Katherine Heigl opens up to Ellen Pompeo about her infamous ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ exit

A split image of Katherine Heigl smiling in pink lipstick and dangly earrings and Ellen Pompeo smiling in a sparkly outfit.
Katherine Heigl, left, and Ellen Pompeo recently reunited to discuss their time together on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
(Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP; Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)
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Katherine Heigl recently opened up to her former “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star Ellen Pompeo about Heigl’s infamous exit from the long-running medical drama.

Heigl, 44, and Pompeo, 53, left it all on the operating table while discussing their time together on the hit ABC show as part of Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series. After talking in depth about Heigl’s rocky departure from Seattle Grace Hospital, Pompeo joked that the actors had said “all the things [they] weren’t going to say.”

Heigl portrayed Dr. Izzie Stevens in the first six seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” before leaving the show in 2010 under reportedly tense circumstances. Prior to her official exit, the “Firefly Lane” star had taken multiple highly publicized hiatuses from the series as rumors of a rift between her and the producers began to surface.


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March 11, 2010

“I was so naive,” Heigl told Pompeo during their installment of “Actors on Actors.”

“I got on my soapbox and I had some things to say, and I felt really passionate about this stuff. ... There was no part of me that imagined a bad reaction. I felt really justified in how I felt about it and where I was coming from. I’ve spent most of my life — I think most women do — being in that people-pleasing mode. It’s really disconcerting when you feel like you have really displeased everybody.”

At the time of her departure, Heigl was painted as an ungrateful diva who complained too much about her cushy TV job and only cared about herself and her budding movie career. Her character never got the farewell episode that was written for her because Heigl refused to film it, according to “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Krista Vernoff.

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“I was in my late 20s,” Heigl recalled.

“It took me until probably my mid- to late-30s to really get back to tuning out all of the noise and going, ‘But who are you? Are you this bad person? Are you ungrateful? Are you unprofessional? Are you difficult?’ Because I was confused! I thought maybe I was. I literally believed that version, and felt such shame for such a long time, and then had to go, ‘Wait. Who am I listening to? I’m not even listening to myself. I know who I am.’”

When Heigl explained that she finally felt the “freedom” at age 40 to ditch the “young, sweet, naive, people-pleasing ingénue” persona, Pompeo chimed in.

“I don’t know about the ‘sweet’ part,” Pompeo said.

“I wouldn’t describe you as sweet. And that’s what people had a problem with. Sweet, they can handle.”

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July 29, 2009

Heigl admitted that once “Grey’s Anatomy” became a huge success, she developed a “false sense of confidence” and “started getting real mouthy” behind the scenes. By the time the popular Shonda Rhimes series was in its fourth season, Heigl had won an Emmy Award for playing Izzie Stevens.


“Can I mention the incredible amount of attention that you got very quickly is another thing that is like a disease in this town,” Pompeo said during “Actors on Actors.”

“Everybody gets built up, built up. ... They create this thing, and then almost wait for something to happen. As an outsider looking in, I saw a lot around you that wasn’t anything to do with you, or your fault. Not many people would know how to react to that much attention, that much focus, that much pressure.”

Pompeo, who started playing Dr. Meredith Grey in her early 30s and just left the show in February, added that few young people — with the exception of the “perfect and gorgeous” Zendaya — are capable of navigating that level of fame and glory without making some mistakes along the way.

“Not everybody can do that,” she said. “And there has to be some forgiveness, or some grace, for not everybody being able to handle every situation perfectly. I’ve certainly never handled every situation perfectly. I’d like to see other people try to walk a mile in your shoes during that time, and let’s see how they would’ve handled it.”

Thanks, Ellen,” Heigl replied. “You’re a good friend.”