Medical drama series Grey's Anatomy has been going strong for 15 years, but Ellen Pompeo – who plays Meredith Grey - has opened up about the "toxic" life behind the scenes for the first decade.

"The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behaviour, really toxic work environment," the star explained in a Variety interview.

Pompeo revealed there were "many moments" when she wanted to quit the show.

Grey's Anatomy cast on set. Photo / Instagram
Grey's Anatomy cast on set. Photo / Instagram

"It's funny. I never wanted off the bus in the year that I could get off," she said.

Advertisement

The 49-year-old actress, who has three children, said that once she became a mother, she realised she needed to provide for her family. "It became no longer about me," she said, "I need to take care of my kids."

Grey's Anatomy's behind-the-scenes drama was often reported in the press.

In 2007 Isaiah Washington, who played gifted cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Preston Burke, made an abrupt exit after using homophobic slurs while fighting Patrick Dempsey, who played Derek Shepherd, on set.

When TR Knight left in 2009, he told Entertainment Weekly he and creator Shonda Rhimes had a "gradual breakdown of communication".

Katherine Heigl, who played Izzie Stevens, also withdrew from the 2008 Emmy race because she believed her storyline did not "warrant an Emmy nomination".

When Heigl exited the show in 2010, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 she had a "no Heigls" rule on the set of her other show, Scandal.

Ellen Pompeo and Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. Photo / Instagram
Ellen Pompeo and Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. Photo / Instagram

"After season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera," Pompeo revealed in the interview.

She made it one of her main goals to "have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about because we had so much turmoil for 10 years".

"My mission became, this can't be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes. Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. That's what kept me," she said.

She added that another one of her missions was to prove that the series didn't need a male lead after Derek Shepherd dramatically died on the show.

"I was on a double mission," she explained.

Pompeo has been open about the fact that Patrick Dempsey always made more money than she did, despite her being the show's lead character.

After years of fighting for higher pay, Pompeo is now one of the highest-paid television actors, having signed a US$20 million contract in 2017.