Patrick Dempsey Is Ready
His face flecked witha day's worth of stubble, hair wet from a postworkout shower, a glass of merlot in his hand, Patrick Dempsey is savoring a rare moment of downtime on the patio of the Hotel Bel Air. Although his career is revving faster than it ever did in his late-1980sCan't Buy Me Loveheyday, Patrick -- a.k.a. Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on ABC's wildly popularGrey's Anatomy-- is handling the twists and turns of fame more gracefully this time around. "Mentally, I never really wanted success until I was in my 30s. Quite honestly, I thinkI sabotaged myself in my 20s because I felt I was too young and didn't realize what was happening," he says. "But there was a time when I didn't think it was going to work out. Like,Wow, maybe that was the best period of my life."
Instead, his best period appears to be right now. Later this year, Patrick, 41, will even revisit the genre that made him a star, appearing in two romantic comedies:Made of HonorandEnchanted.But he's quick to duck the credit for all the good that's come his way. "My success is completely because of the support and love of my family. If I was single, this would not be happening," he laughs. Patrick married hairstylist and beauty entrepreneur Jillian Finkeight years ago; they have a daughter, Talula, 5, and 4-month-old twin boys, Darby and Sullivan.
Is there room for any other passions in his busy life? Yup. Car racing. "It's a great escape for me," Patrick explains. "You forget about everything because you're just so present. To go fast you really have to stay calm."
Which is pretty good advice, especially from a man who's on the ride of his life.
What's it like having two boys after having had a little girl?
It's such a different game. Sullivan is a little colicky, so that's awful. I can't look at the pain on his face -- it drives me crazy. They're quieter, too. They suffer quietly. When my daughter was colicky, she would scream for hours on end. Boys are just different. You have to reeducate yourself as a parent.
Is there something you learned with Talula that's been helpful for you now?
I've learned that the bonding comes in waves; it's incremental. I think most men are freaked out by that because they're expecting it to be immediate. With a mother, it's almost immediate. But it's okay to take the time to bond with your child. It's going to take 12 months before you start to get into this relationship.
And you'll also have very different relationships with each of your kids.
That's the fun thing. My daughter is really into planets this week. She asked, "What is Mars?" And I said, "Well, let's look up Mars." Kids are amazing. They take you outside your comfort level because you ask yourself,How do I answer that question for them?You think back to your childhood and it's like,I don't want to give them that. I want to give them this.My life is my kids.
What are some things you're excited to experience with the boys?
Sports, skiing, cycling. That's the great thing about my daughter now. She's a great buddy. We go cycling; we can do that. We can have great conversations. I'm a few years out with the boys. I waited to have kids later in life, so my physical prowess is waning, but I've got to stay in shape for them -- so they can't kick my ass at 3 years old.
What were your greatest concerns with the arrival of the twins?
My biggest concern is making sure I have enough time to give equally to all three children. And with the schedule I'm keeping right now, that's very hard. I've been spending more time with Talula, because obviously the mother spends the most amount of time with the newborns.
It's interesting having children later in life. We've sort of gone and slayed our dragons, and my wife was adamant about having more kids. But I said, "To do that, someone is going to have to stay home. We're going to have to have help." And she said okay.
She had a successful makeup line, right?
Yeah. She's working for Avon right now as their global colorist, and they have been very good about this transition. She's been an amazing mother and just constantly blows me away, and I love that. The longer you stay in the marriage and you sort of go through your things and this time in general, to see her growth as a woman has been unbelievable.
You've spoken in the past about periodically pursuing couples therapy with your wife, and said it's been great.
Absolutely. I think you have to. As long as you're alive, you need to work on your issues to continue to grow. I think certainly success will bring that up, and you have to take a look at those issues and move forward.
Obviously we had this big thing with Isaiah [Washington, Patrick's costar onGrey's Anatomy] this year. [In] I had a wonderful conversation with him last week for the first time since the incident. I was really impressed with what he said and what he had worked through. We're all in it together. We are all having to confront those issues to move forward.
Relationships are also the core ofGrey's Anatomy.What do you think about the relationships in the show, especially Derek and Meredith's?
Well, they grow very slowly. I think the frustration for Ellen [Pompeo] and me is that we're victims of our own success, in a sense. The chasing in the first season made it so involving, but once we consummated it and then broke up, it's like, how do these characters continue to grow and thrive in a relationship? And I think that's going to be the real challenge going into the next season: Where do they go? What are the other story lines? Or is it an end? There was something about the longing in the chasing that people really got into.
You've said before that Derek Shepherd is an idealized version of a man.
He was initially, but I think he's changing now. There are character flaws in his nature, and certain things that he does that I wouldn't necessarily have done. But it's kind of fun to figure out how to play that. Or just sort of bring depth to him, and emotional truth.
Derek makes women around the world swoon. What do you do that makes your wife swoon for you?
I hope I still make her swoon! Sometimes I think,God, would Derek Shepherd do this?because I am certainly not a perfect male at this moment. Just trying to provide and communicate and let her know how beautiful and important she is to me -- I think those things make her swoon.
How about something she does that makes you swoon?
I think thoughtfulness always gets someone. Like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty special that you remembered that." She's unbelievably patient and supportive and smart. I listen to her. I listen to her instincts. She makes me a much better person just by association. To have her love me gives me great strength and hope and has allowed me to grow into this whole thing.
You two met during a haircut. Does she still cut your hair?
