Pa­trick Dempsey has a doc­tor to thank for res­ur­rect­ing his act­ing ca­reer, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide -

PA­TRICK Dempsey has spent enough time in ob­scu­rity to never take the suc­cess of Grey’s Anatomy for granted.

Dempsey might be scorch­ing hot as the star of a show screen­ing in more than 60 coun­tries, but if he’s as ego-ob­sessed and as full of him­self as some of his TV drama con­tem­po­raries, he’s do­ing a good job of hid­ing it.

In a se­ries of in­ter­views he’s done with the Guide since Grey’s be­came a global hit three years ago, Dempsey has pre­sented as gen­uinely thank­ful the role of stetho­scopeswing­ing sex sym­bol Dr Derek ‘‘ McDreamy’’ Shep­herd re­sus­ci­tated his ca­reer.

Be­fore Grey’s came along, Dempsey was wal­low­ing in medi­ocrity. He’d acted in a string of duds in­clud­ing De­nial, There’s No Fish Food In Heaven and Crime & Pun­ish­ment.

Dempsey, plagued by self-doubt, kept telling him­self, ‘‘I’m ugly, I’m no good, I’m a has-been’’.

‘‘Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the cold shoul­der in Hol­ly­wood is very dif­fi­cult,’’ Dempsey says.

His spir­its flagged when he au­di­tioned for, but missed out, on a role in House. Dempsey was called back 15 times by pro­duc­ers who were di­vided over his suit­abil­ity for the role that ul­ti­mately went to Aussie and for­mer Neigh­bours star Jesse Spencer.

Dempsey tested for the role of Grey’s Dr Shep­herd only af­ter Rob Lowe turned it down.

Dempsey also had to con­tend with dyslexia when try­ing to read script pages at au­di­tion.

He tried to mem­o­rise lines be­cause he strug­gled to read them off the page. He couldn’t fo­cus, could hardly speak. Dempsey was con­vinced Grey’s cre­ator Shonda Rhimes, sit­ting qui­etly at the back of the au­di­tion room, hated him.

Isa­iah Wash­ing­ton was also up for the role of Dr Shep­herd, but Rhimes had no doubt Dempsey was her man. But she was also en­am­ored by the sear­ingly in­tense Wash­ing­ton and asked him if he’d play hot shot sur­geon Dr Pre­ston Burke.

Even his de­trac­tors con­cede Wash­ing­ton is a pow­er­house per­former, but his er­ratic be­hav­iour threat­ened to de­rail the show at the height of its suc­cess.

The tur­moil started in 2006, when on-set sources sug­gested San­dra Oh, who played Wash­ing­ton’s screen love Christina Yang, had fallen out so badly with him that she could barely stand to be in the same room with him.

By mid last year Wash­ing­ton was gone, his con­tract not re­newed af­ter an ugly on-set al­ter­ca­tion with Dempsey in which Wash­ing­ton al­legedly called their co-star T.R. Knight (Ge­orge O’Mal­ley) a fag­got.

A visit to the Grey’s set in Los An­ge­les is proof it’s a hap­pier work­place with­out Wash­ing­ton, who has stren­u­ously de­nied he abused Knight with an anti-gay slur.

Dempsey re­mains frus­trated there was some­one on set feed­ing the me­dia in­for­ma­tion about the scan­dal. He con­sid­ers the demise of Wash­ing­ton a ‘‘tragic mo­ment for ev­ery­one’’ that should have been dealt with qui­etly and in-house.

Asked if he feels re­lief or sad­ness about los­ing Wash­ing­ton as a work­mate, Dempsey says: ‘‘There are two things to that. I think the char­ac­ter was phe­nom­e­nal. It was a great char­ac­ter we’ve lost, and I think that’s a tragedy. And the other stuff? It’s much bet­ter (Wash­ing­ton’s exit) in the long run, I think.

‘‘A lot of lessons had to be learned by ev­ery­one and it was tragic.’’ But do you miss him? ‘‘The char­ac­ter of Burke, cer­tainly,’’ Dempsey says.

Dempsey, a 42-year-old fa­ther of three, clearly doesn’t have much to com­plain about. Not only is he lov­ing work­ing on Grey’s, he’s in strong de­mand to make films in pro­duc­tion breaks from the med­i­cal drama.

He’s made five movies, in­clud­ing En­chanted and Made of Honor, since Grey’s took off. So much for crit­ics think­ing that be­ing dubbed ‘‘McDreamy’’ would re­sult in the ac­tor be­ing so heav­ily iden­ti­fied with the role that he’d strug­gle to get work else­where.

‘‘ It’s ( be­ing la­belled ‘‘ McDreamy’’) great,’’ Dempsey says.

‘‘It’s one of those things that came out ac­ci­den­tally. You know, I’ll al­ways be con­nected to that name, there’s noth­ing I can do about that. We’re on a hit show and I think it’s suc­cess­ful be­cause of the cast peo­ple (au­di­ence) can iden­tify with. Peo­ple can iden­tify with the strug­gles each of th­ese char­ac­ters is go­ing through.’’

One of his great chal­lenges, Dempsey adds with a smile, is main­tain­ing Dr Shep­herd’s per­fect coif­fure in and out of bed.

‘‘My sexy bed head . . . well, it’s an art form in it­self,’’ Dempsey says.

‘‘The (hair) prod­uct is key, ab­so­lutely. And I’m up two hours be­fore my wife (Jill Fink) so it looks great even be­fore she gets up.’’


T.R. Knight has been cham­pi­oned by gay-rights groups.

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