Why Ellen Pompeo Thinks Katherine Heigl Was Ahead Of Her Time When She Spoke Out About Her Grey's Anatomy Exit

On June 7, 2023, former "Grey's Anatomy" costars Ellen Pompeo and Katherine Heigl got an opportunity to catch up and have a touching conversation during an installment of Variety's "Actors on Actors" series. The pair discussed their time on ABC's mega-popular medical drama as well as how they've stood their ground in the tough industry over the years. After filming 19 seasons, Pompeo has left the show to pursue other projects. Heigl, on the other hand, called it quits following Season 6 in 2010 after vocalizing her dissatisfaction with the experience on multiple occasions. 

At the time, Heigl's words and exit from "Grey's" were met with a wave of brutal backlash — critics were quick to label her difficult and call her a diva. While she and Pompeo reflected on the show and that difficult moment during their Variety discussion, Pompeo had some reassuring words for her former costar. She told Heigl that her behavior back then would probably be considered totally acceptable today. Unfortunately, using social media to express opinions just wasn't popular yet. 

Ellen thinks Katherine was just before social media

During Ellen Pompeo and Katherine Heigl's conversation for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series, the "Grey's Anatomy" stars discussed the wave of controversy that followed Heigl leaving the show and speaking negatively about her experience. Pompeo pointed out that at the time, Heigl was just early to the trend. "They came out with this thing . . . where everybody has their own megaphone and they get a blue check," she joked. "It's called Twitter." Pompeo added, "You were just a little ahead of your time, lady," and Heigl chimed in sarcastically, "Damn it, I should have waited for Twitter. I'd be huge!"

Pompeo noted that these days, criticism is more widely embraced because of social media. "Somehow now, collectively, the whole world gets to criticize everything and tell everybody to f*** off, and it's OK," the actor observed. "But when you did it . . ." she trailed off. Heigl replied resignedly, "They didn't like me. Oh, well. What are you going to do?"

Continuing to speak in her former costar's defense, Pompeo made the argument that confident women aren't so well-liked. She explained that people don't want women to have a strong voice. "They don't want women to have control because they know that we can do it better than they can," Pompeo said. 

Katherine feels conflicted about her exit

Katherine Heigl famously left "Grey's Anatomy" in 2010. During a 2009 appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," she complained about the grueling filming schedule. "I'm going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them," Heigl told Letterman, via NBC. "It was a 17-hour workday." Although she won an Emmy in 2007 for her work on the series, she chose to withdraw her name from Emmy consideration the following year. The actress explained in a statement about her decision, per the New York Times, "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination." After her exit from the show and the way she spoke about "Grey's," Heigl recalled to Ellen Pompeo that she was perceived as ungrateful and unprofessional.

While speaking with Pompeo for their "Actors on Actors" interview, Heigl expressed her complicated feelings about the ordeal. "I was so naive," she said. "I got on my soapbox and I had some things to say, and I felt really passionate." The actor added, "There was no part of me that imagined a bad reaction." It wasn't until her mid to late thirties that she really processed the situation. "I literally believed that version [of myself], and felt such shame for such a long time," Heigl told Pompeo. She had to remind herself: "Who am I listening to? I'm not even listening to myself. I know who I am."