As co-stars have come and gone, one constant has remained throughout the 16 seasons of medical drama Grey's Anatomy to date.

Ellen Pompeo – playing the show's titular character, Dr Meredith Grey, since 2005 – is one of only a handful of season one Grey's Anatomy actors still there, while former co-stars like Sandra Oh, Patrick Dempsey and Katherine Heigl have all moved on.

In a new interview on the podcast Jemele Hill Is Unbothered, Pompeo, 50, explained with trademark honesty why she's never decided to fly the nest.

"You know, I made choices to stay on the show. For me, personally, a healthy home life was more important than career," said Pompeo, a mother to three children with husband Chris Ivery.

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"I didn't grow up with a particularly happy childhood. So to have a happy home life was really something I needed to complete, to close the hole in my heart."

Former co-stars like Sandra Oh (left) have moved on to different projects. Photo / Getty Images
Former co-stars like Sandra Oh (left) have moved on to different projects. Photo / Getty Images

"And so I made a decision to make money, and not chase creative acting roles. That's what, ultimately, I think, the hustler in me – I don't like chasing anything, ever. And acting to me, in my experience, was a lot of chasing. You've got to chase roles, you've got to beg for roles, you've got to convince people. And although I produce and it's the same kind of thing, I think I still do it from a place of, I'm never that thirsty because I'm financially set."

She's not wrong – in her 15 years on Grey's, Pompeo has become one of TV's top-earning stars, signing a new $25 million deal in 2018.

Pompeo has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's most refreshingly frank celebrities in recent years, giving a staggeringly honest interview to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 detailing the pros and cons of starring on a TV show as successful and long-running as Grey's Anatomy.

She explained in detail how she negotiated with Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes, who was at the time moving 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 revealed that it wasn't easy to secure the $25 million annual deal ($716,000 per episode).

Ellen Pompeo admits she
Ellen Pompeo admits she "made a decision to make money". Photo / Getty Images

"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.'"

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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, 'Okay, 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."