Photos by Mitchell Nguyen McCormack; styling by Nina & Clare Hallworth; grooming by Jillian Dempsey
Having spent 10 years sweeping audiences around the world off their feet in the Primetime Emmy-winning medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey, following his departure from the show in which he played the devilishly charming Derek Shepherd, M.D, has come to inspire us with various distinct qualities that are often overshadowed by his iconic TV role, awakening us to a portfolio and character of substances, passion and drive that extend beyond “McDreamy” and Hollywood.
For one, Dempsey’s long-standing career as an actor and prolific body of work that spans over 30 years and over 50 screen roles. For those who are less familiar with Dempsey’s work pre-Grey’s, the actor from Maine made his film debut in 1985 in the high-school film Heaven Help Us, starring alongside Brat Pack icon Andrew McCarthy. He followed that up with a range of comedy and coming-of-age roles in films such as Can’t Buy Me Love, Some Girls, Happy Together and Loverboy, and became a popular feature of late 1980s youth culture, synonymous with that spirited, somewhat awkward charmer.
In the 1990s, Dempsey began to expand his horizons with more serious, young adult roles in such films as the crime drama Mobsters, portraying historical organised crime figure Meyer Lansky; the dramedy Face the Music, alongside the queen of Brat Pack Molly Ringwald; the crime noir comedy Bank Robber; and the medical disaster box-office hit Outbreak.
In the wake of the 21st century, Dempsey’s on-screen career entered full swing, beginning with the rom-com Sweet Home Alabama, starring alongside Reese Witherspoon, followed by the launch of Grey’s Anatomy. Audiences worldwide were immediately taken to his new, mature and extra polished leading-man persona and sharp talent for offbeat comedy, refined over the years. Dempsey eventually landed several more memorable leading parts in such films as Enchanted and Made of Honour, and more recently, Bridget Jones’s Baby, which, altogether, have since made him an icon of the modern Prince Charming.
But there’s more to Dempsey than meets the eye. It was during his time on Grey’s that a different side of Dempsey began to take shape, one that involved living on the edge, a childhood dream and passion that eventually flourished into a full-blown career of another nature—auto-racing—complete with his own team, Dempsey Racing.
Dempsey’s first forays into racing included the Rolex Sports Cars Series, in a Mazda RX-8 GT, after which he competed in the American Le Mans Series where he and his team came in third place in 2012. His long-time dream came true in spectacular style in 2015 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans when they finished second in a Porsche 911 RSR and made it to the podium. Today, while Dempsey has announced that he would be taking a back seat to focus on managing Dempsey Racing, as well as devote more time to his family, he remains committed to driving the team forward in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
What has also come to light from this is that Dempsey maintains a personal collection of sports and vintage cars, with a deep appreciation for design and all things classic, as displayed in his directorial debut To Jack, a sleek and stylish black-and-white short film dedicated to watchmaking legend and TAG Heuer icon Jack Heuer, in conjunction with the revival of the classic Autavia timepiece designed by Heuer in the 1960s.
Despite his ambition to win and competitive spirit, much of Dempsey is also about giving back to the community. Following the loss of his mother to ovarian cancer, Dempsey founded the Dempsey Centre in 2008, in Lewiston, Maine, where he grew up, with the aim to provide a personalised, holistic and integrated approach to cancer prevention, education and support to anyone impacted by cancer, at no cost. Since then, Dempsey has returned to his hometown every year to participate in the Dempsey Challenge, a non-competitive run, walk, cycle event to raise funds and inspire the culture and spirit of paying it forward.
Speaking of ‘forward’, Dempsey has currently resumed his onscreen journey and is set to showcase this next chapter in his acting career this coming April, in a 10-part TV adaptation of the French bestseller The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss author Joël Dicker. Under the direction of Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet), Dempsey plays the title character, a literary icon, who suddenly finds himself caught up in a murder investigation upon the arrival of a visiting fellow writer and the emergence of the body of a 15-year-old missing girl on his property.
When Dempsey made an appearance at the Singapore launch of the Heuer Globetrotter exhibition last year during the Singapore F1, in celebration of the brand’s 150 years of history, we caught up with the actor/auto-racer and got him talking about his exciting “double-life”.
Where did your passion for racing come from?
