A new tell-all book about the untold history of “Grey’s Anatomy” reminds readers that Isaiah Washington could have been Meredith Grey’s McDreamy. But according to Washington, Ellen Pompeo had reservations.
“I didn’t audition for Burke, I auditioned for McDreamy,” said Washington, according to “How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey’s Anatomy” by Lynette Rice, Entertainment Weekly’s editor at large. He said that creator Shonda Rhimes’ original vision for the character was “a brain surgeon who looked like Dr. Ben Carson.”
But Washington ultimately got the role of Dr. Preston Burke because, according to Washington, Pompeo didn’t want him to play Derek Shepherd.
“There’s a rumor out there or something that Ellen didn’t want me to be her love interest because she had a Black boyfriend. The context is that she’s not into white men,” Washington said, according to the book. “I guess she implied that her boyfriend may have had a problem with her doing love scenes with me, so she felt uncomfortable.”
Washington said he “supported” her feelings.
Pompeo’s then-boyfriend, record producer and fashion executive Chris Ivery, became her husband in 2007.
The actress addressed her reaction to Washington almost being cast as McDreamy in an interview with the New York Post when the series was celebrating the 200th episode.
Pompeo said Rhimes wanted “a Black man in the mix” to play Meredith’s love interest, but the actress “didn’t think they were really going to put an interracial couple on the show.”
“And I didn’t want him. It was too close to home,” she told the Post. “I said I wanted that Dempsey kid.”
Although Pompeo had her reservations about Washington, who was fired from the ABC medical drama in 2007 for using a homophobic slur on set, she’s a vocal ally for people of color.
She also infamously called out the lack of diversity in the room when she was on set for a “Women in Television” interview for Porter magazine in 2018.
“This day has been incredible,” she said. “And there’s a ton of women in the room. But I don’t see enough color. And I didn’t see enough color when I walked into the room today.”
“How to Save a Life” gives readers new information (and reminders) about the long-running ABC drama.
Representatives for Pompeo, Washington, and Rhimes didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. A representative for ABC declined to comment.