Patrick Dempsey needs no introduction. He’s served as America’s classic heartthrob for every decade, from Can’t Buy Me Love (1987), Mobsters (1991), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Enchanted (2007) and its sequel Disenchanted (2022, out now in fact) and of course his McDreamiest turn as Dr. Derek Sheperd on the forever running fan favorite Grey’s Anatomy. The Lewiston, Maine born actor has been a part of our lives for over four decades. Off screen, the seasoned race car driver has been a member of the Porsche motorsport family since 2013, having raced in the GTE-Am class at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sports car at Rolex 24 Daytona, and even off road in the Baja 1000, as well as becoming a partner of the Dempsey Proton Racing team.
Fittingly, next year has him showing up in the role of Italian racing driver Piero Taruffi, in director Michael Mann’s biopic Ferrari, and retaining his reign as heartthrob by playing muse to his long time groomer, cosmetics legend, and wife Jillian Dempsey as she recently launched a men’s pomade stick, the Roadie, inspired by Dempsey himself.
Below, the father of three talks racing, Ferrari, and how he stays looking so damn great.
How would you describe your morning routine?
If I’m home, I like to have a steam in the morning. After this, I’ll do a nice cold shower to wake me up, come down, have coffee, look at the day, have a moment to sort of assess where I’m at, what I need to focus on. Get something to eat, and then I’ll do a workout. Now, after the shower, I’ll do a mixturizer or something like that, nothing too heavy, not too time consuming. If I have an event or something, if I’m doing on camera, then I’ll actually use a lot of Jillian’s products, which are like the eye mask and the Gold Bar. That’s actually really good. I highly recommend it. It’s really funny, the more men I turn it on to, they like it a lot. They really enjoy having a nice moisturiser for under your eyes, especially the older you get. We lose a lot there.
Your wife is a legend in the world of cosmetics, and her men’s kit includes some great grooming products, including two products called the Roadie and the Roomie.
I use a lot of her stuff because I’m like, “Jill, you need to make stuff that’s good for guys to take on the road where you don’t have to check a bag and you can have it small enough to carry.” The Roadie for hair product, that’s great to travel with, really good if you’re on set. A lot of hair stylists who work on shoots really love it because they can carry it with them. It’s easy to operate and then if you want something bigger, that’s where the Roomie comes in.
And there is a Gold Bar as well.
It relaxes your face. So, if you have a lot of swelling around your eyes, it will flush it out. And then if you use the eye mask, and we have the mixturizer as well, it really helps flush out all of your skin and your face. If you do a before and after picture of your face, you can see the difference. [Personally] I’ll do the the Roomie pomade, the Gold Bar; I do the eye masks – they make a big difference. Just keeping the hydration under your eyes and you can do it relatively quickly, which is good because I don’t want to have to do something that’s too complicated or too time consuming, but also I want to look good, I want to feel confident. Your body changes. Your face changes, so you need certain support, and you start to see the results if you take care of your skin, take care of your hair, all that stuff.
What would be the advice you’d give someone to stay looking healthy and young?
I think the key is exercise without question. Psychologically, it helps you. Physically, it helps you, especially the older you get. Diet is huge. And hygiene.
And you’re now the brand ambassador for Porsche Design Eyewear.
It was a nice transition from the cars to their eyewear. Eyewear has a lot to do with driving as well – visibility, things like that. Technology and innovation. Porsche Design, certainly with the eyeglass campaign, is really into the technology and certainly the choice of materials, like the carbon fiber. The lenses, titanium, all the stuff that we use in the car to keep it light, is the same theory.
Are you stepping back from performance racing?
I think the endurance racing is over for me. More sprint races, vintage stuff, and some of the cup races I won’t step back from, it’s just a question of gearing back up after COVID. We had a plan in place to do some cup races, and then work kinda got in the way of the following season after COVID. So, this season I will announce a package of what I’m doing this year, probably in January.
How did you originally get into racing?
I’ve always loved it since I was a kid. My dad was into it, my mom loved racing as well. I think she was more proud of my racing than anything else. So it was always a big part of the family. And then my wife gave me a Skip Barber three-day competition school certificate one Christmas and that opened the door. I followed it up with some more schools, which I highly recommend. There’s a lot of good ones around – you definitely want to get those instructions. And a lot of these schools have a racing series that you can go into after, it’s a good way to go about doing it, getting the right fundamentals. And that’s how it all started. Then you get bit and it’s all over.
The public perception always seems a bit against one switching careers. When an actor writes a book or, in your case, becomes a race car driver, I feel that people are always gunning for them not to succeed.
Right. Because you’re leaving your lane and going into another one. Sometimes people don’t like you to be successful if you have too many lanes that you’re traveling in and out of, no pun intended.
Was that a hurdle you felt you had to overcome? Did you mind getting compared to, for sake of argument, Newman or McQueen?
I think it’s nice to be mentioned in the same breath as both of them! Right? I think they’re highly successful – clearly as actors, and certainly as style icons. What they did on the track was actually very well respected within the racing community in their specific generation. So that was okay. But then there’s a lot to live up to. And where do you fit in, in that legacy? That’s one thing that drives you, compels you to work hard and sacrifice, to be able to get up in there. But yeah, you know you’re going to step into a situation where people are going to come after you, and they’re especially going to magnify your mistakes over your accomplishments. And they feel better about themselves for putting you down in the first place – how dare you step outside your lane.