I’ve always loved racing. Ski-racing was my first love. In extension to that, my father was a big fan of racing. I got started much later in life. There’s always the risk of danger, but you don’t think about that; instead, it’s more about the mental and physical challenges. I remember the time when I went to an event in Atlanta and had an opportunity to go out on the track, and later coming back from that experience feeling “wow” this is really something I want to pursue as a hobby, and then I enrolled in a proper racing school and gradually started racing and building it up over a 10-year period.
What’s the feeling of racing in a car for you?
You are so present in the moment that you don’t think about anything else. It’s just so mentally and physically engaging. I just love it.
What kind of training did you have to undergo?
A lot of cardio. The heat training is really important. Conditioning is key, along with core training and functional training, among others. In terms of technique, you work on your braking, cornering, threshold-braking, car control – how to control an understeer; it doesn’t have any grip or oversteer when you put the throttle down in the back of the car. You also learn what your limitations are in a safe environment. And then you start to do some racing. I highly recommend carting. It’s a great way to
start. You get a big bang for your buck.
How do you think this relates to TAG Heuer’s spirit of #DontCrackUnderPressure?
I think for drivers, the mental aspect is what separates you from your opponents; it’s how well you can handle pressure. And you have to work on it, in addition to your techniques. You can get yourself into trouble if you’re not prepared mentally or focused, especially when you have a lot of people watching you. I guess that’s where my experience as an actor comes in and it has helped me to be comfortable, calm and maintain my focus in public situations.
Coming from Hollywood, did you have a hard time breaking into auto-racing?
The community was really good and very supportive, but yeah, there was a lot more pressure because any mistake would have been magnified. So I had to work extra hard and allow myself to be judged and not let that affect me.
Over the years, you’ve gone from one performance car to another, the latest being a Porsche. Does that affect a driver’s technique?
Porsche is a rear-engine car, so the handling characteristics are slightly different, which one has to get used to. The car of choice is evolving, constantly, depending on what tyres you have, which will make a difference in the grip and your driving style. If you’re racing off-road, in a buggy for example, there’ll be a lot more travel and suspension needed, and it requires a different technique. I work closely with my co-driver Patrick Long and we try to get into as many different types of cars as possible – sprint cars, rally cars, off-road big sedans – all that just to get your ability to adapt to different situations, which paid off eventually.
I believe your association with TAG Heuer has also connected you with the Red Bull Racing team. Do you share notes with each other?
It’s nice to be able to work with the team and drivers at Red Bull Racing thanks to our partnership with TAG Heuer. And it’s a good fit too, especially in F1 when you look at the history of Jack Heuer and his relationship with the sport and the sponsorships. Jack was really there at the beginning, in the vanguard of F1’s development. One reason why the TAG Heuer brand is so iconic and so well-known is because Jack was really smart about product placement, as shown in the brand’s involvement with Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans. He was one of the first to realise how important it is to put something into a film.
Tell us about your new role in the upcoming TV adaptation of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. What made you decide to pick up the project?
I was really attracted to the director initially. Once I saw that Jean-Jacques Annaud is attached to the project, it really piqued my interest because I’ve always been a fan of his work and really wanted to work with him. And then I read the book, and went to Paris to meet him and the producers. It was nice, it’s a romantic thriller, and it’s something that’s challenging. It’s 10 episodes. it’s contained. It’s different and unexpected. I was looking for a thriller and this came along at the right time, so it became the right next step for me to take.
What else do you hope to explore in your career?
Making documentaries. In fact, I’m producing one as we speak on Hurley Haywood, an American race-car driver in the 1960s and ‘70s. That’s been on-going for a couple of years now.
We would like to commend you for your charity work through the Dempsey Centre. Tell us about the story behind it and the services.
My mother passed away from ovarian cancer and, back then, there was nothing in the community in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine that was dedicated to helping patients to reach out to more people for support. Integrative therapy is very important, which includes anything from acupuncture, yoga and Reiki, to preventative measures and custom diet and meditation programmes. If there’s a need for grants and financial assistance, we will help guide them in the right direction too.
Find out more about The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair from the author Joel Dicker in the video below:
Check out Dempsey’s directorial debut and personal tribute to Jack Heuer at Baselworld 2017 in our MVMT 2017 issue here.