This week, Patrick Dempsey is filming the 200th episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the show that transformed his career. But he’s also promoting his four-part documentary series on Velocity, Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans (10 p.m., Wednesday), which followed him and his racing team this year. He called to discuss it! And his uncertain Grey’s future.
You made a fun video with your team that’s on YouTube where you take the “driver change” aspect of Le Mans to a new place.
Patrick Dempsey: It came about on the fly, because we were staying at the chateau where we shot the little piece. We were working very hard at the racing, but also playing around. It all came together very quickly. I was amazed at how nimble Porsche and the creatives were. It was a blast.
How long did it take to shoot? And you really were staying at that beautiful chateau?
PD: It was basically two hours in a morning. There’s a great tradition when you go to Le Mans that you rent a chateau that’s close to the track. It’s been that sort of tradition since the ’20s with the Bentley Boys. We were basically 10 minutes from the racetrack in this beautiful chateau. It was timeless. And it was such a fun place. We had film crews around, and we had time to kill sometimes. It was like having a mini-film camp; stuff came out of that. It was a blast. Did you like the short? Did you like it?
PD: It was so much fun. We had such a good time. Because Patrick Long was coaching me on the racing, I was coaching him on the acting.
These are full-time drivers, I assume — you obviously have limited time when you can do this.
PD: I’m working today and tomorrow, and then I’ll get on a plane Thursday, I’ll fly to Baltimore for the Grand Prix of Baltimore. And then I’ll fly home and go back to work. I’ve got five more races in the season. And Le Mans is the most important of the season for endurance racing.
Racing has become more than a hobby to you —
PD: It’s become a full-time business at this point. At the level we’re racing at, we’re constantly searching for sponsorship and the right partners.
What’s your relationship like with your teammates?
PD: There’s something very special about a sports team. It might be that what I love the most is the camaraderie and the fellowship. You get very close with people, especially during a race that’s 24 hours.
The idea of doing anything for 24 hours is totally exhausting to me.
PD: The mental discipline of it is very, very important. Knowing when to focus, when to relax, when not to be distracted. Those things are very important. And then also the physical training up to that. A lot of cardio, a lot of time in the gym working on your core exercises. It gets very physical in the car, and I don’t think people quite understand how physical that is.
How did the show come about?
PD: Velocity had approached me. I told them a bunch of ideas, and said, “We’re gearing up to go to Le Mans if you guys want to follow us.” And try also to really inform people in a fun, creative way: Why is road racing important in this country? Where does it come from? What’s the history behind Le Mans? Because it’s been swallowed up by Nascar.
You guys ended up doing well.
PD: We led the race for a long time. We battled through the entire 24 hours. We were in contention all the way up to the last two hours. And then, unfortunately, with the safety cars and the weather, it prevented us from really racing until the end. But we had a legitimate start right from the start. Which was great. It was an incredible feeling. The documentary really goes into that — we worked very hard, and we were very focused and very determined to succeed and do well. We were profoundly disappointed that we get on the podium. But I think people will be surprised, because I don’t think people quite understand my level of commitment or passion.
Better luck next year? Will you do this again?
PD: I want to go back if it’s possible. I would love to go back and race.
Would you do a second season of this series, assuming you would do Le Mans again?
PD: I would do it in a different way. I didn’t particularly like having the cameras around me, even though I started forgetting about them. I love the archival aspect of it. There are certainly different angles for us to do more things.
Since I have you, I have to ask about Grey’s Anatomy and what you’re thinking as the 10th season approaches. Sandra Oh just announced she’s leaving —
PD: I know, it’s so sad to see her go. You know what? I don’t know at this point. I’m waiting for them to present something, and we’ll see what happens from there.
Are you happy being on the show?
PD: I like going to work. It’s nice to have a job to go to. I spent many years where I was always hustling to get a job, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’m amazed at what Grey’s has done for me and my life and my family and people around me. It’s remarkable. We’re now currently shooting the 200th episode. Who would have thought that 10 years ago? And people are still into it, and it’s doing well. One day at a time.
This interview has been edited and condensed.