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Life is a dream on 'Grey's Anatomy' for Patrick Dempsey

Dr. McDreamy thinks he has had a dreamy year.

Patrick Dempsey, who plays Dr. Derek Shepherd, also known as Dr. McDreamy, on "Grey's Anatomy," has been acting long enough to realize how lucky he is to be living the George Clooney experience.

Playing the handsome surgeon torn between his wife, Addison (Kate Walsh) and Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) -- the woman he fell for during his separation -- has made Dempsey as hot as Clooney was in his early "ER" days. Like Clooney, Dempsey was in several failed pilots before he landed his big role in "Grey's Anatomy."

The series gets huge exposure Sunday in the coveted post-Super Bowl spot with an episode that series creator Shonda Rhimes says is "our show, sort of on speed."

Dempsey's status has led to his speedy rediscovery by movie producers who may not remember him as the young heartthrob of the 1980s classics, "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Loverboy."

"The business is such there is so much money in these movies that they're trying to go with whoever has the most visibility or who is the most, quote, 'bankable,' " said Dempsey after a recent press conference in Pasadena, Calif. "I haven't changed in the last year, just the people's perception of me. Also, the success of the show and I'm in people's houses every week."

The Lewiston, Maine, native is playing Hilary Swank's husband in "Freedom Rider," an upcoming film about a teacher and her journey. And he's a lawyer trying to do what's best for his daughter in a Disney movie, "Enchanted."

It seems like forever ago that Dempsey nabbed a 2001 Emmy nomination as a guest actor as the psychologically damaged brother of Sela Ward's character in ABC's "Once & Again"; played Will's love interest in a 2003 episode of "Will & Grace" and played opposite Reese Witherspoon in "Sweet Home Alabama." Dempsey is in such demand that he's turned down several other movie roles.

"I'm very hesitant to do things that are violent," said Dempsey. "As a parent, I don't want to see that. I've worked extremely hard and fought through years of rejection to get to this point, and I'm just enjoying the ride. I'm really appreciating what is happening and I want to use that to do what I want to do, to be in a position I can produce and direct and do projects I want to do outside of this."

>Paging Dr. Ross

It sounds like Clooney's strategy. Clooney parlayed his starring role as Dr. Douglas Ross in "ER" into a major film career.

He was nominated for an Oscar Tuesday for his supporting role in "Syriana" and received two more nominations for directing and co-writing the film about CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow, "Good Night, and Good Luck."

The two TV docs had a brief conversation at the recent Golden Globe Awards.

"He's an amazing man," said Dempsey of Clooney. "A great role model in the sense of what one should do when they are in a series and what they should do after. He's creating the things he wants to create that are personal to him. He's a very gracious, classy movie star and I'm lucky to be compared to him."

And what advice did Clooney offer?

"He gave me a very nice compliment and we shook hands," said Dempsey. "He had a twinkle in his eye, and just said, 'You're handling things nicely, keep it up.' "

Dempsey said he has no plans to leave "Grey's," whose success will depend on how long Rhimes can keep up all the romantic entanglements in the medical series.

>Largely winging it

Rhimes was fortunate that a pilot for another series that Walsh made last season didn't become a series. If it had, the role of Addison and the love triangle story line wouldn't have continued. Dempsey concedes that the moment Dr. McDreamy told his wife that he was in love with Meredith jolted him as much as it did this critic. Addison did have an affair with his best friend, but still . . .

Asked what his wife would have done if he ever had a conversation like that, Dempsey said: "Under those circumstances, she'd slug me, most likely. Or she would leave. . . . Yeah, I am wrestling with it as well."

"It is clearly, you know, Shonda Rhimes' show and she has a very clear path where she is taking these characters . . . You can go into her office and say 'I don't buy this because I personally would not make this choice. If he doesn't have a child with this woman, why is he staying in the relationship? What is it about this relationship that he needs to invest in?'

"That is slowly coming out. We get little bits and pieces as the episodes go on. It's about the ring, it's about the commitment and I'm sort of basing it on that. Even though the vows have been broken, he does feel he needs to at least commit to what he did on the altar and work through it in order to get past it so he doesn't create that mistake again, so he can then go on and hopefully be with Meredith. But we'll see."

>At full speed

His being rediscovered has reduced the amount of time he can drive race cars. "For me, it is a great escape," said Dempsey, who turned 40 last month. His wife, Jillian, presented him with a special car as a birthday gift.

"She gave me a cool, silver 1969 Mercedes 280 SE," said Dempsey. "This car is a great way to cruise around with my family. My daughter [Talula] loves it. She calls it 'the Princess.' "

It is unclear if Dr. McDreamy will eventually decide whether Meredith is his princess. Rhimes said she knows what the last scene in the series finale will be years from now. Dempsey says he likes the final scene.

"I think she has it really well thought out," said Dempsey.

Maybe so. But as Dempsey's second career illustrates, sometimes the best things in life aren't planned.


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