Any rumors of a fractured relationship between the stars of arguably one of television’s most iconic pairings were pushed to the wayside on Wednesday when Ellen Pompeo released a slew of episodes for her new podcast “Tell Me” — one of which featuring her former partner on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Patrick Dempsey.
The two New England natives — with Pompeo hailing from Everett, Mass., and Dempsey from Lewiston, Maine — sat down for a lighthearted conversation about their time working as couple Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd and Meredith Grey on the long-running ABC drama, what they have been up to recently, and their ties to the region.
“So the story is, Patty just got back from a long trip, and he’s been too busy to have lunch or coffee with me. So I wrangled and roped him into this instead,” Pompeo joked to introduce her guest, who responded that he was “glad it worked out.”
It was only a few weeks ago that the Hollywood Reporter released an excerpt from a tell-all book about what went on behind the scenes of the fan-favorite series. And Dempsey was not painted in the most favorable of lights.
In the chapter from “How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy,” an unauthorized oral history of the show, entertainment reporter Lynette Rice interviewed a number of executive producers and Dempsey’s co-stars. The published section illuminated the alleged “HR issues” that contributed to the death of his character and detailed issues with others on set, namely Pompeo.
But on the podcast, the pair appeared to allude to the report hinting at tensions between cast members almost right off the bat. They both acknowledged that the experience was not always easy, but ultimately worth it in the end.
“I’ve learned so much from the experience by different relationships with the cast . . . with everybody, that have been some of the best life lessons I’ve ever had in my life,” Dempsey said. “It really has been a blessing in so many ways because you start to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Pompeo added that only those who have been a part of the show can “understand what this journey has been.”
“We’ve all come through it with a tremendous amount of forgiveness and love for each other,” she said. “I wouldn’t change any of it. Even the bad we’ve learned from, and the good we look back on and laugh. And we still all love each other like brothers and sisters.”
Soon enough, the two turned to discuss perhaps one of the most divisive episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” to air — and, no, not the one where Shepherd meets his untimely death — but, as Pompeo began and Dempsey finished the sentence for her, the “horrible music number.”
In episode 18 of season 7, the cast — despite being surgeons working under strenuous conditions — narrate their troubles and conversations with one another by literally belting out lyrics in “Song Beneath the Song.” It’s been a decade since it was broadcast, but both Pompeo and Dempsey still look back at it with mock terror.
“I mean that musical — we were horrified, right?” Pompeo said. “I was like, ‘Listen, I don’t want to chicken out here like we’re doing this musical. I want to be all in. I want to commit, I want to try, but I’m a terrible singer.’”
Whereas Pompeo had said she was willing to “dive right in” despite lacking the vocal cords of some of her fellow actors, Dempsey acknowledged he “chickened out completely.”
“I was like, ‘No way in hell am I going to be singing,’” he said. “It didn’t make sense to me then. And now when you see it, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ At least they tried, you know, at least they tried.”
But it was one particular anecdote from the podcast, where Pompeo talked about working with Hollywood legend Denzel Washington on set that quickly made the rounds on social media — this time turning the negative spotlight on her.
The discussion began when Dempsey and Pompeo started talking about directing, and then how the experience of working with actor-directors is often different compared to when guided by those who do not also perform.
“But Debbie Allen [Catherine Avery on “Grey’s Anatomy”] was like, ‘What can I do to keep Ellen interested? What can I do to keep Ellen here?’” Pompeo said. “Because after you left, I was like, ‘Why do I have to say here? I gotta go now. Everyone’s gone.’”
Her solution was to surprise Pompeo with Washington as the director of one of the episodes, specifically episode 9 of season 11. In “The Sound of Silence” Meredith gets her jaw broken by a patient, and then has to have it wired shut. It was when Pompeo improvised during the scene that things got a bit rocky.
“I was like, ‘Look at me when you apologize, look at me,’ and that wasn’t in the dialogue” she said, adding that Washington was not pleased with the improvisation. “He was like, ‘I’m the director, don’t you tell him what to do.’”
She continued: “’I was like, listen, [expletive]. This is my show. This is my set. Who are you telling?’”
Some online expressed bafflement as to why Pompeo would publicly state she had caused problems with the famed actor. She quickly clarified that she has nothing but the “utmost respect for him as an actor, as a director, as everything” and that the two worked together well following that argument.
Pompeo and Dempsey also talked about the Dempsey Center — which the actor founded in 2008 with the “intention of giving back to the community where he grew up” — losing their mothers, growing up in New England, and the media they have consumed as of late.
“I love you, Patty. Thank you so much for doing this,” Pompeo said at the conclusion of the podcast.
“Love you, too,” Dempsey responded.
Listen to the full episode here: