Patrick Dempsey arrives at the opening of the TAG Heuer flagship boutique in Sydney. Photography courtesy of TAG Heuer.

“WHAT MADE YOU become a writer?” Was the first thing Patrick Dempsey asked as we entered a dark, speakeasy-style location reserved for the Hollywood heartthrob. The inquisitive, industrious Mr. Dempsey—who was recently named People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’—is every bit as curious as his interviewer. “I grew up reading Esquire,” he tells us. Then, we get into the nitty gritty of why the 58-year-old finds himself in a hot and humid Sydney in late February. 

Dempsey is in Australia with TAG Heuer, a brand he’s been a global ambassador for close to a decade, to open its newly minted Sydney flagship boutique; a move made as the brand continues to expand its footprint in the high-performing luxury watch market. With TAG Heuer’s newly appointed CEO Julien Tornare in tow—and his first official appearance for the brand—the luxury Swiss watchmaker promised a party fit for Hollywood, with the guest list including global stars like Troye Sivan and G Flip. But if there’s one thing that becomes apparent after spending 20 minutes with the actor-turned-race car driver, it’s that Patrick Dempsey is not only a really nice guy, his demeanour akin to the bedside manner of his long-standing character, Dr. Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy, but he’s also a touch shy. He seems perfectly happy chatting about his love for TAG Heuer, racing and watches in a quiet corner, despite the fact a glamorous party inside Sydney’s Machine Hall is about to ensue. 

Here, Esquire chats with Dempsey about all things watches, racing and why Michael Mann’s Ferrari, which combined his two great loves,was the “best job” he’s ever had.

Patrick Dempsey with CEO of TAG Heuer Julien Tornare. Photography courtesy of TAG Heuer.

Esquire: It’s been ten years since you first joined TAG Heuer as a brand ambassador, and looking back, it really seems like a match made in heaven given your passion for racing. Looking back, do you have a favourite ‘TAG Heuer’ moment?

Patrick Dempsey: Yes, it’s been ten years in June. How it started was, I needed to pay the bills to go racing and they [TAG Heuer] came on as a sponsor and that was the greatest moment—it was right in the paddock right before the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014. That was a stellar moment, and of course, being on the podium as a driver and then as a team owner with a TAG Heuer watch on… those moments are pretty special. Last year we got a chance to do the Carrera Panamericana, which was another special experience. And even today, we were out on the Sydney Harbour running around in a vintage Riva boat, which was super cool. 

You’re also a Porsche ambassador, which TAG Heuer notably shares a connection with under its Carrera and Connected series. So there seems to be this very genuine, authentic and holistic relationship which we can imagine being extremely rare and special. 

I’ve been with Porsche for almost 12 years now, and ten years with TAG Heuer. A combination like that is extremely rare. You know, I’m fortunate enough where a lot of opportunities come through, so considering my long-standing partnerships with TAG Heuer and Porsche, it really is just the perfect blend and it’s always been very easy and fun. 

Before joining the TAG Heuer family, were you a “watch guy”?

Not at the level I am now, no. I’ve learned so much through the process, especially in being able to experience opportunities to visit the watchmaking facility in Switzerland and to see what’s up and coming, but also how the company honours its tradition of watchmaking. So really, being with TAG Heuer has accelerated my car collection as well as my watch collection [laughs]. 

Do you have a favourite watch in your collection or perhaps one that has the most sentimental value to you? 

My TAG Heuer Monaco, the first Monaco watch I received, gifted by Jean-Claude Biver at Le Mans. But each watch in my collection has a specific story or experience—it’s like a little time capsule. As soon as I put it on, without fail, it reminds me of an experience. It’s like the TAG Heuer Chronosprint, it reminds me of the Carrera Panamericana; the Monaco reminds me of Le Mans, so having that connection with watches is very special. 

The Carrera Panamericana race was the birthplace for the Heuer Carrera, correct?

Correct! It was one of the most dangerous races in the world which only ran for four years. They still do it in some form and it’s still very dangerous—unfortunately, this year we lost somebody in that race. I think it’s the closest thing to the Mille Miglia or those vintage races of the 1950s. 

