Pop Culture

Patrick Dempsey Would Rather Be on the Racetrack

It was a scandal. No, it was an injustice. To be beaten like that, in the prime of Grey’s Anatomy, by Matt Damon? Patrick Dempsey deserved more. He deserved to be named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Throughout the early aughts, the honor kept passing television’s chief heartthrob by, leaving him a perpetual Sexiest Man bridesmaid—one who estimates he was named a runner-up for the year’s most important honor a whopping 10 times. Back in 2008, the star promised Vanity Fair Italia that he would strive to reach the mountaintop the following year: “I have to study something for a foolproof campaign,” Dempsey said. “I will ask [George] Clooney, who is an expert. If I’m not mistaken, he has already won a couple of times.”

It took 15 years for Dempsey to make good on his promise. At the age of 57, he has finally been named the Sexiest Man—ironically, after publicly drawing flack for dyeing his famous hair platinum blond, then shaving it all off. For that, we can blame his latest film role: Italian race car driver Piero Taruffi, a highlight of Michael Mann’s Ferrari.

The film focuses on Adam Driver’s Enzo Ferrari as he prepares for the 1957 Mille Miglia race. Taruffi is among his most trusted men—an experienced racer who knows what it takes to win. He’s got a lot in common with Dempsey: a passion for the racetrack, an ease in the face of life’s most dangerous swerves, a gentle stubbornness. “I’ve been on the trail of this script for 15 years,” the actor says. He speaks softly, looking you straight in the eye, focusing more on wisdom than charm. He wears a pinstripe suit, a light beige pullover, and a pair of loafers without socks. His hair has grown back too—though now it’s perhaps a little grayer.

Vanity Fair: How did you originally get involved in Ferrari?

Patrick Dempsey: I met Michael [Mann] through Motorsport, a car event. And I had read his script many years ago, maybe 15 years ago. He really captures the essence of Peter Brock’s book. I kept tracking it, and there was an actor attached to play Enzo, and that fell through because there was a racing movie that didn’t do well financially. And then Ford v Ferrari did really well, and Drive to Survive has just blown up Formula 1. So now people really love it. So the opportunity came up.

I was like, “Hey Michael, can I read the new script?” He told me what was going on and where it was at, and I’m like, “Look, I’ll be a PA on the movie. I’ll do anything. I just want to be a part of it.” He goes, “Okay, let me think about it.” And I don’t hear anything for a couple months. And then all of a sudden I get a call like, “Okay, you want to do Taruffi?” I go “Absolutely.”

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