The love doctor

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Grey’s Anatomy returns to our screens this week, so TimeOut visited star Patrick Dempsey on the set if the hit series to see what the mood was like ahead of their big comeback. WordsMatt Pomroy

‘Hey, how ya doin? Welcome to Seattle Grace Hospital,’ Patrick Dempsey tells Time Out with a big grin. He gestures forward with the mug of coffee he’s carrying and adds: ‘Let’s go to the operating room…’ As bedside manners go, it’s pretty laid back. The coolest TV doctor since Clooney wore scrubs leads us though the set.

One minute we’re in a big warehouse full of crates and cables and then through a crudely assembled door we’re suddenly in the corridor of one of the most watched series on the planet. There’s the lift where many poignant parting moments happened; there’s the row of sinks where doctors have scrubbed up clean one minute and got down and dirty the next; there’s Katherine Heigl wandering about looking smoking hot and here’s the operating room where the characters have dispensed comments as cutting as the scalpels.

Patrick is the king of his domain, but the success he’s currently enjoying hasn’t come easy and it’s been a long wait for such recognition. One reviewer of his 1987 (vastly underrated) teen comedy Can’t Buy Me Love called the actor ‘as appealing as mulched lawn.’ But now he’s grown up, and has clearly got better looking and more charming with age. If you read the gossip magazines, then it would appear there are few actors more appealing on television right now.

Those same magazines charted the off-screen drama with Isaiah Washington leaving the show amid allegations of homophobic comments towards co-star TR Knight and confrontations with Patrick. So have things settled down and was he sad to see Isaiah go?

‘There’s two things to that,’ he says. ‘I think the character was phenomenal and losing that was a blow. And then the other stuff… it’s much better in the long run.’

He shifts on his chair and leans in. ‘A lot of lessons had to be learned from everyone, and it was tragic all the way around.’ But when we ask if he misses him, Patrick’s reply is somewhat significant: ‘The character of Burke, certainly…’

Burke may be gone, as is his screen wife who has now got her own spin off series, Private Practise. For those who are left in Seattle, there have been on-off- on relationships and love triangles aplenty. So when are they going to
stop playing games because for many viewers it’s really frustrating at times?

‘It needs to move on,’ he says nodding. ‘You’re right, we’ve gone as far as we can with the longing,’ he adds with a wry smile. It seems that there could be a few changes in the new series. Grey’s has had great ratings across the world but last season was the first one that got

a bit of criticism from critics and fans alike. Patrick is open and happy to talk about how that feedback was received by the cast members.

‘I think there were certain elements of truth to what was being said, and it helped focus us for this season. We were on such a high last year, you’re going to come up and going to come down.’

He’s also happy to listen to what the fans of the series have to say…

‘You need to listen to it in order to grow. And the show is like a person. It’s going to go through its growth periods, and that’s healthy, and it’s important that people do speak up and say, “this is what I like, this is what

I don’t like and this is why I feel that way.”’ ‘But you have to remember, [writer and creator] Shonda Rhimes is a young woman with tremendous responsibility,

and she’s done a great job getting it to this point, and she’s going to grow as a writer. We have to be there in those days where we may not agree with the vision she’s taking.’

Ahh, the direction the show it taking. It’s something that Ellen Pompeo raised with Time Out in the summer after they finished season three. Now that season four is halfway through filming, how
is it shaping up? Is it still more soap than drama (the cause of Pompeo’s frustration) and does that really bother him at all?

‘It is a soap opera, and I think that’s OK. It’s entertaining people in the world that we’re in right now that is just absolutely devastating if you look at the realities of the planet. I mean, are we going to war with Iran?

What’s happening? So this is a great escape, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re entertainers at the end of the day. It makes people laugh, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. And fortunately, with everything we’ve gone through, we’re still doing very well and we’re very fortunate to be in this position. When you get to a position where you don’t appreciate that, you have to step back and go, “Wait a minute. Let’s get our priorities straight and look at what the show is and be grateful for what it is.” It’s great that we’re having this moment, and I hope it continues. It works because of the storylines. It works because of the editing. It works because of the music. And the cast is very charming and interesting and has a lot of depth that brings a humanity to the material.

All those together, it’s just something magical that’s indefinable, and it’s rare. You see, this season, there are very few shows that have broken through and have touched people on that level, and I that’s something we always have to keep in mind and be grateful for.’

That may have read like a rant but it wasn’t. It seems that he really cares about the series and is protective of
it despite the problems. It’s clearly something he cares about, but how much of an input does the cast have on the way in which the show progresses?

‘Not much really,’ he replies nonchalantly. ‘I think you can go in
to have a dialogue with Shonda and the writers. You can say, “Hey, here’s what I’m feeling.” But at the end of the day, we’re really here to execute what their vision is. It’s interesting because we’re all on the ride with you guys, because we don’t know where it’s going. So you’re like, “All right. So we’re going to do in this direction then. OK. Wow, that’s going to be quite something.”’

He’s cagey about that direction but assures Time Out that there’s going to be more comedy than last season, especially between himself and Dr Mark Sloan. A bit more testosterone to balance out what is a series that’s essentially aimed at women. And also a bit more of the real medical work.

Patrick got a close look at that earlier in the year when his wife gave birth, and being Dr McDreamy has its advantages in real hospitals too.

‘Oh it was great because a lot of the nurses and the doctors that saw to us at St. John’s in Santa Monica are the people that work on the show,’ he says with a big grin. ‘So it helps tremendously to be doing the medical drama if you’re going to the hospital in America. We had more attention than normal, which is great, certainly if you see what’s going
on in the medical world right now.
And I don’t know if you read the press about healthcare in this country but it really is just disastrous.’

Like Patrick said, with so many things wrong in the world – including the state of real hospitals – it’s nice to escape now and again and slip into a warm bath of light soapy TV fiction. Millions already are.

For Time Out Magazine- click here for PDF – PATRICK DEMPSEY


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