Patrick Dempsey: Doing Well and Doing Good
Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the Los Angeles Times
5 Questions: Patrick Dempsey on acting, racing cars and raising money for his cancer charity
Patrick Dempsey, the actor also known as “McDreamy,” just committed to two more seasons on the hospital drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” But it’s when the camera isn’t rolling that Dempsey, 46, is really busy. What’s he up to when he’s not at work? He’s riding bikes and parenting three children with his wife Jillian, raising money for a cancer charity that he helped found to honor his mother, and racing cars on various professional circuits. (And in a case of art imitating life, Dempsey expects to start shooting the film adaptation of the best-selling book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” soon. He’ll play race-car driver Denny Swift.)
Still, Dempsey found a few minutes in his schedule to answer 5 questions for us:
1). How do you make time for exercise given the demands of your car-racing team, your family and, oh yeah, acting? Trying to dedicate enough time to each is a big challenge. I keep a spinning bike on the set of Grey’s but it’s still hard to be consistent. I never know what my schedule is going to be and the days can be a long haul. My goal is to ride my bike 20 miles four or five times a week. It’s a priority because exercise keeps me strong in front of the camera and in the car. The other challenge with my schedule is eating right. If I start to eat ‘bad’ food all the exercise in the world doesn’t matter. I try really hard to stay away from the donuts and sugar, which I think is at the root of so many health problems, including cancer. I eat a lot of almonds!
2). How did you get into car racing and do you have any races coming up? My wife is the one who got me into racing. She gave me a three-day Skip Barber racing course as a gift about 8 years ago, and I was hooked immediately. I went to another school after that and it’s all just sort of grown from there. Now Dempsey Racing employs 61 people and we race 5 cars. This year we raced in the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am circuit. There’s a race every other weekend and I try to go to as many as I can. I fly a lot of red-eyes. We’ve stepped it up and will go to the Le Mans Circuit [in Europe] in 2013. 2-1/2). Does Jillian ever regret that gift? [Laughs]. She looked at me just the other day and said, “How much longer are you going to be doing this?” I didn’t have an answer.
3. A lot of people are intimidated by cycling — what would you say to anyone who thinks, “I’d love to cycle for fitness but I don’t want to wear ‘those’ clothes?” First of all, you don’t have to wear the spandex! My wife complains that cycling shorts aren’t made to fit women, but I happen to find her very sexy in them. Second, make sure you get a bike that fits, and one that fits what you want to do. My favorite shop is Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica, because they are so knowledgeable. Before you go shopping for a bike, think about your goals. Are you going to ride for fitness? Do you want to cruise around your neighborhood or along the beach. Are you interested in doing a long charity ride like the Dempsey Challenge? I’m really happy that Jillian has gotten into cycling with me. Our rides are like dates. We’re alone, no distractions, no phones, and we have time to talk. Cycling has really helped our relationship. We ride on PCH, all over Malibu, and on Mulholland Drive. I also love to ride in Maine, of course.
4. Speaking of Maine, you helped found the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in your hometown of Lewiston. What inspired you? My mom Amanda is a seven-time ovarian-cancer survivor. One of the times she was going through treatment I realized that I had my sister Mary, who is a nurse, available to explain to me what was going on with our mother. Lots of people don’t have someone like that. So I decided to try and raise some money to help fund a place where both patients and caregivers could go and get counseling and services like massage, acupuncture, yoga and reiki. I’ve learned how valuable human touch can be in terms of healing. Many of the people who provide the services are volunteers who have had cancer themselves. Each year we’ve had around 3000 people register to fundraise and come to Maine to walk or run or cycle in the Dempsey Challenge. I’m also lucky to have been able to partner with [pharmaceutical company] Amgen. Together we’ve raised more than a million dollars for each of the last three years which means the services at the Center are all free. Another thing I’m proud of is that we are starting to network with other cancer charities so that we can all learn what works and what doesn’t with fundraising. A few years in I realized that a lot of foundations and charities don’t want to share what they know because they’re afraid they will lose funding. I’m trying to change that. [Note: The fourth annual “Dempsey Challenge presented by Amgen” is in October, registration info is at http://www.dempseychallenge.com.
5. Your hair. Does Jillian still cut it and what are your preferred styling products? Absolutely. Jill still cuts my hair. In our backyard, actually. I’m not a big products guy, but I sometimes use L’Oreal.