I remember Jack Heuer telling me first hand how he got the name ‘Carrera’. He was in the pits at Sebring, and the Rodriguez brothers, who were these incredible drivers from Mexico, were talking about this really dangerous race called the Carrera Panamericana. He discovered Carrera means “race” in Spanish, and that’s how it started. And to hear him tell that story, and then to be able to do the race myself—and my character in ‘Ferrari’, Piero Taruffi, actually won that race—that was an incredible experience. Scary, but fun. 

Budjerah at the opening of the TAG Heuer flagship boutique in Sydney.
G Flip at the opening of the TAG Heuer flagship boutique in Sydney.

What makes a race like the Carrera Panamericana so dangerous?

At certain stages of the race, the roads could be locked down, or maybe not. And the federale, or the police, just let you go crazy. So we were coming out of the city going as fast as we could to make it to the checkpoint in time. And I just could not believe it. They’re like, ‘go, go, go,’ and we’re zipping through the city. It must have been what it was like back in the 50s. I had that experience only once in the Ennstal Classic in Austria—it’s a very similar racing experience, and they were all vintage cars.

Does your love and passion for racing stem back prior to you entering the film industry? 

Well, I never really wanted to be an actor, to tell you the truth. I always wanted to be a ski racer. So I started off ski racing. It’s funny because Jack Heuer was a big skier as well. He used to teach in Vermont on the weekends when he first moved to New York as a young man. He would fly up to Vermont and spend the weekend skiing. So, Ingemar Stenmark is my hero. And my dad was really passionate about cars and racing, he was a team owner. So it started very early on. 

What’s it like being in a room discussing watches with a pioneering figure like Jack Heuer? 

He geeks out on all of this [laughs]. You know, he’s an engineer by trade, so he likes to talk about the watch that was created and the inspiration behind that. It’s really great to see how the company has brought him back in. I mean, he’s 92 years old and he’s still full of passion and enthusiasm and he loves to tell stories.

Crossing over to film, the back end of 2023 was all things Ferrari focused for you. How was your time making that film and working with filmmaking greats like Michael Mann? 

Ferrari was the best job I’ve ever had. Between being in Italy, the food, the cars, Modena, the cycling, you couldn’t beat it. They would do this circuit where they get the new cars off the line, and they would drive by. So I’d ride that circuit just to watch the new cars coming off the line, and you could hear them roaring up the mountain, it was fantastic. 

I also got to do all the driving in Ferrari. That was part of the thing that Michael [Mann] wanted because he and I had known each other for a number of years and we’d always meet at some sort of car event or racing event. So when I found out he was working on Ferrari, I called him to say that I’d love to be a part of the film. And then the stunt coordinator was like, ‘you’re qualified to drive, do it!’

Patrick Dempsey Australia TAG Heuer
Patrick Dempsey at the opening of the TAG Heuer flagship boutique in Sydney.

Some people might not know that you have a racing team, Dempsey Racing. How is 2024 shaping up and is the team working towards a specific event or race?

We’re not doing Le Mans anymore, that program is done. So we’re currently working on a new series that they’re developing in the United States and that will probably be in a Porsche GT4. Stay tuned.

You wear many different hats: you’re a father, actor, race car driver, philanthropist… How do you manage the juggling act?

It’s tricky. Really, you just have to assess what needs the most attention. From there, you focus on that, get that stabilised, and then you move to the next thing. It’s really hard to find a balance; I don’t think that’s possible. It’s just about making sure everything’s up and running and has enough momentum so that you’re spinning plates; you gotta just keep them going [laughs]. 

What’s your favourite TAG Heuer watch?

My [TAG Heuer] Monaco watch. 

What TV series are you currently watching?  

I just finished Drive to Survive Season 6.

We should’ve known. Who’s your acting hero?

Gosh, I don’t know if I have an acting hero. I’ll tell you, the nicest person I ever came in contact with was Gene Wilder. To me, he was the kindest, gentlest star I ever ran into. I’ve met and worked with many others that were not as kind, I can tell you that. But there’s just so many fine actors right now, it’s hard to pick one.  

What’s your favourite racing track?

Spa… and Le Mans.

Greatest compliment you ever received?

Oh, there was one person who didn’t realise I was an actor. Instead, they thought I was a race car driver. That was awesome. 

How would you define yourself in three words?

Trying to improve.


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