You’ve competed in so many different types of races. Everything from 24 Hrs Le Mans to the Baja 1000 Off Road. It reminds me of people like Stirling Moss and the days when racing drivers did different categories in different cars and could literally drive anything from a milk crate to a tractor. Do you have a race preference?
I love off road racing. The car control – the reason I did all of the different disciplines was to improve my ability at the track and certainly with the goal at being successful at Le Mans. So with the off road racing, you’re dealing with a loose setup on the car. So, your car control, endurance, how much the terrain is changing over a course of a race, all helps you when you go back to a purpose-built track. All of that is complimentary to your ultimate goal.
And the pre-run, especially in Baja, is really the best thing about that race, because you look at the different stages that you’re going to be racing. Sometimes it’s a relay with a different teammate. So, you’ll go down months in advance and do a reconnaissance mission on the segment that you’re going to run. You brought up Stirling Moss – in the Mille Miglia, that’s what he did when he won in ’55. They spent a lot of time pre-running that race. And you start to get to know the people in the villages. You start to get to know the countryside and the culture in that country a little bit better because you’re spending more time there. You’re not racing through it. You’re actually going through it and you’re making mental notes of, ‘Where do I need to be aggressive?’ ‘Where do I need to be really timid?’ ‘How do I get through this?’ And then you plot it out. That’s part of the joy of the off-road race. Sorry, long answer.
I was going to bring up the Mille Miglia and the movie Ferrari, because you’re playing Piero Taruffi, who was the last person to ever win the Mille Miglia.
That’s correct. He did it many times. And he was the last winner of the Mille Miglia.
He also broke the world land speed record on a motorcycle. Are you into motorbikes or are you strictly a four-wheel man?
Taruffi was an incredible guy. Incredible character. I appreciate the racing [of motorbikes]. I think MotoGP is some of the most exciting racing there is. I personally can’t do it. I think if I was younger and I had less fear, I probably would have gotten into it. But not at this point. That’s really dangerous. You make a mistake there and there’s a good chance you will not survive.
I assume in Ferrari you got to drive some pretty great vintage cars. Have you ever driven vintage race cars at any kind of real speeds?
Yes. This was the first year I stayed away from it just because of the risk factor. And when you’re looking at some of these events, people really push those cars and are very aggressive in the racing, especially the Goodwill Festival and all of that, but that technology is so different and the driving style is so different. It’s really very seductive and it’s something I’d love to do more of, certainly coming out of the Michael Mann film. I did the Ennstal Classic in the 550 Spyder, which was an extraordinary experience. And just the sensation of driving a car like that out on the open roads, it really felt like a step back in time. When you’re around all these other cars of the same era, and you do rallies, people get very aggressive, very racy on the road, which is quite fun. But it’s scary to think about it after. At the end of the day, you go, “Wow, I was insane. Why did I even risk things so much?” Hard not to.
Adam Driver’s great as Enzo Ferrari. And I think Michael Mann has been wanting to make this movie for 30 years. I’ve been stalking him for at least 15 to be in it in any way possible. So, for me, it was great just to show up and have a really cool cameo. And I think it’s an interesting period in motorsport history, but also what’s fascinating about the movie is Michael’s approach on the humanity of this man, and the conflict he was in. There’s motorsport to it, but you’re also dealing with this man and the dilemma he was in at that time.
Does it take place before or after his son is killed?
It takes place right after. It’s the following year. And if you look at that period from ’55 through until ’61, I think when Phil Hill ended up winning [the Formula One World Championship], and Trips dying at Monza, I think that period of time is the most romantic and deadly of motorsport racing. So, the film talks about that in a very intimate way. I’m anxious to see how it turns out. It was extraordinary to be able to live and work in Modena doing this movie. We were racing through the streets and on the country roads, it was an extraordinary experience.
With Disenchanted currently out, and Ferrari out next year, is acting your primary focus for the future?
Yeah, I think certainly at my age. Racing is a young person sport and I’m in my mid 50s now. There are only so many races I can do. Newman raced until his 80s though, so I think it’s possible. It’s just a question of priorities. I’ve got kids in school still. I want to be present for them. That was one of the reasons for stepping back on a very demanding racing schedule, because to do it correctly, you have to be in the car every day, even on the M level, the drivers who are racing in the WEC and endurance racing are racing every day. So, I’ve got two more years to get my kids through school, then I’ll get back into it a little bit more. But I’ll keep my foot in it and do some special events through the course of the year and some training and testing. Some cup racing.
Who is the greatest racing driver of all time?
Oh, God, that’s so hard. Fangio. I have to say, if you look at his record, and this is always a tough question, because you’d love to be able to put each generation’s champion all together and see who’d be the best. Stirling Moss, Senna? But I think Fangio – just his ability to adapt with so many different manufacturers, in different disciplines. You know who’s really a great driver – talking about versatility – is Alonzo. He’s one of the guys that I think is really special from this generation. And I think when he came over and raced Indy, it was huge for him in this country.
Do you think he’s going to get the triple crown?
God, I hope so.
CHECK OUT PATRICK DEMPSEY
As Piero Taruffi in Michael Mann’s movie biopic, Ferrari
As Robert Philip in the Disney+ streaming, Disenchanted
As Dr. Derek Sheperd in the ABC series, Grey’s Anatomy
As Robert Philip in the Disney hit, Enchanted