Patick Dempsey has seen his career change dramatically thanks to a little TV show Grey’s Anatomy. Better known to millions of fans as McDreamy, the heartthrob has seen his career go up and down since first achieving fame as an adolescent. That was then, this is now.
Happily married and father of two, Dempsey is genuinely warm, intelligent and says he handles his success with a genuine practicality. In his latest movie, Made of Honor, the actor displays his comedic and romantic prowess as a philanderer who realizes he is in love with his best friend. Trouble is, she has asked him to be his maid of honor at her Scottish wedding. Dempsey talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: How do you see the perfect romantic comedy?
Dempsey: Well, hopefully entertaining and romance. Y’know, I think that’s the key. What we really talked about initially is it was important that we had a connection and that people would go on the ride with us. That’s what you want in a romantic comedy – is to have people that you want to see together and how do they overcome the obstacles that are in the way for that to happen.
Question: Do you have any favorite classic romantic comedies?
Dempsey: I didn’t look at any contemporary movies. I looked at a lot of older movies, Cary Grant, that period. Screwball comedies of that era I think is what we were trying to do. And also, sort of the tone was sore of a Working Title. A ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ or something like that. That was something we were trying to do. It’s hard because this is a genre that has been played out so much. How do you, you can’t reinvent the wheel, but hopefully want to make it entertaining and that people go along the ride. We kept working on the script throughout. Everyday was something where we had to go in and say, ‘How do we make this fun? How do we find the joke in the scene?’ And the other thing we were really thinking about was how to we make this visually stimulating? So, it’s lush and pretty and we had a wonderful DP who did a great job with the look of the movie.
Question: What was it like playing your character 10 or 15 years younger?
Dempsey: It was hard to go back. I hated that part. We were like, ‘Why do we have to do this?’: I had no desire to go back to that period of my life. I’d rather look forward down the road then have to go back down the road.
Question: What were your wedding like?
Dempsey: Mine was great. Very romantic. Very small. We created the whole ting in like two weeks. I was thrilled with mine. I don’t remember much of it, I just remember trying to get it all together. We were back in the farm in the country and it was a beautiful day. It was so long ago now.
Question: What was it like being in Scotland?
Dempsey: Oh, it was great. We were only there for five days. We had one day off. And I remember we got to drive up to the Isle of Sky, which was great. And I loved it there. It was beautiful. I’d never been there before and that was one of the other reasons to do the movie, quite honestly, was like, ‘Oh, great location. Take the movie.’
Question: What was it like wearing the mini kilt?
Dempsey: I actually where it now at home all the time.
Question: Is that something where you just step out of the trailer that day and go…
Dempsey: Well, I just thought it was fun. It was a great visual gag and hopefully it gets a good laugh. You know, in a movie like this you need to take the piss as they say over there and I think that was really important. To go against all the, y’know, have it together. It’s a kind of fun, visual gag.
Question: Did you prepare for those Highland Games?
Dempsey: Not nearly enough.
Question: Did you relate to your character?
Dempsey: I could never do that. He’s a bit of a player and I couldn’t emotionally handle that I don’t think.
Question: Could you in your younger days?
Dempsey: Well…I think it’s kind of empty after awhile. I would be stressed out. But he’s clear about it, so he’s fine. I don’t know how he does it, but he did.
Question: Is it a similar experience to ‘Grey’s’?
Dempsey: I think it’s romantic, so there is some romance in ‘Grey’s’ but this is a slightly different character and I think it’s slightly different than ‘Enchanted’ too. I think it’s slowly trying to take steps forward to try and do different things without a big radical shift with people thinking, ‘What are you trying to do?’ I think that was the goal with both of these movies, ‘Enchanted’ and now this. It’s like, slowly moving forward and changing it up. This is much more of a physical character, more outgoing. And with ‘Enchanted’ it was very restrained and I had to be very restrained in that performance, just because I had to set everything else up and keep the emotional balance. This I had to drive it. And then the scenes with us were a blast. I had a great time.
Question: Earlier, you were talking about doing a romantic comedy and I see it as a very fragile thing.
Dempsey: You have to have the heart of it I think. The thing was, we didn’t need to be broad. There were moments where that could happen like with the tiny shorts guys and some of the slapstick and those moments, (something about Michelle’s character – she laughs over it), but what we didn’t want to do…There are a lot of comedies out there right now that are very hardcore, that are much more aggressive than this one. We wanted to keep it so that there was a nice heart to it and there was simplicity to it in the performances and more of the chemistry, the camaraderie. And you’re right, it’s fragile, because you have to find that balance and find the humor in it and that’s what we were constantly working on. We would try things tonally different each take as well. It was a lot of work because you never felt like you got it. And than at the end of the day, you had more options in the editing room, so that was the key.
Question: How are you dealing with the rejuvenation of your career?
