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Interview: A Charming Patrick Dempsey

Patrick Dempsey

Mention the name Patrick Dempsey in a crowd of women and it's like establishing an instant fan club. "Those eyes." "That smile." "That hair." So recognizable is the "Grey's Anatomy" doc that — while filming "Enchanted" on the streets of Manhattan — Dempsey's scenes were frequently interrupted by besotted fans shouting, "McDreamy!" Fortunately, the actor's has more than looks at his disposal. "Enchanted" director Kevin Lima praised Dempsey for calming swarms of fans by promising to stop and chat after he finished filming his scenes. Which he did.

In "Enchanted," simultaneously a skewering and an homage to Disney princess films past, Dempsey plays divorce attorney Robert Phillip, a single dad whose take on love and relationships is decidedly practical with no room for fairy-tale dreaming. He's a sharp contrast to Princess Gisele (Amy Adams), an animated (literally), twinkly-eyed girl pushed from her animated kingdom into modern-day Manhattan. Reluctantly taken in by Robert, Giselle firmly believes that her Andalasian prince (James Marsden) will come (and is about the only woman in Manhattan who wouldn't drop her prince back home for a shot with Dempsey)

Dempsey took a break from Dad duties with wife, Jillian, Avon Products' global colorist, and their three children, Talula, 5, and 10-month-old twins Darby and Sullivan, to talk about "Enchanted" and that ever-present five-o-clock shadow.


What about "Enchanted" appealed to you?
[When I read the script], I thought, "Wow, it's hard to find original stories and stories that are positive in a world that's not so positive." I liked the idea of something I could take my daughter to see. It's a family movie and we see a lot of family movies. It just felt like the right thing.

What do you think is the message of this movie?
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, when you look at it in terms of female and male energy. The female saves the masculine energy, which I think is a great thing. She goes off with the sword and saves him and catches him.

Flipping the idea of the damsel in distress?
Yes. The woman's identity used to be get married, settle down, have kids. That's no longer true in modern society. Now it's like, you've got a career, you get married, and then have kids. So then, how do you find a balance between being a good mother, a good businesswoman and a good wife? I mean, it's much more complicated now. And I think that's what was interesting to me, what's at the whole heart of the movie. It changes the whole dynamic of what a princess is.

What do you think of the idea of true love?
I think there is a true love. I think there is a connection you find with someone. I don't necessarily feel that it's happy ever after. It's just a hell of a lot of work.

Do you work at it?
I'm in a marriage that's lasted for almost nine years now. I find the more we work through our issues and we grow individually and a couple, and as our family grows, we grow closer together. I think it comes with a tremendous amount of work, understanding, and sacrifice. It kind of transforms you. Certianly I'm a much better person because of my relationship with my wife.

Did you know right away that your wife was the one? No, because I had been married before. I was in a previous relationship that I learned a lot from and it prepared me for this one.

What was it like to film the ballroom scene in "Enchanted"?
Well, to me that was the best part of the entire experience. Amy resisted me leading her. 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. And we sort of stopped talking for about 15 minutes. She went to her corner and I went to my corner and then we came back and we started dancing and I felt her vulnerability; I had to really take care of her and she had to surrender to that. And I think that's when our relationship really started to take off.

Do you dance with your wife?
We try to. She won't let me lead her either.

What do you think of your Robert Phillip doll? And does your daughter have one?
Yes, she does. It was so surreal going home the other night and all of the sudden my face popped up behind my shoulder and then Gisele was there, too. And then my daughter was acting out the voices of the scenes. We were like, "Oh my goodness, what just happened?"

When Susan [Sarandon] was here, she said the good guys, the charming princes, are always the most difficult to do because there's not enough depth. What did you do to keep your Prince Charming from being a dullard?
It was hard. It wasn't a fun part to play. I'm driving the plot constantly, just delivering exposition. And then Jimmy (James Marsden) comes flying in, the big shoulders and the tights. And he gets this round of applause and you're like, "Great, thanks. You're more good-looking and you get all the laughs." That was really hard.

But then you realize what your role is and I think the real challenge was trying to find the moments of humor — the one-liners you could throw in and at the same time keep the original foundation of the piece. It's not necessarily the most enjoyable part but it's certainly the most challenging to find a balance. There's [a scene in the restaurant where he talks about his past with Gisele] and reveals where he's coming from and it was hard not to get caught in the melodrama. To feel it but not to show it. That was a fun challenge. And certainly the musical numbers and the dancing at the end was fun for us.

