Patrick Dempsey’s spectacular home office in Venice, Calif., is modern and light-filled with all the amenities: gray angular couches, a kitchen appointed with top-of-the-line appliances, and a black Porsche parked in the drive. It’s a long way from his hometown of Buckfield, Maine, where Dempsey says he was a “country kid” and worked at his father’s bottle recycling center. Back then, he says, he wore nothing but fleece. Today his look is casual but sophisticated: a blue T-shirt, Buck Mason jeans, and John Varvatos sneakers.
It’s been a year and a half since Dempsey’s character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, aka McDreamy, was killed off on Grey’s Anatomy after 11 seasons, but of late the actor has been busier than ever. He stars opposite Renée Zellweger in this month’s third installment of the beloved Bridget Jones franchise. His production companies have multiple TV and film projects in the works, and he’s stepped up his involvement with the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope & Healing, an integrative medical center in Maine that he opened after his mother’s death from ovarian cancer in 2014. And then there’s the car racing. Last year, Porsche financed his participation in a full season of the World Endurance Championship, and though it took him away from acting—and his family—for months, Dempsey says the experience was a “phenomenal education.” Humble, adorable, and hot in a uniform—no wonder he gets our hearts pumping.
You’ve had all this success as an actor—how did you get so serious about racing?
I’ve always been into sports. I got sidetracked into performing! In high school my goal was to become an Olympic ski racer.
Silly question, but why do you have to be in tip-top physical shape to drive a car?
When you’re going 180 miles an hour, you need to place a substantial amount of pressure on the brake to stop the car. You need upper body strength to control it at speed through a corner. And your neck is being pulled from accelera- tion and deceleration. The better shape you are in, the more aggressive you can be. And we’re driving six-hour races at minimum.
Do you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie?
It’s not the adrenaline, it’s the focus. I’m attracted to focus.
How have your racing and acting careers coexisted over the past few years?
I kept turning down Bridget Jones because I was in the middle of my year with Porsche and had just finished at Le Mans, where we podiumed [he placed second in class]. Every day I was in a car, testing and training, or running in a gym, so I had no desire to do any acting work at all. I spent a lot of time in the air, traveling, and in isolation in hotel rooms. At the end of the season I had to go back and reevaluate—what are my priorities now? All that intensity, focus, and commitment came at a tremendous cost to my family. So I needed to regroup and heal that.
On that topic, what’s the secret to maintaining a long-term relationship?
ell, I don’t know—I’m trying to answer those questions! My wife and I have been together 20 years, and it’s been a challenging year to say the least. I think you just have to have a desire to keep working through issues that can seem insurmountable. At the end of a long race you have to push through to see where you end up—and sometimes you win just when you think you’re losing.
Let’s talk about style. At what age did you start paying attention to clothes?
grew up in a rural environment, so my exposure to fashion was limited; it was mostly L.L. Bean. It wasn’t until I got to New York at 17 that I started becoming far more conscious about what people were wearing.
How would you describe the evolution of your look?
In my 20s, everything was Armani cut, with the big shoulders. In my 30s, it was all thrift store clothes. Now I wear a bit more color and gravitate toward classic pieces by John Varvatos and Ralph Lauren. If I’m feeling crazy, I might go to Tom Ford.
What’s one item every man should splurge on?
Good shoes. My favorites are a pair of blue leather slip-on boots I bought in Italy. They have just a little bit of a heel. They’re handmade in Italy, and I love them.
Are you a fashion hoarder or a purger?
I give a lot of my clothes away once I’m done with them. I try to support young, local designers, or buy pieces that are handcrafted or individually made. And I try to wear timeless things, like custom-made suits and leather jackets, so I can hand those down to my boys.