Ellen Pompeo says she and Denzel Washington 'went at it' when he directed Grey's Anatomy
Denzel Washington made his small-screen directing debut on Grey's Anatomy back in 2015, with the season 12 episode "The Sound of Silence," but according to series star Ellen Pompeo, things got a little loud during the filming of one particular scene when the two got into it.
Pompeo shared the story on a new episode of her podcast Tell Me With Ellen Pompeo, in which she reunited with former castmate Patrick Dempsey. As the two discussed directing — with Pompeo suggesting Dempsey do more of it — he asked her what it was like when Washington came on board to helm an episode the season after Dempsey's Derek Shepherd was killed off.
While she began by saying Washington was "amazing," Pompeo went on to discuss a heated exchange the pair had. "He went nuts on me," she said, adding that she was telling a "good Denzel story" from his time on set before detailing exactly what went down.
Pompeo was shooting a scene for the end of the episode in which her character, Dr. Meredith Grey, is asked to listen to an apology from a man who seriously injured her, leaving her with a broken jaw. (The story was inspired by a real-life incident in which an "epileptic patient goes into a seizure and beat up a nurse," Pompeo explained.) It being an emotional scene for the actress to shoot, she ended up improvising dialogue in the moment in response to an acting decision the guest star made.
"He made this choice to speak very softly. And [Meredith] was pissed that [she] had to sit there and listen to this apology, and he wasn't looking at [her] in the eye," Pompeo recalled, wavering between talking about herself and the guest star as actors and characters. "Again, we love actors who make choices, right? And 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 continued: "He was like, 'I'm the director. Don't you tell him what to do.' And I was like, 'Listen, motherf‑‑‑er, this is my show. This is my set. Who are you telling?' Like, 'You barely know where the bathroom is.' And I have the utmost respect for him as an actor, as a director, as everything, but like, yo, we went at it one day."
As Pompeo shared more of the story, she said she ended up having a little chat with Washington's wife when she came to the set. (Pompeo had said earlier in the podcast that Washington's wife was the one who told him to direct Grey's, as she was a fan.)
"I was like, 'Yeah, he yelled at me today. Yeah, he let me have it today, and I'm not okay with him, and I'm not looking at him, and I'm not talking to him,'" Pompeo said. "So we didn't get through it without a fight, but you know, 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."
In fact, Pompeo couldn't help but gush over what it was like to have Washington on set. "Denzel is like — his energy is just nuts. He has this vibration, right?" she said earlier in the podcast. "Certain actors just have an energy and a chemistry — like, superstars are superstars for a reason… There's just like an energy and a vibration that they give off that makes them super charismatic. Patrick has it, Obama has it. Anyone that I've ever met that's like crazy charismatic has it, and Denzel has it in spades, for sure."
Pompeo also noted that it was actually Debbie Allen, a star, executive producer, and director on Grey's Anatomy, who helped enlist Washington when the show's lead actress was wondering if it was her time to exit Grey Sloan Memorial.
"Debbie Allen was like, 'What can I do to keep Ellen interested? What can I do to keep Ellen here?' because after you [Patrick] left, I was like, 'Oh, why do I have to stay here? I've got to go now. Everyone's gone. Sandra's [Oh] gone, Patrick's gone. I've got to go too,'" the actress said. "And Debbie was like, 'No, no, no. You've got to stick around. I'm going to bring in a surprise for you,' and she would never tell me who it was. But she knew I was a huge fan."