Two-parter: First, you know you've arrived when you get your own "True Hollywood Story." How does it feel? Second thing, is the ubiquitous 5-o-clock shadow a Patrick thing or a publicist thing? That's a Shondra Rimes (creator of "Grey's Anatomy") thing. And it's great because I don't have to shave or anything. My daughter doesn't like it. She just turns her face away. So that's not so great. The E! thing, I haven't seen the piece yet. So it's like reliving your whole life and I don't necessarily want to go backwards. It's like a yearbook picture, do you want to go back and see that? Not necessarily. I'm amazed, though, I really am. You read about it, you see other people go through it, but to be on this side of the table is really humbling.

What did your daughter think of the movie?
She thought Pip (Gisele's animated chipmunk friend) was wonderful. And that says it all. She's 5. She loved the animation, she certainly loved Pip. She liked the first musical number. I think it bogs down for her when you hit the romantic side of it. And then other people liked the romantic part. It's funny, it depends on your generation what you liked. She found it entertaining and she just really wants to spend time with the princess as much as possible. And where's Pip? She doesn't understand why Pip's not at the junket (the press event held with the cast and makers of "Enchanted.")

How difficult was it to make the transition from, "I'm meeting this nutcase (Princess Gisele) knocking on a billboard" and falling in love with her?
It was a real challenge. I had to react to rats and cockroaches being in [my character's] house. From day one, I was thrown off — how do you make this believable? How do you react with emotion and honesty when Gisele cuts the curtains up, how do you deal with that? Those moments, I'd always go home and be completely depressed because I'd be like, "Am I making this movie work?" Thinking, please just give me back "Grey's Anatomy" and let me fight with Meredith. I never felt completely comfortable in the role and I think it always made me feel completely unstable and completely insecure. It was trying to keep his pain and keep the honesty of that situation as well as allow yourself to be caught up in the magic of Gisele.

Did your daughter want to be in this movie?
No, I hope that doesn't happen. You can start to see it and I look at my wife and I'm like, "Here we go." And I hope it doesn't happen. No, I don't really like children in the movie business. So I had my issues with that.

Is it easier to have a relationship with someone outside the business?
Well, my wife is in the business enough. She's a global colorist for Avon. She understands the business, she's been around it a long time. So she's sympathetic to the journey, but she's not an actress. Thank God. I couldn't be married to an actress.

Who'd get the mirror first?
Exactly. Who would get the hairspray first? She's very much an artist in her own right, very celebrated in the world she's in and I love that about her.

Do you find when you're playing one character like on "Grey's" that it's great to go and be someone else for a while. Or are you one of those people who just leave it at the set when you go home?
Yes and no. I think now because of my age and family and my kids, that it's really important to keep that situation balanced at home. Escape from it. In the movies, I think the process is more interesting. [When I saw "Enchanted"] with an audience, there's that turning point where Gisele thanks me for welcoming her to New York. The laughs start and that's when the ride begins. It's a great movie to see when you see it with a group. There are kids running and talking out loud and screaming at the screen and the adults are, too. It's a nice experience. Television not so much, it's a grind. But the power of television is unbelievable.

What is it like to be in a fairy tale that will probably live on for a long time?
It's funny because my daughter went through a period of six months of nothing but "Peter Pan." It's like you go through all of them and you watch them all and I'm amazed at how dark these movies are. A lot of them are violent. You fast forward through those [moments] because she's like, "I don't want to see that." So you talk her through it. I make sure that I'm there with her, that I experience the movie with her. It's interesting, I like 'em all. I [like] Thumper and Bambi's dynamic the most. Although Bambi is just tragic. Wasn't it one of the top 10 saddest movies?

Do you think "Enchanted" is about the balance of dark cynicism and innocence? Where do you think this balance is and how do we find it?
Robert has that interesting conversation with Gisele when they enter the park right before she breaks into "That's How You Know." He's like, you're crazy [for believing in one true love]. It's interesting, I think that's where 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 acceptance. It's that simple. We lost touch with magic and we need it before we kill ourselves.

How was it shooting in New York?
It's great shooting in New York. Unbelievable. Because I remember when I first got to New York, I'd walk around with like 100 dollars to survive the month and I had to have cold-water hot dogs and I'd walk around the city. I went back to the first time I was in Manhattan and sort of revisited my entire life. It was really magical doing musical numbers in Manhattan.

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