Emmanuel Itier: What do you think about the idea of a true love?
Patrick Dempsey: I think there is a true love. I think there is a connection you find with someone. I don’t necessary feel that it’s “happy ever after.” It’s just a hell of a lot of work. I am in a marriage for almost nine years now, and I find the more we work through our issues and we grow individually, we grow as a couple. As our family grows, we grow closer together. Our lives are improving. I think it comes with a tremendous amount of work, understanding, and sacrifice. Certainly, it transforms you. I am a much better person because of my relationship with my wife and my children.
EI: Did you know instantly that your wife was your true love?
PD: No, because I had been married before, obviously, in a very interesting marriage, that I learned a lot from, and I think that it prepared me for this one. It was a really valuable experience.”
EI: Why do you not believe in idea of “happily ever after?”
PD: I don’t believe that there’s happy ever after and everything’s perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. It’s the chasing of perfection that’s the fun part.
EI: Can you fall in love in a day?
PD: In a day? I don’t know if you’re falling in love.
EI: Many celebrities meet and fall in love on the set and get married. Is it extremely difficult to have a relationship with somebody in that business doing that same thing, or is it easier to have a relationship with someone who is outside that business? Is your wife in the business?
PD: My wife is in the business…enough. She is a global colorist for Avon, and she understands the business. She’s been around it for a very long time, so she’s sympathetic to the journey. She is not an actress, thank God. It would be a difficult dynamic. I couldn’t be married to an actress.
EI: Why? Would it be a problem of who would get the mirror first?
PD: Exactly! Who would get the hairspray first? [Laughs] She’s very much an artist in her own right and very celebrated in the world that she’s in. I love that about her. An actress and actor is a different energy. I can barely live with myself, let alone another actor. [Laughs] It’s very tricky.
EI: Are you a no-nonsense guy or a romantic at heart?
PD: A little bit of both, I think. It depends on the mood. Defining romance is very tricky because I think there is a lot that kind of goes into romance, and it’s not just necessarily candles and flowers.
EI: What is it like being the father of twins? Has that been kind of a surprising experience?
PD: I got home to projectile vomiting last night. It was like, “Wow! Back to reality.” You have a day of like this, this, and this. Then, all of a sudden, you are like, okay, projectile vomiting, and everything smells like vomit. If you have kids, you understand. I really love it. I think it keeps surprising me. Really, I start to enjoy it more and more.
EI: Is having twins more challenging than you thought, or is it easier than you thought?
PD: It’s different. It’s easier and more challenging. There are three kids, and you develop an individual relationship with all of them. You have to have time with each one separately–it’s getting the time to do that. At the same time, there is something really comforting in a house full of people and kids. It surprises me because I usually like being alone, but I’m really loving it.
EI: How do you raise kids to not to be cynical in this cynical world?
PD: I don’t know. That’s the challenge, really. That is the challenge right now. That is the biggest worry I have.
EI: Do you already have Thanksgiving and Christmas plans with the family? Is traveling hard being famous and with so many kids?
PD: Yeah, it’s certainly a little more difficult going through security. That is not fun at all. [Laughs] We’ll probably go back to Maine. I want to go back to Maine. I haven’t been back in about a year because last year, with the babies coming, we couldn’t travel. I really like snow. It’s an old home built in 1834, and I’ve had it for about ten years now. We got married there. It feels like I want my children to have that tradition.
EI: With your five o’clock shadow, is that a Patrick thing or is that a publicist thing? Also, a recent magazine did a piece on you showing–in photos–what it’s been like going from McDorky to McDreamy over the years. What did you think about it?
PD: Neither. That’s what she [Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes] wanted for the character. But it’s great because I don’t have to shave everyday, so I appreciate it. My daughter doesn’t like it because she says it hurts her and she just turns her face away, so that’s kind of strange. As for the magazine spread, I haven’t seen the piece yet, so it’s like reliving your whole life and, quite honestly, I don’t necessarily want to go back to some of the periods. It’s like your yearbook picture. Do you want to go back and see that? Not necessarily. I am amazed though. I really am.
EI: What’s it been like having a second stab at a successful career?
PD: Unbelievable. You read about it and see other people go through it, but, being on this side of the table, it’s really humbling beyond belief.
EI: Were you surprised that Grey’s Anatomy has almost completely reignited your career?
PD: Oh absolutely. It’s unbelievable. It’s really unbelievable.
EI: Why do you think Grey’s Anatomy has struck such a chord with TV viewers?
PD: I think that there are a lot of different archetypes that people kind of identify with. I think it’s the young men and women in the workplace that identified with the interns initially. I think that it came at the right time, when Sex and the City was phasing out and Friends was phasing out. It came in and filled that void at that time. I think the ensemble, the music, all add to it. There is something compelling about the characters that people really identify with.