I need a haircut right now, but yeah, she does.
Romantic comedies made you famous when you were 21. What's it like to go back to that genre now?
I don't want to do violent movies right now because I think there's too much violence in the world, and I don't want to add to that. Romantic comedies at this point -- we're at war, we're in a horrible place worldwide, and I want to do something that is going to help people escape.Enchantedis something I did for my daughter. I wanted to do something that kids can go see, and is fun for adults as well. My daughter went to the set, and to this day she says, "When is the princess coming back?" because there's a big ballroom scene in the movie, and she spent hours watching her father work and be surrounded by princes and princesses. What a great gift to be able to give her that.
Although you never stopped working, in your 30s you obviously had frustration and --
Do you savor your current success more given what you went through to get it back?
I had no idea how lucky I was to be in that position, or how complex the games were in this industry. And now I try to wake up -- some days I'm better than others -- and take stock and acknowledge how grateful I am to be here. I've also developed interests, like my car racing, outside this business because it can't be the end-all, be-all of my life. That's the great thing about having a family. What's happening with my career is great, don't get me wrong. But I'm also perfectly happy being home. You know how people say you can never go home again? You can. You just have to redefine your home. You go back to what you want it to be. And you can do it, you know? It takes time, but you can definitely do it.
Did you know your kids' sexes before they were born?
Yeah, we knew both times. I couldn't wait. I wanted to prepare myself mentally.
Having known in advance, how did you feel about having boys the second time around, versus a girl?
With Talula, I initially thought I wanted a boy, and then I was really happy that I got a girl. So now I've got the best of both worlds.
What are some of the goals you have with parenting?
I don't like the notion of turning on the TV and walking away and not being present. I'm not perfect—some days you have do that. Or you have a project. My wife is very good about the art projects and things like that to keep Talula entertained. But now, with the boys it's going to be different. I don't know how to do a three-on-two.
You and your wife have been married almost eight years. How has that relationship changed you?
I think it gives me a strong foundation and keeps me centered. Every relationship needs work. It's inevitable. But I feel like we're getting along better than ever. I also think the addition to the family has been a great thing for all of us. Just psychologically, in general, we're happier. You have your little castle, and you protect yourself from the outside world—that's what it's about. The longer you stay in the marriage and you sort of go through your things and this time in general, and to see Jillian's growth as a woman has been unbelievable. And her connection, a women's connection with boys is different than with a daughter. It is a whole different blossoming of energy.
You started acting professionally at 17, and four years later you were starring in movies. Do you savor your current success more because of what you went through to get it back?
At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was to be in that position, or how complex and how sophisticated the games were in this industry.
And when that early success faded away?
To have a lot of success early on, and then have it taken away, and then have to rebuild—you're humbled by that because you realize that it can go very quickly, and you're very fortunate to be in the position you're in. Because there's always somebody greater and better than you are out there. And there are certainly greater and better people than you who aren't working right now that should be.
Having gone through that may make you a better father because you can give your kids some perspective on success and achievement based on your experience.
Not to be trite, but it's the journey, not the destination. You have to really think about that, but it makes a lot of sense because what you've done, what you've gone through, makes you the person you are. And it gives you the empathy to understand what someone else is going through. I think that's what people sometimes lose.
What was your relationship like with your own father?
My father had me as sort of the second family. He had a son in his first marriage, my stepbrother Jack, and he was 55 when he had me, so he had a different attitude on life. He spent a lot of time with me doing the sports and the skiing, that was something we did together. A lot of involvement early on in my life. So that is sort of what I think I'd probably end up doing with my boys and my daughter, once this success and what's happening now calms down a little bit, and I'm in a position financially where I could step out and just decide where I really ultimately want to live. I would love to live in the country, and have them grow up in nature as opposed to the big city. But not keep them too isolated so they don't develop any street smarts, which is what I had to learn coming from Maine.
Going back to Maine, where you have property, that's where your mother lives, right?
Yeah. I had made a statement early on: I'm going to get rich and famous one day and I'm going to come back and buy a farm on the coast. My mother had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer—it was right around the time I met my wife—and I found this farm, because I was getting tired of being in Los Angeles. I was like,If my career doesn't turn around soon, I don't know if I want to stay out here anymore. And I found this beautiful old farm on the coast. I wanted something that would give me a reason to come home to spend more time there, that was different from where I had grown up, because I had too many negative memories of that period. So I bought that farm and it changed things profoundly. And we subsequently bought the house next door. So we have our farm and then my mom has one and she care takes that. The farm to me, just knowing it's there is—it is just a calm place I can go to when I close my eyes.
It had to be very frightening when your mom was diagnosed.
She's great now.
And it got you involved in several cancer organizations.
Yeah, the Breakaway From Cancer Initiative and the Wellness Community and National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Right now I'm talking to my sister and we're working with the Wellness Community to open up a place in Maine. Western Maine, Auburn area possibly as one place, and then having a mobile station that can go throughout the state to reach people that normally would not get these resources. Just support groups. I think it is great to do that.
And your wife's family lives in Texas?
Yeah. Which is why we also bought a house there—we decided to have several small houses as opposed to one giant home so that we could honor where we came from. The house in Texas is a lake house, and was something Jillian always dreamed about. It's a beautiful little community. And it's a great retreat for her. It's close to her heritage, and our family needs to remember our roots, remember where we came from.
Video: Patrick Dempsey: You are what you fight for
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