Dempsey: I’m dealing with it great. I love it. (Laughs.) I am, the thing is I just want to be thankful and not forget how difficult it is to be in this position. You have a moment and just to appreciate it. Y’know, driving here today, I was like, ‘I just really want to appreciate what’s happening, because in a week’s time, who knows how the movie is going to do? Enjoy the moment now and hopefully have more opportunities in the future.’ And I really enjoy the work more than ever and I liked having more control on this movie and having that feedback. If I can continue from that place…
Question: Compared to the first period of time…
Dempsey: We brought fragile up. I think fame is one of those things where you have a window of opportunity and you have a certain amount of trust from the fans and without that you don’t have a career. And I think you always have to put that in perspective. And fame is fleeting. Sometimes people like you, sometimes they don’t. Not all people are going to like you. I think you just can’t start buying into the hype of it all, y’know? And you have keep working on the developing material, which I didn’t do early on and that’s the key. Controlling the material and bringing it here and hopefully if you are making money, the studios are going to give you the opportunity. And I have really had a great time working with Sony. They were incredibly supportive the whole way and very collaborative. And they support the movie really well, so, I think, I hope I’m answering your question. I think I am. But, I just really appreciate it. I’m really happy to have a family and a life outside of the business, so when it gets tough and you see all this stuff that just doesn’t make sense and how empty it ultimately is at the end of the day?
The creation of it, the work of it is the best part, and everything else is kind of, ‘Eh, what is that?’
Question: Do you still have fans call you Ronald in Can’t Buy Me Love?
Dempsey: Oh, no, no, no. A lot of people. ‘Do the dance! Come on Indiana, do the dance!’ Everybody wants me to do the dance.
Question: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?
Dempsey: I dunno. I don’t think I ever did anything crazy like that. Having been married, obviously, the first time, and then the second time, I was like, ‘I want to do this again.’ I think that was the craziest thing I did and also the most positive thing I ever did.
Question: Have you ever had to fight for another girl?
Dempsey: No, I was never in that situation. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation in public. There was a girl I liked and she didn’t even see me. I remember that. So many years later. I say, ‘Ah, now you see me.’
Question: How hard is it for you to find original scripts in Hollywood?
Dempsey: Comedies are really hard to find. Comedies are really difficult to find. I think it’s dialogue driven and there is a certain type of comedies that are out there right now that are very broad. I like these, like the simpler ones. The old screwball comedies. And if you look at those, the writing is phenomenal in those.
Question: Are comedies a thing you’d like to focus on?
Dempsey: Well, I think there is a big need for romantic comedies. I think there is certainly an audience out there for them. There is nothing wrong in that. You want to entertain, but at the same time there are an awful lot of other types of movies I’d like to do as well that’s just not this. But, I like it and I’ll probably do more, but there are other things I’d like to do after this.
Question: Are you signed up for another ‘Enchanted’?
Dempsey: Um, Well, technically yeah. Anytime you do a movie like that they have you set up, if it’s a success, to do a sequel, but I don’t know what the story would be at this point. They have to work on that. We’ll see, if it’s a good story it could be fun to see where those characters go. You look at romantic comedies and certainly, thrillers and stuff like that. I have to be very careful about what I do, but
I want to stir it up a little bit, be a bit more dramatic at times. I think the world we live in right now, you just want something that’s entertaining. I know I do. You don’t want to think about it too much.
Question: Have you gone back to shoot more “Grey’s” this season?
Dempsey: Oh yeah. There’s a two hour season thing we’re just in the middle of right now and the hours are incredibly long. It’s a lot of work.
Question: How happy are you that Derrick and Meredith are getting back together…again?
Dempsey: Who knows. Are they? I’m so spun out over that. I’m not sure if it’s me or the character at this point. It’ funny. I’m excited. I just hope we keep moving forward and keep the stories fresh and we don’t do what is predictable. I think that’s going to be the challenge.
Question: How much more “Grey’s Anatomy” do you see yourself doing?
Dempsey: Well I have a contract so I’m with them and I don’t think it’s wise to leave a show. You’ve seen other people who have done that and I think it’s a big mistakes. There’s an audience there. It really gets down to the stories and we are going to continue to keep it fresh and entertaining and not too predictable. At the end of the day that keep everybody there.
Question: How important do you think it was to come back and do more of the season right away and not wait?
Dempsey: I think it’s really important. You notice there was a real dip in the ratings across the board in television because the audience has been the lost because of the strike. It has been damaging and I think also on the Internet people were downloading the shows too. It’s going to be interesting to see if we get some momentum going into the next six shows. We have to gain the trust of the audience again and they have to fall back into the storylines and get reconnected.
Question: With the kind of fallout of the writer’s strike and then the SAG strike looming, is there tension on the set because you might not be able to come back and do those other shows?
Dempsey: No, I think we have so much work to do right now that people are trying to survive the days because the network and the studio wanted to have more products so they pushed us to do a two -parter and that caught everybody by surprise so we’re doing two units, shooting everything in 16 hour days. The thing is just trying to stay fresh especially at the end of the day where you’re not giving up on the scenes, you’re working really hard. It’s like finish strong. It’s like all these things you can do to keep yourself mentally focused. You’re in this little environment and you don’t realize the impact outside of that environment so you have to stay really focused and work hard and do it for the sake of doing it. And don’t forget to be really grateful that you have that opportunity. That’s the thing I keep reminding myself. It’s like don’t forget that.
