Actor, racing driver, husband, father, but most of all a gentleman. Patrick Dempsey is all of this and more.
Most known for his role as neurosurgeon Dr Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on the hit TV drama Grey’s Anatomy, Dempsey, 52, is one of the lucky few who have had two successful careers.
He starred in over a decade of television, 252 episodes of the Golden Globe-winning series, earning a reputed US$10mil (RM41.4mil) per episode by the end of his 11-season run in 2015, making him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood at the time.
And then he threw it all away to concentrate on becoming a racing driver and, amazingly, he became a success in that too.
He reached the top step of the podium in his professional sports car racing career, winning the Fuji round of the FIA World Endurance Championship and placing second in class in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance classic.
There was a period from the mid-Noughties when Dempsey was practically a fixture on People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ list. With his good looks, green eyes and immaculately coiffured hair, fans swooned over him.
Grey’s, and the 2007 Walt Disney musical fantasy romantic comedy movie Enchanted, made a him a huge star and earned him sex symbol status, as well as a legion of fans, not least in Malaysia.
“You have to ask him about the sequel to Enchanted, you just have to!” my friend gushed when I told her I would be interviewing Dempsey in Monaco. So ask him I did. The sequel will be called Dis-enchanted and will once again star Dempsey and Oscar-nominated actress Amy Adams.
When you’re a successful celebrity, it’s never easy to give up fame and fortune to pursue an alternate career that could cause you serious injury – or even death. But that’s exactly what Dempsey did.
He quit his Grey’s contract to pursue his dream of becoming a race car driver. “It’s all-consuming in many ways. I couldn’t imagine not racing right now. It really keeps me motivated. It’s all I think about on a daily basis,” he said at the time.
These days, while not giving up racing entirely, Dempsey is slowly working his way back to television and film roles. But the American actor, who maintains a sports car and vintage car collection, was still in Monaco a few days before the start of the highly anticipated 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Tag Heuer brand ambassador visited the private car collection of Prince Albert II of Monaco, joined distinguished guests for a cocktail party, then travelled to the Var track in Le Luc, France, in a vintage green Porsche 911 RS to get some practice in before the big race.
Star2 interviewed McDreamy in Monaco, and was given the honour of being driven around the Var track at insane speeds in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS by Dempsey himself.
How and when did you get involved in acting?
Growing up in a small town (Lewiston, Maine), it was quite by accident that I got into acting. It was never my intention. I always wanted to be an Olympic ski racer. My hero was Ingemar Stenmark, possibly the greatest ski racer of all time, that’s who I wanted to be.
As a hobby I had picked up riding the unicycle. One day in shop class, our teacher asked, “Who wants to learn how to juggle?” It was almost destiny.
I very quickly learnt the basic three-ball cascade, and because I could ride the unicycle, I combined the two. My shop teacher said he knew a travelling vaudeville act that could use me.
I had a big crash around that time and lost my edge for skiing. One thing led to another and someone asked me to audition for a local play, On Golden Pond, and I got it!
Then I sort of got the bug. I was 17 and thought, “Gosh, wouldn’t this be great if I could do this as a career”, never thinking that I could get out of Maine – it was rural farming community with not many people around.
I eventually tried for this talent competition in Portland, the big city, and I ended up winning that. The prize was I got to go to New York for the national competition – and I won again!
I got an agent, and two weeks later they asked me to come to New York to audition for a play. I got into the play and that’s how it all started.
Essentially you’ve had two careers and not a lot of people can say that.
I’ve been very fortunate. I have the same passion for racing that I did for ski racing, and when I started getting into racing, I felt that I had come home in many ways. I had a lot to learn, but all in all I felt a lot more comfortable in the racing community than I do with Hollywood.
I started in my late 30s. As a Christmas present, my wife bought me a racing school three-day certificate course. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to go into racing, because you need to learn the fundamentals first, like karting.
I was pretty fortunate that everything started happening at the same time. Grey’s Anatomy had started, and this allowed me the funds to continue racing. It was a parallel track. It complimented and allowed me the luxury to act and race at the same time.
As a Tag Heuer ambassador, how do you think racing relates to the watchmaker’s ‘Don’t crack under pressure’ motto?
I think for drivers, the mental aspect is what separates you from your opponents. It’s how well you can handle pressure. You can get into trouble if you’re not prepared mentally or focused, especially when you have a lot of people watching.
I guess that’s where my experience as an actor comes in. It’s helped me to be comfortable, calm, and maintain my focus in public situations.
But you’ve stopped racing now.
Not exactly. I’ve taken a back seat now and I manage Dempsey Racing, but I still race semi-competitively. Dempsey Racing almost won Le Mans in 2015. I had a full season at the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche Racing.
My goals were to compete, get on the podium and win at a very high level, and I achieved those goals. Winning in Fuji led to an internal transformation. By then I had left Grey’s Anatomy, and it was a big sacrifice in many ways because I knew I had a finite period of time.
I was 49, my vision at night was deteriorating; I knew I only I had a certain window. I focused 100% on that goal and I achieved it. After Fuji, there was nothing left for me to do in racing and I couldn’t sacrifice my family to continue. I just could not justify it.
You and your wife Jillian have three children. What does family mean to you?
This is the next goal – how you raise your children. How do you keep them alive, their spirit and their individuality, and guide them to find their inner voice and to be there for them, to be really sensitive to what they want and not what you want.
Teach them to be respectful, loving people, and also inspired and follow their passion. For me to achieve my goals made me a better father because I could go back and be there for them.
Grey’s was a monster hit, so was Enchanted. What’s the latest on the sequel, Dis-enchanted?
I know that Amy Adams has confirmed she’s doing it. They’re still working on the script. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know they very much want it to go into production in 2019. If there’s a good script, I’ll do it. I don’t think anyone wants to move forward until the script is right, but we’re getting close.
Tell us about your new TV series, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair.
It’s a miniseries, 10 episodes. I was attracted to this project because of the director, Jean-Jacques Annaud. It piqued my interest because I’ve been a fan of his work and really wanted to work with him.
I read the book, and went to Paris to meet him and the producers. It’s a romantic thriller – different, unexpected and challenging. I was looking for a thriller and this came along at the right time, so it became the right next step for me.