Patrick Dempsey: The Life Interview
We posted a sneak preview of the interview earlier in the week, but the unabridged version gives us even greater insight into the man we love - and even includes a separate, mini- interview with his wife, Jillian. Here's the interview, with more pictures after the jump:
For years, when Patrick Dempsey auditioned for roles, he was greeted with that special yawn Hollywood reserves for onetime gangly teen stars stymied by the leap into adulthood. The decade-long rough patch nearly damaged the actor's confidence.
"I was getting to a breaking point," says Dempsey, 41. "It was demoralizing."
That difficult period informs and deepens Dempsey's oddly vulnerable Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, making him more than just another soulful TV surgeon with awesome hair.
In a revealing talk, Dempsey, who recently received a Golden Globe nomination for the show, addressed everything from his rocky return to stardom to why someday â" with his wife, Jillian, his 4-year-old daughter, Tallulah; and his soon-to-be twin sons beside him - he may just walk away from it all.
LIFE: In your new movie, Freedom Writers, you're the husband of a public-school teacher â" played by Hilary Swank â" who works with challenged teens.
DEMPSEY: I needed to be part of that movie. When I read the script, I was like, "I have to do this."
LIFE: Why did it hold such appeal for you?
DEMPSEY: Because of what's going on with this country's educational system. People are attacking one another for different reasons â" whether it's because of religion or ethnicity. It's sort of a microcosm of our reality.
LIFE: What was your own experience in the public-school system?
DEMPSEY: I wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 12. I wish I had been diagnosed earlier on. I would have had better tools. It's almost like the kids in the movie: If your journey is not like everyone else's and doesn't fit the "norm," then you feel like you're less than [the other students]. My learning style did not fit [into the school's].
LIFE: How do you think this affected you?
DEMPSEY: I didn't really start my education until I dropped out of high school. Because of acting, I had to learn to work through my reading issues. I had private coaching. If I couldn't read a line, I had someone tell it to me. Once I had it, I could run with it. I still do that. . . . What I don't like about Grey's Anatomy is they never give you the script until the last minute. I fight those anxieties every time I sit down for a table read-through. So I'm not completely over it.
LIFE: Does education worry you, as a parent?
DEMPSEY: It concerns me now with my children. How do I develop them and their learning styles? Reading to my daughter has been therapeutic. I've gone back and started to learn to read on a very basic level. I'm reading Dr. Seuss, and I'm healing that part of myself, as well as developing my daughter.
LIFE: In what ways has fatherhood changed you?
DEMPSEY: Now making money is about providing for my children. And being a father makes you look at yourself. You look at your marriage and go "How do I improve this? How do I keep growing and create a stable environment for my children?"
LIFE: So how do you and Jillian work on your relationship? Are you in couples' therapy?
DEMPSEY: Yeah, we go in for checkups and go "Hey, here's what we need to work on." We've had a very good relationship from the beginning [the Dempseys have been married since 1999], but you run into things you have to work through. And [therapy] is easier than fighting with someone.
LIFE: Okay, let's talk about the "incident"â" your on-set tussle with co-star Isaiah Washington [in which Washington and Dempsey reportedly engaged in a heated exchange]. What happened?
DEMPSEY: I was talking [on the phone] to Grey's Anatomy executive producer Mark Gordon's office. I honestly didn't know that everybody was ready. It could have been dealt with. Say "Hey, I have a problem with you coming late to the set." There was some insecurity about a lot of things that were happening, and it came out inappropriately. We discussed it and were ready to move on. Then it broke on a national level.
LIFE: How did the leak affect you?
DEMPSEY: The environment is not very safe when people are selling you out [to the tabloids] to make money. A set is a very vulnerable arena to work in: You have to allow yourself your emotions. Sometimes they run over inappropriately. Unless you talk about it, you let it build up. [But] if you're constantly looking over your shoulder, be it at the extras or crew, it creates a bad energy. I don't trust anyone around me.
LIFE: McDreamy is a national heartthrob. What part did jealousy play in the squabble?
DEMPSEY: It's a big family. You have one plate of pasta. Everybody wants to make sure they eat enough, that they feel nourished. What we learned as a cast is that we really need to take care of ourselves, communicate with one another. You're there 15, 16 hours a day. You're not going to be Mr. Nice Guy or Mrs. Nice Lady all the time.
LIFE: One of the biggest challenges on a hospital drama can be repetition. When you read a new Grey's Anatomy script, what makes you groan?
DEMPSEY: Last season, Meredith [Ellen Pompeo's character] and I couldn't resolve our relationship, so it was the longing. I'd be like, "I've gotta do this elevator scene again? How am I going to make this fresh?"
LIFE: You went through a 10-year period when it was difficult for you to get work.
DEMPSEY: My agents would say "You have to go in and read for this part." And I'd say "You have no idea what it takes for me to go in there positive. It takes me two days to get psyched up for it."
LIFE: Luckily, you and Ellen Pompeo must have had great chemistry during your audition.
DEMPSEY: They didn't offer me the part. I got it because Rob Lowe turned it down. But first I had to test with her, so she had all the cards. She was very attentive during my audition, and I felt . . . welcomed. Also, she had a Boston accent, and I'm from Maine. I found that endearing.
LIFE: Didn't you recently buy property there?
DEMPSEY: I grew up on a country road [in Maine]. I bought the house I always dreamed about living in as a kid, as well as a [farmhouse] next door for my mother. When I did it, I felt a huge shift in my psyche. I got the keys, and I walked through the empty house and thought, If it all goes to hell, I have a place to live. It gives you peace of mind. I was like, "Wow, I've come a long way."
LIFE: Could you really just walk away?
DEMPSEY: I'll see how long the show goes. What happens to my film career. Then I'll try to remove myself from this hectic lifestyle and live in a small town for a while. I want my kids to be able to run around. I'm ready to go to Maine.Â
What's it like being married to McDreamy? In Part II of its feature on Dempsey, Life sat down with the former Jillian Fink to find out. Here's what she had to say:
LIFE: What kind of father is Patrick?
JILLIAN DEMPSEY: He's very hands-on. He's the first to admit he prefers the more interactive stage of children versus newborns. The newborn phase is difficult for fathers â" they don't feel the connection because babies are all about breast-feeding.
LIFE: What's he like with your daughter?
JD: He's the doting daddy. As a family, we just love to talk to one another. And with little people, you never know what's going to come out of their mouths. Sometimes it's so creative, we crack up.
LIFE: Does McDreamy do diapers?
JD: Of course!
LIFE: But will he be up in the middle of the night, rocking a pair of squalling infants?
JD: Get back to me in a few months, and I'll let you know. He has long, demanding hours, but he's not the type of person who would leave me stranded.
LIFE: What kind of husband is he?
JD: He's a romantic. If he wants to say "I love you," he'll say it in front of peopleâ"even if they'll make fun of him. He doesn't care.
LIFE: Does he give romantic gifts?
JD: He's very generous with present-giving. He loves to shop for Fred Leighton jewelry. It's not something you open up, then put on a shelf. I wear the gifts he's given me. It's romantic receiving jewelry on special occasions.Â