Ellen Pompeo: strength from a challenging early life

Ellen Pompeo in Grey’s Anatomy

Ellen Pompeo was four when her mother died, at age 33. An article says “her five older siblings were dissolved in grief; her father.. was wracked by a sorrow he was unable to articulate.”

It was “a very, very vivid, painful memory,” Pompeo says. [From Anatomy of a Late Bloomer, by Judy Bachrach, Allure, Dec 2006 – a title referring to Pompeo’s hit tv series Grey’s Anatomy.]

But it was an experience that was never discussed.

“I come from a Catholic Irish-Italian family,” she says, “and that was something people don’t talk about. We were completely repressed. So it wasn’t something that was ever really dealt with. I wasn’t ever allowed to deal with it. I had to sort of figure it out for myself.”

Early work

By age 19, she knew she wanted to act, and half-heartedly tried modeling. “I didn’t really like it. I always felt I had too much to say. And I’m far too creative in my head to be satisfied with that.”

She got some work in commercials, but another article [The Week, Dec 8, 2006] commented, “Pompeo was so emotionally hamstrung by her early experiences that she drifted through dead-end acting jobs and relationships into her 30s.”

Success came at the right time

In the Allure article, she notes, “Clearly my life hasn’t been easy, but a lot of people’s lives haven’t been easy… In fact, I’m really grateful for my life. It has given me the strength and tenacity. Even though I only reached success at this age [36] – I’m really much better off this way.

“I think I’m much more equipped to deal with these things now. Had these things happened to me when I was 20 years old, I would have made a real ass out of myself.”

Many actors access difficult memories

As I mention in my article Actors and Addiction, William H. Macy once commented, “Nobody became an actor because he had a good childhood.”

While that may not be literally true, many actors (and other people too, of course) have had painful lives – in childhood or later – and may use substances like drugs and alcohol to cope.

Taking a hard look at your emotional intelligence and taking care of yourself can pay off for anyone, but especially artists such as actors who are so dependent on accessing and using emotion.

Leonardo DiCaprio once said, “There’s a quote that will be instilled in me always – ‘Pain is temporary; film is forever’ – meaning that whatever you’re going through in your personal life, you have to channel that into what you’re doing.

“In film, if you don’t go where you need to go, you’ll never get another chance to burn it into the public world forever.”

~ ~

Trauma takes many forms, and has different sources and levels of impact for each of us.

See quotes by and about many artists who have experienced rape, physical abuse and other experiences, including Alice Sebold, Allison Anders, SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), Halle Berry, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonathan Safran Foer and many others, in my article Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health.

It includes links to resources.


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