. This is my set. Who are you telling? You barely know where the bathroom is.”

But Pompeo made it clear that she has “utmost respect for him as an actor and director,” and that they quickly worked things out. “We didn’t get through it without a fight, but that’s actors for you. Passionate and fiery and that’s where you get the magic, and that’s where you get the good stuff. So, it was an amazing experience, it really was.”

Pompeo also added that Washington “did the show because his wife is a big fan. His wife is really who told him ‘Oh you know that show is amazing you should go do it.’ He saw it as a great exercise to come in and direct [before directing for HBO].”

During their chat, Pompeo and Dempsey also discussed Dempsey’s recent travel and projects. You can listen to all of it here.