It’s somehow fitting that his new wedding-themed romantic comedy is titled Made of Honor, because during a heated argument on the set of ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy in 2006, Golden Globe–nominated star Patrick Dempsey reportedly defended his gay costar T.R. Knight when Isaiah Washington called Knight a “faggot.” That scuffle, which won Dempsey the hearts of gay men everywhere, was an off-limits topic for our interview, but the McDreamy 42-year-old Versace model did say “I do” when I popped the questions about his feminine side and why — at least when it comes to People’s Sexiest Man Alive — he’s always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
The Advocate: Tweaking the plot of My Best Friend’s Wedding, your character in Made of Honor acts as his best girlfriend’s Maid of Honor so that he can sabotage her wedding. Has it always been your dream to play the “Julia Roberts” roles?
Patrick Dempsey: They’re a lot of fun to do. Growing up, I never had the chance to go to the movies much, so everything that I would see was probably on PBS. They would do classic comedies — a lot of Cary Grant, Errol Flynn stuff — and all the slapstick really appealed to me. We really wanted to pull from that.
Do you have a Rupert Everett-like gay best friend?
[Laughs] He’s not like Rupert Everett, but yeah, I definitely do. He’s a good guy, but it took him a long time to really get out of the closet. Everyone around him knew, and then when he finally came to terms with it and said, “Yeah, I’m gay,” we were like, “Finally! Good for you.” You could see the release in him where he wasn’t having to pretend anymore and was becoming his own person.
We’re not talking about T.R., are we?
No, no, no. It’s somebody else.
Um, OK. In Made of Honor’s opening flashback scenes, you eerily look 10 years younger.
Well, the great thing about technology now is that they can go in and take the lines away with computers, which was comforting. [Laughs] It was kind of scary, too, because I was like, Oh God, I don’t want to go back to that time in my life when I looked so young. I’m very happy to be the age that I am, so to go back and see those scenes was a little unsettling.
Your character often gets mistaken for gay, which also happens to your character in 1989’s Loverboy. Has that happened to you in real life?
Sometimes now, yeah. I try not to read the blogs, but it seems everybody’s convinced I’m gay — especially since Versace. But the great thing with sexuality and being gay is that there’s really no stereotype anymore.
Meanwhile, you’re a cyclist, you race cars, and as seen in Made of Honor, you’re good at basketball. We get it, Patrick — you’re butch. What are some of your more feminine hobbies or qualities?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. I haven’t really thought about it. Oh, man, I cry at the drop of a hat. Everything makes me very emotional. I try not to be a metrosexual or get too caught up in grooming, but in my house, with my wife and everything, there’s always stuff going on with products and things like that — not that that’s feminine; that’s just sort of modern society.
How can you avoid grooming when you’re so known for your hair?
I know, but I hate dealing with my hair. I just like to put on a hat to go outside.
At 17, you dropped out of high school to play David in a San Francisco production of Torch Song Trilogy. Did you or your parents have concerns about your taking a gay part so early in your career?
No, not at all. Doing theater, the gay community was always incredibly kind to me — never aggressive or predatory, always supportive and nurturing. That was the great thing about being a part of that show. Especially being so young, there was a lot of concern only because I was out there on my own and I’d never been in the big city before, but everybody looked after me.
Growing up in Maine, were you teased because of your interest in the arts?
Oh, yeah, I got a lot of teasing early on — a lot of comments and abuse — because I was performing in a vaudeville troupe. In a small town, people can be aggressive that way just because they don’t understand and they’re threatened by someone doing their own thing. It actually taught me a lot and helped me in the long run, because then I stopped worrying about what people thought of me.
Have you been aware of your gay following since your breakout success in 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love?
Yeah, there was some stuff that [celebrity photographer] Greg Gorman and I shot that sort of opened things up, and everybody was telling me about that. It’s good fun. It’s flattering.
Did you or your agents have any hesitations before accepting a three-episode arc as Will’s sportscaster boyfriend on Will & Grace, your first major foray into TV?
No. When I sat down and talked with the show’s creators, they were like, “Here’s what we want to try to do,” and I was like, “Yeah, I’m in for that.” It was fun. I loved that character, and certainly that role and being on that show helped turn things around for me profoundly.
Opposite another straight actor, Eric McCormack, was it challenging to make a gay romance appear believable?
No, because you just play a relationship — two people attracted to each other. You just trust that and don’t worry about it. The situation reveals that you’re gay; you don’t have to play gay to be gay.
As a Versace model, not to mention all the shirtless scenes you have in Made of Honor, do you feel pressure to constantly hit the gym?
Yeah, I work out, but I’m not fanatical about it. I’m not the kind of guy who can be completely cut-up; I just want to stay in shape and be healthy and lean. But there’s always the pressure of having the perfect male body. At the same time, I’ve got way too much going on to worry about it. You just have to go, “Here’s my body,” and hope people like it.
On People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” list, you came in second to Matt Damon in 2007, George Clooney in 2006, and Matthew McConaughey in 2005. How’s it feel to be that close to the title for three years?
At least I’m consistently in the top two. And I’ve been there longer than the other guys, so that’s fine.
You’ve got to be in it to win it!
Yeah, that’s true. Maybe I need to work out more.
Which male celebrity do you find sexy?
Johnny Depp, certainly, without question. There’s just something about his individuality, his humility, and his sense of style. He’s also immensely talented and intelligent, and that’s all very sexy.
You recently signed with Avon to be a spokesmodel for a new cologne. If a fragrance should reflect the qualities of its celebrity endorser, describe that scent.
Hopefully it’s just honest and comforting. You want a smell that feels good, feels clean, and doesn’t feel overwhelming. I want something that’s subtle and fresh, modern but classic at the same time, and that’s what we’ve been working toward.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve done with your character’s action figure from Disney’s Enchanted?
It’s not so much what I have done but what my friends have done with the doll — and then sent pictures of to my cell phone. They’ve put the doll in various sexual positions with other dolls — with Barbie and Ken.