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