Question: You said that the atmosphere on the show is better than last year. Has that continued?
Dempsey: I think so. I think everybody is dealing with things differently. I can only sort of control my own feelings about it.
Question: Do you think the SAG strike will happen?
Dempsey: I don’t know. I have no idea where we’re at on that. I hope it doesn’t. I don’t think we need a strike. It would be unwise for that to happen. I think they need to sot down and realize everyone is in this together and make a good deal. We’re in a recession. There are a lot of things going on that are far more important than people squabbling over [this]. I think people deserve the money. I think it should be shared equally, but let’s not get greedy on both sides. I think we need to be really rationally about this and think about the bigger picture.
Question: In the film. Sydney Pollack had that great line about when you love someone you let them free and calling that bulls**t. You go after them. What’s your take on that?
Dempsey: I think you should follow your heart and everything. I think when you feel strongly about something you should follow that. You try to instill that in your children and yourself. It’s like what is it that’s passionate. What’s your passion? What do you really want to go after because that’s the goal and that’s what you need to try to always remember.
Question: How excited were you to have Sydney Pollack as your father in the movie?
Dempsey: Oh it was huge. I thought once we got him, the movie was made in a lot of respects. After that and then you [Michelle] came I thought, “Oh great. We’re good. We have great chemistry, fun spirit.” We needed something that was really solid after the father so that when you saw him it was a great character. You were like, “Oh we love this guy.” Once we got him, the whole fit just got really rich.
Question: Did you try to avoid being a fan while working with him?
Dempsey: I was so nervous the first time I sat down with him. I had so many questions I wanted to ask him. I was like, “Should I? I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. Oh what the hell. I’m going to ask him anyway.” He was really gracious about it and wonderful and very supportive. We talked about a lot of different things. Once you got comfortable, you realized he’s just a nice guy and it was easier to talk about. For Paul, he was very nervous about it.
Question: What’s coming up next for you? Are you doing anything for the next hiatus?
Dempsey: There’s a bit of stuff that has come up, but because of the scheduling on “Grey’s” it makes it impossible me to do. That’s always tough. Developing stuff. I’ve got four or five things I’m working on to try to develop so who knows how long that’s going to take, but at least I’ve got stuff active.
Question: To produce?
Dempsey: Yeah, there’s a comedy. There’s a drama. There’s an action and a thriller so trying to get a bunch of different things.
Question: Hiatus usually means taking a break, but is there pressure to find another project in your down time?
Dempsey: Yeah certainly, but I think it’ a question of quality over just the quantity of it. That’s the temptation. It’s like should I take the paycheck and go do this or just wait and get something that is good that and that you know is going to do well. That’s the dilemma you get yourself into. You do need to recharge so you don’t get too burnt out and I also like to go racing too and I need to spend time with my family. It’s a good problem to have.
Question: How do you juggle all of that?
Dempsey: It’s tough sometimes you know. You just try to get the moments certainly with the family at first because then you can feel comfortable to go off. I think if you sacrifice the family then everything spirals out of control and there’s something that’s a disconnect.
Question: What’s going on with racing?
Dempsey: We’re racing right now. My whole team is and I’m like, “I can’t go to this race because I’m going to do all of this other stuff would you wrap the car?” So there’s my face and the car is now running around BIR right now in the rain so hopefully they’re not damaging my face. I told them to take care of the car. We’re VIR in the Rolex series. Great American Racing with a GT and aZDa RX 8 so I’m dying to go check on how we’re going.
Question: Is this a new passion or something that’s been around?
Dempsey: Oh it’s been around for about five years now.
Question: Father’s Day is coming up. Does your family have any special traditions?
Dempsey: No, if we can just be together, that’s the great thing. I just like staying in and playing with the kids and stuff.
Question: Do they make homemade presents for you?
Dempsey: Yeah my daughter does cards and stuff. It’s a lot of fun.
Question: Was the juggling in Made of Honor in the script?
Dempsey: No, Paul came up [to me]. You know we had so many that were petitaive (SP) trying to drive a plot for that we like, “We’ve said this in all of these scenes. How do we move the exposition? He’s like can you juggle? Go juggle these plates?” I hadn’t juggled in awhile and that’s something that came up that morning.
Question: So you have juggled before?
Dempsey: Oh yeah, I was second in the international juggler’s competition in 83′ in the junior division. I wanted to join the circus. That was my first thing and I had my own show.
Question: Why did you join the circus?
Dempsey: I was too young. They wouldn’t let me in.
Question: So acting was your second choice?
Dempsey: Oh this is good. This is a good career choice.
Question: Your own show? Where did you perform at that age?
Dempsey: In Maine what they would call as the new There was mime. I never did mine. I did juggling, slapstick comedy, unicycling and magic. That’s what I did in high school. That was my job.
Question: Was that a good training ground for you?
Dempsey: Yeah, Carey Grant started off as an acrobat and we talked about that and what we liked about those movies and Paul was like, “What’s your background?” and I told him and he’s like, “Oh that is good to know” and then he just sort of let it go. Then he would just start pulling that stuff out as he went along.