EI: You were very successful when you were young. Is it more satisfying being successful now that you’re older than when you were younger? What did you learn from that first bout with fame?
PD: I think, at first, you are not sure that you are worthy of the attention. I think it kind of threw me off and I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I was doing it for the sake of doing it. I was not worrying about the end result. Suddenly, I don’t think you realize how much responsibility you have, once you get into that position. You are green-lighting movies or things like that, and the choices that you make…if you aren’t making money, you will be pushed aside. I wasn’t really clear on how the business operated. I don’t think I was really confidant in who I was as a person. More so now, I feel like I’ve worked my way through a lot of hardship and I really appreciate where I am right now. I get the joke of the business. I’m under no illusion of what is going on here, why certain attention is coming my way, and you have to be careful of that. There are good people, there are bad people, and I think it’s a question of how you keep your feet on the ground. You stay focused and not buy into all the hype. Family, I think it keeps me in line. It was a long road to get to this point.
EI: Did that road make you a better actor?
PD: I think life experience has, certainly. I think the key to acting anymore is really just being present–not being self-conscious and listening. Relaxation is the key, and you just have to accept who you are–the good and the bad of it.
EI: After your incredible success in primetime, what did you want to do for your first post-Grey’s Anatomy movie? What were you looking for and why did you choose Enchanted?
PD: It was interesting to see what kind of options I had from the momentum of the show. I had a relationship with Barry [Sonnenfeld], so when I found out that he was producing this and found out the premise, I thought that it was a great idea and unusual. Then I read it and it was like, Wow. It’s hard to find original stories like this! And it’s certainly hard to find stories that are positive in a world that is not so positive. I thought it had a deep meaning which was presenting itself in a comedy, and I liked that. It was something that I could take my daughter to go see. It’s a family movie, and I go see a lot of family movies more than I do anything else. Then I went and met Kevin [Lima] and I saw his style and the fact that it was an old fashioned sort of hand-drawing animation–sort of an art nouveau style, which I really liked. This is right around the time that Amy Adams was starting to get involved, and that was like, Wow, this could really be quite something, because the movie is going to work on the shoulders of really Amy’s performance, certainly. It just felt like the right fit. I wanted something that was non-violent, that was positive and unusual, and I think it had all of that.
EI: Do you get a lot of film offers?
PD: No, I had to go audition for this as well. This wasn’t just an offer. So I was like, I hope I get this. I’d hate to go in and not get it.
EI: What do you think the message is behind Enchanted?
PD: Well, I think it’s a love letter to all things Disney, and the fact that Disney makes fun of itself is great to see. Also, I think it really changes the myth of the princess story. I think the great image is–if you look at it strictly from the male to female energy–the female saves the masculine energy, which I think is a great thing. I think it’s something to really look at. It’s nice to see movies working on that level.
EI: Is the female the hero of the film?
PD: Well, she goes off with the sword and saves him and catches him. The heart saves the masculine.
EI: And she’s the damsel in distress…
PD: Right, exactly. The debate is like the whole identity. A woman’s identity–it used to be like, you get married, you settle down and you have kids. That’s no longer true in modern society. I think the balance now is like, you have a career, you get married, and then you have kids. And then how do you find the balance between being a good mother, a good businesswoman, and a good wife? I mean, it’s much more complicated now. I think that was what was interesting to me, certainly–having a daughter. It changes the dynamic of what a princess is anymore.
EI: With all the violence and starvation going on in the world today, isn’t Enchanted very much about the contrast between a dark cynicism that is reality and the innocence in the fairy tale world?
PD: We need a little bit of both. I think you’re right.
EI: From Enchanted and from your own life, where do you think that balance is and how do movie-goers find that?
PD: Well, I think that’s an interesting conversation that Robert has with Giselle right before they enter the park where she breaks into the song, “How Will You Know?” I mean, he’s like, “You’re crazy. Don’t fall in love with somebody overnight.” I think that’s interesting, because that’s who we are right now. We’re not going to change the world by going at it violently. We’re going to have to find love and we are going to have to find acceptance. I think the essence of all of these religions–since everybody is, you know, getting in the corner and fighting about it–the essence is being lost. Isn’t it about love, at the end of the day, and forgiveness and acceptance? It doesn’t seem to be happening. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.
EI: Is New York City the perfect backdrop?
PD: Yes. I think we’ve lost touch with magic, and we need it before we just kill ourselves–especially in New York. I remember when I first got to New York, I’d walk around and I had a hundred dollars to survive on for a month. I’d have to have the cold-water hot dogs. I’d walk through the city, and we would park the campers in certain areas. I would go back to the first time I was in Manhattan and sort of revisit my entire life to that point. It was really magical to be doing a musical number in Manhattan.
