Ellen Pompeo, Denzel Washington

Ellen Pompeo recalls spat with Denzel Washington while filming ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: ‘We went at it’


Ellen Pompeo and Denzel Washington had a heated argument on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” when the latter directed an episode of the show.
The “Grey’s Anatomy” lead star shared her filming experience with Washington on the hit TV show on the “Tell Me With Ellen Pompeo” podcast. For the podcast episode, she reunited with her former co-star Patrick Dempsey and they talked about directing, with Pompeo encouraging Dempsey to do more of it.

The 51-year-old actress has starred in the medical drama since it began in 2005 and has seen a long list of celebrities pass through the show as guest stars or guest directors.

One such star was Denzel Washington, who directed a season 12 episode called “The Sound of Silence.”

Dempsey asked Pompeo what it was like when the “Equalizer” star came on board to direct an episode after his character was killed off on the show.

On the debut episode of her new podcast called “Tell Her,” Pompeo recalled executive producer Debbie Allen roping Washington, now 66, to direct an episode as a “surprise” for Pompeo to keep her interested after starring in the show for over a decade.

“He came probably three weeks prior so he could get caught up because Denzel doesn’t watch much TV, he’s probably never seen the show,” the actress shared. “He did the show because his wife is a big fan. His wife is really who told him, ‘That show’s amazing, you should go do it.’ I think he saw it as a good exercise to just come in and direct something quick.”

Ellen Pompeo and James Pickens Jr. in ‘Grey’s Anatomy' season 12 episode nine, ‘The Sound of Silence,’ directed by Denzel Washington.
Ellen Pompeo and James Pickens Jr. in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ season 12 episode nine, ‘The Sound of Silence,’ directed by Denzel Washington. (Photo by Nicole Wilder/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Pompeo did note that Washington had an “amazing” presence on the set and that he’s a “superstar for a reason,” but she felt that he lacked experience in directing for the small screen.

“Denzel’s a movie star, right? He doesn’t know s–t about directing TV,” she claimed.

“The Sound of Silence” remains the only episode of television Washington has directed. Before that, he directed the films “Antwone Fisher” and “The Great Debaters” – he’s since directed “Fences” and “A Journal for Jordan.”

The episode featured her character Meredith Grey’s jaw being broken by an epileptic patient. She and Washington then disagreed on how the actor playing the patient should apologize to Meredith when the time came.
In one scene, Dr. Meredith Grey (Pompeo) listened to an apology from a man (a guest star) who seriously injured her and left her with a broken jaw. The story was inspired by a real-life incident involving an epileptic patient who had a seizure and accidentally beat up a nurse. It was an emotional scene but Pompeo didn’t like the way the guest star apologized to her.

“I didn’t really want to talk to this actor or see this actor before we did this scene, so I didn’t have much interaction with him at all,” the star recalled. “And then, he apologized to me, but he was doing it really softly. He made this choice to speak very softly.

Grey's Anatomy" star Ellen Pompeo said she felt her show had a "responsibility" to look at what health care workers are going through during the coronavirus pandemic

Washington pushed Pompeo to stick to the script, she said, adding that he “went ham on my a–.”

“He was like, ‘I’m the director! Don’t you tell him what to do!'” she revealed. “I was like, ‘Listen, motherf–ker, this is my show! This is my set! Who are you telling — You barely even know where the bathroom is!'”

The actress explained that she has “the utmost respect” for the Oscar winner as an actor and director despite their spat.

“He went nuts on me,” Pompeo was quoted by Entertainment Weekly as saying.

Pompeo added that she had a chat with Washington’s wife after the incident as the latter came to the set. According to the actress, it was Washington’s wife who encouraged him to direct an episode because she’s a fan of the series. Pompeo told her about their argument and how he allegedly yelled at her. She chose to look at the incident positively.

“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,” Pompeo added.

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