Katherine Heigl Admits Leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Was A ‘Blur’: My ‘Level Of Anxiety’ Was ‘Too High’

During their long-awaited reunion 13 years in the making, Katherine Heigl opens up to former 'Grey's Anatomy' co-star Ellen Pompeo about leaving the ABC juggernaut.

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Ellen Pompeo Katherine Heigl
View gallery
Image Credit: Greg Swales for Variety

Katherine Heigl and Ellen Pompeo sit down for the first time in 13 years to discuss their time on Grey’s Anatomy and the fame that followed for Variety’s Actors on Actors series. During their candid conversation, Katie addressed how she was feeling when she left the show in 2010.

Ellen Pompeo Katherine Heigl
Ellen Pompeo and Katherine Heigl on the cover of ‘Variety.’ (Greg Swales for Variety)

“I was up here in my head, in my gut, in my mind, in my life. I was just vibrating at way too high of a level of anxiety,” Katherine said. “For me, it’s all a bit of a blur, and it took me years to learn how to deal with that, to master it. I can’t even say that I’ve mastered it, but to even know to work on it, that anxiety and fear — and stress is stress. And if you leave stress too long, unmanaged, and unaddressed, it can be debilitating.”

In the early years of the show when Grey’s Anatomy first became a global phenomenon after its debut in 2005, Ellen, 53, noted that it “felt like there was a lot of attention on everything we did all the time, and everything was amplified. And that added to the emotion and somehow that made the scenes better and that made the show better and that made the show more popular.”

Katherine’s Dr. Izzie Stevens exited the series in 2010 during season 6. At the time, Grey’s Anatomy was embroiled in behind-the-scenes drama. The Emmy winner was vocal about her opinions — like withdrawing herself from Emmys consideration and the show’s grueling hours — and stood up for her friends, including co-star T.R. Knight. Despite her good intentions, the actress was labeled a “diva.”

The Firefly Lane star told Ellen, “I was so naive. I got on my soapbox and I had some things to say, and I felt really passionate about this stuff. I felt really strongly. I felt so strongly that I also got a megaphone out on my soapbox. There was no part of me that imagined a bad reaction. I felt really justified in how I felt about it and where I was coming from. I’ve spent most of my life — I think most women do — being in that people-pleasing mode. It’s really disconcerting when you feel like you have really displeased everybody.”

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ (ABC/Everett Collection)

The 44-year-old continued, “It was not my intention to do so, but I had some things to say, and I didn’t think I was going to get such a strong reaction. I was in my late 20s. It took me until probably my mid-to late-30s to really get back to tuning out all of the noise and going, ‘But who are you? Are you this bad person? Are you ungrateful? Are you unprofessional? Are you difficult?’ Because I was confused! I thought maybe I was. I literally believed that version, and felt such shame for such a long time, and then had to go, ‘Wait. Who am I listening to? I’m not even listening to myself. I know who I am.'”

Katherine has not returned to the series since her departure in 2010. However, the character of Izzie Stevens has not been forgotten. Alex Karev notably reunited with Izzie offscreen when Justin Chambers left the show in 2020.