EI: How much dancing did you have to learn for the musical numbers?
PD: Well, to me, that was the best part of the experience. I think working with Cha Cha [John O'Connell], the choreographer who did Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom, was the most magical experience. Just the rehearsal process and the dynamics of it were magical. Amy resisted me leading her, you know. She is very strong. [Laughs] We came to a moment where I ripped her toenail off because she refused to wear her shoes and she refused to allow me to lead her. Then we sort of stopped talking for about 15 minutes, and she went into her corner and I went in my corner, and then we came back. Then we started dancing again. I found her vulnerability and I really had to take care of her. She had to surrender to that. I think that’s when our relationship really started to take off.
EI: Do you ever dance with your wife?
PD: Yes, we try to, and my wife doesn’t let me lead her either. [Laughs]
EI: What does your wife think of the doll they made of you for your Enchanted character? Does your daughter have an Enchanted doll of her dad?
PD: Yes, she does. It was sort of surreal, going home the other night, and all of a sudden, my face popped up behind my shoulder. And then Giselle was up there and my daughter was acting out the voices and the scenes of the movie. We were like, “Oh my goodness, what’s just happened?” [Laughs]
EI: What did your daughter think of Enchanted?
PD: She thought Pip was wonderful. That says it all. She’s five-and-a-half. She loved the animated part of it. She certainly loved Pip. She liked the first musical number. For her, I think it bogs down when it gets to the romantic side of things, so that was an interesting thing. It’s funny, depending on your generation, what you like and what you don’t like. She found it entertaining and she just really wants to spend time with the princess as much as possible. When I brought my daughter to the interviews, she was like, “So, where’s Pip?” She doesn’t understand why Pip’s not at the junket.
EI: Did your daughter want to be in the movie?
PD: No! [Laughs] I hope that doesn’t happen. You can start to see it when I look at my wife and I go, “Oh God, here we go.” I hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t really like children in movies. I think it’s a bad place for children to grow up, so I have my issues with that.
EI: What was your first paying job when you starting working?
PD: Mopping stalls. I did that for about a week and I quickly realized, This is not the direction I want to go in. And I quit.
EI: How much did you get paid for mopping?
PD: I think I made, like, five bucks.
EI: How old were you?
PD: I was 10 or 11, and then my next job was picking apples.
EI: You’ve got a much better job now, being on a hit TV show. In fact, Grey’s Anatomy won the first night of the sweeps Thursday. How long do you think the show can remain so popular? Because shows like ER are still around…
PD: I think it depends on how fresh the stories continue to be. I think the first season was really strong. I think the writing had a lot of emotion to it, a lot of humor to it, and the medical lines were really fresh. Of course, I think the cast is very likable. It’s changing and evolving, for obvious reasons. I think if it doesn’t continue to be forward moving and that the writers get stuck in playing, “Oh, this is what’s safe, this is what works, and this is what we’re going to do,” then we’re in trouble. If they keep moving to, “Let’s challenge ourselves,” then people are going to be into it. If people start to feel like it’s predictable, we’re going to lose our audience.
EI: There are a lot of people who love the romantic storyline between your character and Meredith, so people come to watch it.
PD: Right, and I think there is a lot of room to explore a dynamic between two people. I think the question with him was, “I want to get married and settle down.” With him, he’s upfront, and she’s like, “I don’t necessarily want that.” I think it needs to get deeper. I think they need to get more specific with what her problem is and what his problem is. I think there’s a great opportunity there that, at the moment, is extremely frustrating to me.
EI: Do you know what you’re doing on your hiatus this year?
PD: No, because the strike has got everything screwed up. No one knows what’s happening.
EI: Do you enjoy playing one character in Grey’s Anatomy for a couple of seasons because it allows you to make movies when you want and gives you more time to explore your own real life interests like race driving?
PD: Yes and no. I think now, because of my age and what’s going on, and other interests and stuff, it’s really important for me to be doing a lot of different things. That’s the challenge–balancing all of it and the escape from it. The race driving is a whole different thing. It’s incredibly challenging and it’s also a good way to train physically and mentally. It’s in the camaraderie–the challenge of that is great. I love that world, and it’s a nice balance. The movies, I think, compositionally, I find much more interesting, and the process is more collaborative and I have a lot more power in that world at the moment. I enjoy that. There is something magical about the cinema when you go to a theater, and certainly with this movie. I saw it by myself at first. When I went and saw it with an audience for the first time…there is that turning point where people buy into the movie–sort of when Giselle thanks him for welcoming her to New York, and the laugh starts. And that’s sort of like, “It’s okay,” and then the ride begins. It’s a great movie to participate in with a group. You know the kids are running all over the place and talking out loud and screaming at the screen, and the adults are too. It’s a nice experience. Television, not so much because it’s a different thing. It’s a grind. But the power of television is unbelievable, and it’s a fun character. I enjoy it.
