|November 10, 1969|
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Born Ellen Kathleen Pompeo on Nov. 10, 1969 in Everett, MA, she was raised in and around the Boston area by her father, Joseph, and stepmother after her mother, Kathleen, passed away due to an accidental overdose of painkillers when she was only four years old. Pompeo lived for a time on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in her late teens before moving to Miami, FL, where she earned a living as a cocktail waitress for a time, ultimately returning to New York a little over two years later. While bartending at the SoHo Kitchen Bar & Grill, Pompeo was approached by a casting agent who suggested she audition for commercial work. The following day, Pompeo landed her first spot and was soon appearing in ads for Citibank and L'Oreal. Minor roles on primetime series, such as the twisted comedy "Strangers with Candy" (Comedy Central, 1998-2001), and a handful of direct-to-video films followed. Her most notable credit was a guest-starring role on an episode of "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) in 2000 - she had previously appeared as another character in a 1996 outing - and was impressive enough to catch the attention of critics, but she still lacked that golden opportunity. With a finite number of television series being filmed in NYC, Pompeo - a dedicated East Coaster - reluctantly relocated in earnest to Los Angeles to pursue her fledgling acting career in late 2001.
It would not take long for Pompeo's fortunes to change. After leaving a restaurant one evening, a young man flirted with the newly arrived Pompeo in the parking lot. It was up-and-coming actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who would meet up again with Pompeo only three weeks later at an audition for a feature film he was starring in. As luck would have it, she impressed director Brad Silberling enough to land a prominent role in her first major studio feature. In the romantic melodrama "Moonlight Mile" (2002), Pompeo played the unexpected love interest of Gyllenhaal's character, a man whose fiancée has recently died, leaving him emotionally paralyzed. While the film received lukewarm reviews, the reception of Pompeo's performance was almost universally positive. She quickly parlayed that credit into appearances in several major productions the following year. First came Steven Spielberg's high-flying period biopic "Catch Me If You Can" (2002), starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a teenage con man, and Tom Hanks as the F.B.I. agent out to bring him in. Pompeo had a minor, although charming role as a naïve flight attendant seduced by the charismatic young con artist. Next up was a slightly larger role in the Marvel comics adaptation "Daredevil" (2003), as Karen Page, secretary to attorney Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil (Ben Affleck). Unfortunately for Pompeo, the subplot of Murdock and Page's unrequited love was deemed to be a distraction from the main story, resulting in the majority of Pompeo's work being left on the cutting room floor.
As disappointing as her scaled back appearance in "Daredevil" may have been, Pompeo rebounded nicely with a supporting role in director Todd Phillips' raunchy collegiate comedy "Old School" (2003). In the story of three thirty-something-year-old buddies (Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell) attempting to recapture their youth by starting a fraternity, Pompeo's breezy turn as Wilson's high-school crush instantly won her favor with audiences and producers, especially after the film became an unexpected box office hit. That one breakthrough role, however, continued to elude her as Pompeo began appearing in a string of lower profile projects, including direct-to-video films such as the amateurish psychological thriller "Undermind" (2003), and the weak "Di Vinci Code" impersonator, "Art Heist" (2004), alongside Daniel Baldwin. That same year, she picked up a guest spot on an episode of "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004) during its final season.
After a year of doing little more than reading scripts, Pompeo finally stumbled upon a star-making project that appealed to her sensibilities and would showcase her attributes. As Dr. Meredith Grey, the titular lead of the mid-season medical dramedy "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005- ), Pompeo headlined a solid ensemble cast that included Patrick Dempsey, Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh. As the Grey in the show's title, Pompeo achieved overnight TV star status when the show premiered to exceptionally strong ratings and was quickly rewarded occupancy in the coveted time slot following the hit series "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004- ). The show proved so popular it spawned a spin-off, the medical drama "Private Practice" (ABC, 2007- ). During the show's run, Pompeo found real-life happiness when she married music producer, Chris Ivery in 2007.