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Grey's Anatomy: The Actor Ellen Pompeo Didn't Want Cast As McDreamy

McDreamy is to "Grey's Anatomy" as the McRib is to McDonald's: It's a huge part of the brand's success, even when it isn't around. That said, the character of McDreamy was integral to the early success of "Grey's" — and as played by Patrick Dempsey, the neurosurgeon was almost synonymous with the series.

But McDreamy wasn't always synonymous with Patrick Dempsey. In fact, before the show began, Shonda Rhimes wanted to cast Isaiah Washington in the part. However, star Ellen Pompeo vetoed the idea, allowing Dempsey to steal the role — and viewers' hearts. According to Pompeo, she thought that acting opposite Washington would be too similar to her real life. At the time, Pompeo was dating Chris Ivery, who is Black. They're now married.

Washington, who went on to star as Dr. Preston Burke on the show, has offered his own thoughts on the casting shake-up. However, he was surprisingly zen about the situation, despite having effectively gotten the short end of the stick.

Pompeo's husband may have felt uncomfortable with Washington as McDreamy

In the 2021 book "How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy," Isaiah Washington discussed how he originally auditioned for McDreamy, saying, "I had a beard and afro and was going for a Ben Carson character at the time. Shonda and I thought it was a great idea to represent a brain surgeon who looked like Dr. Ben Carson." Carson, of course, ran for President of the U.S. before serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021.

But Washington also said that he agreed with his eventual co-star Ellen Pompeo's decision to veto him as McDreamy. Washington explained, "I guess she implied that her boyfriend may have had a problem with her doing love scenes with me, so she felt uncomfortable. I supported her with that."

For Pompeo's part, she had already confirmed the rumor as early as 2013, telling the New York Post, "Shonda really wanted to put a black man in the mix. I 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." But perhaps it was for the best, as Washington left the show after only a few years following drama with his co-stars. While Dempsey eventually had his own backstage drama at "Grey's," he at least got to stay until Season 11.