She's been on our TV screens in Grey's Anatomy since 2005, but Ellen Pompeo says she's just about ready to hang up her stethoscope.
The long-running medical drama will soon launch its 15th season, with Pompeo signed up for a 16th too. But in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, she strongly hints that it could be her last.
"I'm clearly not prepared right now to make any formal announcement about what my future is on the show, but I am really feeling like we have told the majority of the stories that we can tell," she told EW. "It's about time that I mix it up. I'm definitely looking for a change."
Season 16 of Grey's Anatomy will wrap in 2020.
Pompeo made worldwide headlines earlier this year when she gave an unflinchingly honest interview details the pros and cons of starring on such a successful, long-running TV show, explaining how she negotiated with Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes, who this year moved on from the show to a new Netflix deal.
"What I said to Shonda is the truth — I don't get to do anything else, and that's frustrating for me creatively. I make 24 episodes of TV a year, and as part of this deal, I cannot appear anywhere else. And directing is cool but, to be honest, it just takes me away from my kids."
Pompeo recently secured a $25 million annual deal ($716,000 per episode) — but it wasn't easy.
"What happened is that I went to Shonda and I said, 'If you're moving on to Netflix and you want the show to go down, I'm cool with that. But if you want it to continue, I need to be incentivised. I need to feel empowered and to feel ownership of this show.'"
She added: "CAA compiled a list of stats for me, and Grey's has generated nearly $3 billion for Disney. When your face and your voice have been part of something that's generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, 'OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this.'"
But before she successfully negotiated the hefty pay packet, Pompeo had an uphill battle.
"For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me — 'We don't need you; we have Patrick' — which they did for years. I don't know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that."
Rhimes is expected to return to the fold to pen the series' eventual finale.
"I have written the end of the show at least six times," Rhimes told EW. "But we just don't end. Every time I thought, 'This is how the show should end,' we've gone past those moments, so I've stopped trying. I have no idea now."