TV Guide: You've been in movies with Jake Gyllenhaal, Leonardo DiCaprio and Luke Wilson. Why did you switch to TV?
Ellen Pompeo: When there's a very strong female character, it's hard to walk away. In all the great, interesting films, the parts for me were really small, and the only lead parts I could get were in big, giant bad movies except Old School, which turned out to be really funny. This role lets me balance the art and the commerce.
TV Guide: Are there any perks to your job?
Pompeo: Several members of my family have been admitted to the hospital since the show started, and when they feel like the treatment isn't good enough, they say, "Do you know who my niece is?" And suddenly they're in the VIP area, having pedicures in bed.
TV Guide: How much like Meredith Grey are you?
Pompeo: She wasn't much of a student, and that certainly was me. The fact that I'm convincing is a huge triumph for me because I'm not that [kind of] book person. I adore books but on my time and not in a classroom. I was very restless. I'm a gypsy at heart. As soon as I turned 18, I started traveling.
TV Guide: Where did you go?
Pompeo: I went to Europe, and then I spent three years cocktail-waitressing in Miami in the early '90s when it was fabulous. When I first got there, it looked like a scene out of Scarface: old people sitting on the porches, and all these dilapidated hotels. And then I moved to New York City in the mid-'90s.
TV Guide: And instantly found fame and fortune?
Pompeo: Actually, I bartended. My first professional job was a L'Oreal commercial. They dyed my hair fire-engine red. It was supposed to go away after six washes but, you know, bright copper hair doesn't wash out that quickly!
TV Guide: What was your first break on TV?
Pompeo: I did Law & Order twice played a psychotic killer [both times]. The first time, I hired my boyfriend to kill my parents. And in the second one, my boyfriend and I drugged girls to have sex with them and kill them. They rerun them on TNT all the time.
TV Guide: You're becoming an awards-show vet. What have you learned about red-carpet fashion?
Pompeo: This is my first time around and I've been having a blast dressing up, but I think the Valentino outfit I wore at the Golden Globes was too fashion-forward for some people. With the 1920s-style wave in my hair, it was a little more New York than L.A.
TV Guide: If you had a very special Valentine's episode, what surprises would it have?
Pompeo: A lesbian scene! [Laughs] Speaking of surprises: Did you know that one of the interns is leaving the intern program?
TV Guide: Can you say who?
Pompeo: No, but whoever it is knows already. I just know that it's not me.
TV Guide: I'm in shock. Is all this loves-me, loves-me-not with Derek driving you crazy?
Pompeo: Personally, I don't approve of Meredith wanting to be more than friends with Derek. I don't condone her kissing a married man, because I don't think that's cool.
TV Guide: What does Meredith need?
Pompeo: What she needs is to figure out why everything happened to her. I always thought she met Dr. Shepherd in the bar and got drunk and slept with him on the first night because she used to be a partier. And this was going to be her last hurrah before she really had to get serious. So why did she put her whole career on the line so soon into her internship, and it really wasn't worth it? Now she's starting to figure out it was worth it because he is fantastic.
TV Guide: As is T.R. Knight. Isn't it about time that Meredith notices how badly George is crushing on her? [In the Feb. 19 episode, he appeared to have finally made his move.]
Pompeo: I think Meredith is completely oblivious. She's consumed with her mother and Dr. McDreamy. [Laughs] There are certain things that are just going to go unnoticed.