EI: Have you given yourself an ending date for your time on Grey’s Anatomy? Do you think there is a point where you will say, “I think I’m done?”
PD: Yeah, I think I’ll follow out my contract and then we’ll have to reassess at that point. I think if the character keeps growing and is challenging, then it’s fine. It’s nice having a job to go to everyday. I’ve never had that luxury before. That is kind of enjoyable. I just want the character to be challenging. If it starts to become the same old, same old, I don’t know if I would want to, other than just making a paycheck at that point–securing a future for my family and getting the hell out of town.
EI: What are some your favorite Disney fairytales or cinematic icons?
PD: It’s funny because my daughter went through a period of six months of watching nothing but Peter Pan every night. And then it was Beauty and the Beast. It’s like you go through all of them and you watch them all. I am amazed at how dark these movies really are. A lot of them are violent. You kind of have to fast forward through those or she goes, “I don’t want to see that.” So you talk her through it, and you talk about what it’s about. I make sure I am there with her. It’s not like, turn on the movie and walk away. I experience the movie with her in order to talk her through those moments and give her a sense of what the stories are about and why they’re there. It’s interesting, I like them all. I like Thumper and Bambi. I like them a lot, although Bambi is just tragic beyond belief. Wasn’t it like one of the top ten saddest movies? So you kind of have to be careful with the Disney movies.
EI: Your Enchanted costar, Susan Sarandon, said something that Disney animators have said over the years–that the good guys, the charming princes, are always the most difficult to do. It’s easier to be bad. What did you do to keep your prince charming from being a stereotype?
PD: Yeah, it was hard. It wasn’t a hard part to play most of the time, because I’m driving the plot constantly, just delivering exposition. And then everybody’s just having a great time. Jimmy [James Marsden] comes flying in, and the big shoulders, the tights–you know it gets these rounds of applause and your like, “Great, thanks Jimmy. You’re perfect looking and you get all of the laughs.” That was really hard. Then you realize what your role is in the greater scheme of things. The real challenge is I was trying to find the moments of humor when you could, and the one-liners you could throw in when you could and, at the same time, keep the emotional foundation to the piece. It’s not necessarily the most enjoyable. It’s certainly the most challenging to find a balance and to keep within yourself. I think there’s that whole moment in the restaurant where he reveals where he’s coming from. I think that was fun to not get caught into the mellow drama, but to feel it but not to show it too much. That was a fun challenge. Certainly, the musical numbers and the dancing at the end was when I could finally kind of cross over.
EI: In Enchanted, you are kind of responsible for bringing the audience to come to accept this crazy animated princess in real life to the point where you could believe that someone would fall in love with her in the real world. How difficult was that for you to make that transition from meeting this nutcase trying to knock on the door of a billboard into falling in love with her?
PD: It was a real challenge. The first scene that kind of threw me off and I never at all felt comfortable through the course of the movie was I had to react to rats being in the house and cockroaches. So from day one, I was thrown off. How do you make this believable? How do you react to it honestly? Then when she cuts the curtains up, it’s like, “How do you deal with that?” So those moments were always, I think…I’d go home and be completely depressed because I was like, “Am I making this movie work?” It’s like, “Please just give me back to Grey’s Anatomy and let me fight with Meredith.” I never felt completely comfortable or solid in the role. I think it always made me feel completely unstable and insecure. Amy had her issues and we kind of just talked to each other and worked ourselves through these things. When the birds came in and I am reacting, was it big enough or is it too big? It was trying to keep his pain and keep the honesty of that situation, as well as allowing yourself to get caught up in the magic of her and to find those moments.
EI: Did you think there was a transition moment?
PD: I think the restaurant moment was the transition moment, and when she touches his chest and he goes in and he sits down, that’s when he falls in love with her.
EI: In the world we currently live in, do you think the problems they have to deal with make people more receptive to the message of Enchanted?
PD: I think so, because I wouldn’t want to go see a dark movie right now. The movies that were released this weekend, I wouldn’t go see, other than the Bee Movie, probably because of the actors and it’s sort of a different time period. It’s not contemporary. It’s not talking about Iraq, it’s not talking about those kinds of things, so you could probably accept it. I would go see the Bee Movie just because I could bring my daughter with me. We’re too close to be talking about Iraq. Those scars have not been healed, and I don’t think people are going to really listen to it. We’re not going to change anything right now. I think we can through a comedy. I think we can reach more people that way, at the moment. It’s almost like the depression is upon us and it’s the 1930s. We’re in the middle of the war. You want to see screwball comedies. You want to see musical numbers. You want to see things that make you escape reality for an hour-and-a-half.