Patrick Dempsey made a few waves at the Television Critics Association Summer 2013 press tour, talking about acting on "Grey's Anatomy" ("I'm an actor so that's my profession, my job") versus his real passion: racing cars ("I'm grateful I have the gig, but it's not the same as being in a race car"). But hear him out.
Dempsey is continuing a tradition of Hollywood leading men with a need for speed, from Steve McQueen to James Garner to Paul Newman. But he makes more headlines for his chosen second career because of the expense and competitiveness of the sport now, and his very high-profile other career on one of ABC's longest-running hit shows.
I caught up with Dempsey after his choice words during the panel to find out if he had any backpeddling to do, and to let him clarify exactly how much he appreciates the "Grey's" fans ... especially since, again, they make it possible for him to race, his first love. (It's a double-edge sword, people.)
But Dempsey also talked about what's next for him (his new Velocity by Discovery miniseries "Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans") and, looking back, what other role people recognize him for the most: "Can't Buy Me Love." Unfortunately, he will not do the African Anteater Ritual dance, even if you ask nicely, but he will tell you how he handles peeing when he's in the middle of a long race. (You're welcome. )
Is it scary to not know how something will turn out when you start shooting? Were you at all worried that you weren't going to have a show for Velocity?
No, we knew we were going to have a show -- we just didn't know what the show was going to be. But we actually have four or five different shows that we could cut -- we're just up against the wall as we've yet to deliver it, so we're just trying to get the narrative.
Well, knowing that a quick Google search could tell anyone how you fared at Le Mans, you have to make sure we won't know how the series ends?
It's not the ending so much as the journey to get there.
Watching the first episode with all of the old footage of Steve McQueen and James Garner and Paul Newman racing ... it seemed so much simpler for them to race, even with their Hollywood careers.
The sport was a lot less expensive back then than it is today. Today, our budgets are $4 million to run a car. It's almost $2 million to run Le Mans. Back when they were racing, it was a lot less money, so now, corporate sponsorship is vital, unless you're paying out of pocket, and I can't continue to pay out of pocket to do it. The racing has helped the show and the show has helped the racing. The racing gets the visibility because of the success of the show -- so each side is being helped.
I'm not gonna lie: Everything you say about "Grey's Anatomy" gets picked apart ...
I know, you have to be very careful. I love the show. I love doing the show and I love working but, I mean ... I am extremely passionate about racing. It does something that acting doesn't do.
Well you said something in the panel that got tweeted quite a bit, so you'll be seeing a lot of headlines ...
Which one? [Laughs.]
You said you need the money to race -- that that's why you stay on the show.
Yeah, to a certain extent. I mean, it's a job and it's a thing, but, uh ... it's so hard to get a job anymore. They're not making a lot of movies, so I'm lucky to have a job. But it's 10 months out of the year, so it takes up a lot of my time, and I can't do a lot of other things. So that's challenging. But, you know ... I'm still having fun. I think this year coming back into Season 10, there is a feeling of great celebration within the cast and with the writers. It's a grind -- we're doing 15-16 hour days and people are exhausted. It's not an easy job. It is what it is. I'm not complaining, it's just challenging. It's been 10 years -- you know, 200 episodes.
I know, but in those 10 years, the fanbase has grown. You or Shonda Rhimes or anyone can say one thing, and the Internet kind of explodes.
Oh, it's huge everywhere. It's international -- anywhere in the world you go, people know the show.
There's footage in this show of fans coming to see you race, and to them, you're McDreamy.
Right. And I always will be.
Are you OK with that?
Yeah. I don't really think I have a choice -- I have to be OK with it. That's why I go off and do other things. I think this will be interesting because I think people will see me in a different light. They know me from "Grey's" and what I'm allowed to do on that show, but I'm not that person. You're in someone's house every week, so that's how they perceive you, and there's a certain expectation of having to live up to that.
Do you feel like your celebrity works against you at all, especially with getting corporate sponsors?
Well, I think sometimes people think it's a hobby and not a profession, and that can work against me. So the only way to change that is to do well at the track and to be credible as a driver, and that's what I'm working on.
There's a lot of drama with your car in the first episode -- it almost felt scripted! Like you can't really make this stuff up.
We just followed what happened to us. This is not a reality show -- God, I hope it's not compared to one, because it's not. There's so much going on all the time for us, and still going on now, that every race, every weekend, there's drama. The first episode, we set it up, the second part we talk about funding, the third part is the new team and the new car and then the fourth part is Le Mans itself. And in that is all the archival [footage] and history and more insight, and a lot of new stuff that we've discovered that no one's seen before with Newman and McQueen and Garner, which is exciting. It's a fun way to sort of weave a history lesson in and also expose racing to people who normally wouldn't understand it.
I have a logistical question about racing, crazy personal though it may be: Le Mans is a 24-hour race. How do you pee when you're racing?
Well, you really don't. I mean some people just go to the bathroom in their suits, but the thing is, the temperature in the car is very high, so you get dehydrated very rapidly, so you have to bring in fluid, not release fluid. If you're doing a long race, like the Baja 1000, you'll have a catheter and a hold in the floor and the tube will go down and release that way. You deal with it. The longest stint you'll be in the car is two or three hours ... I've never really had that problem.
There's always quite a bit of death on "Grey's Anatomy," but do you think they could ever kill off Derek and Meredith? There have been so many close calls ...
I don't know what they're going to do. I think it's interesting to see where we go this year and what happens.
Last season ended on a high note for them with the birth of their son, Bailey ... even though Meredith almost died in childbirth.
Of course -- everybody's dying or there's a catastrophe! Seattle, on our show, there's always something tragic happening, environmentally. And we start Season 10 where we left off in Season 9. It's still going on -- it's the superstorm. It's been going on for months. [Laughs.] We all laugh at the table reads, and somehow the [episodes] come together and it works.
Do you ever watch the show?
I don't watch it anymore, no. I haven't watched it in a while. I don't particularly like watching myself -- that's one reason.
If you had to put your loves in order, would it go racing, then movies, then TV?
I would race full-time if I could right now. I have a couple other ideas for documentaries that I'd like to do. I think I want to do more than that. There's some shows I'd like to do and develop -- producing I think is the direction I'd like to go in. I don't want to direct. No desire. I would prefer just getting the people around who know what they're doing and creating an environment where they can blossom and create.
When people recognize you from something other than "Grey's Anatomy," what is it?
"Can't Buy Me Love."
More than "Loverboy"?
"Loverboy" comes up, but "Can't Buy Me Love" comes up more. And then they always want me to do the anteater ritual dance. [Laughs.] Which is always fun.
And do you?
No. No, I don’t. [Laughs.] If it's at a party, I might ... but the cool thing is the fans are incredible and they're very loving. I try to take the time to say hi to everybody. At the tracks, we do autograph signings and that's when I get a chance to talk to fans. I appreciate it -- I really do.
"Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans" premieres Wed., August 28 at 10 p.m. ET on Velocity; "Grey's Anatomy" two-hour Season 10 premiere airs Thursday, September 26 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.