Patrick Dempsey is as comfortable on the race track as he is on screen. The TAG Heuer global brand ambassador was in town recently to talk about his role with the brand as well as life after Grey’s Anatomy.

In 2005, TV series Grey’s Anatomy catapulted Patrick Galen Dempsey to stardom and earned him the nickname, McDreamy — in reference to his good looks. In Season 11, however, Dempsey left the series after his character Dr Derek Shepherd died of head injuries.

Was that a good thing? We think so, as it left him with time to pursue other interests such as different acting roles, directing, racing cars and his responsibility as TAG Heuer’s global brand ambassador.

In September, Options met with the actor when he was in Singapore for the first time at the invitation of TAG Heuer to celebrate the brand’s DNA in motor racing, as well as to launch the Heuer Globetrotter exhibition. The interview was held in one of the suites at the St Regis Hotel. We were expecting an entourage to greet us when we rang the doorbell, but were pleasantly surprised to see him standing in the doorway.

He greets us with a firm handshake. He is dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans, his salt-and-pepper hair (more salt now) is stylishly tousled and his blue eyes, although tired, are dreamy. At 51, Dempsey is still handsome, albeit with a few extra wrinkles. We are hoping to see him in a new movie soon, but he tells us otherwise.

Dempsey is currently filming the 10-episode TV adaptation of a bestselling thriller written by Swiss author Joël Dicker, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, which is scheduled for release in 2018. It tells of a college professor who is under investigation for the murder of a young girl 33 years earlier. Dempsey plays Quebert, in a role that is a departure from his usual boy-meets-girl movies.

“The [filming] will take me until about Christmas and then we’ll see. In this [series], I play a different character. It will, I think, challenge the fans a little bit, but at the same time, give them what they want. It’s a romantic thriller. It’s a little darker than what I’ve done in the past. I’m moving forward, I think, and that’s good, and it’s stretching and growing, hopefully,” he says.

Dream team
TAG Heuer took note of Dempsey’s changing role from TV to movies along with his interest in racing cars and invited him in 2014 to be the brand’s global ambassador. It is a role Dempsey associates closely with, he says. “I was excited to be part of a brand that sponsors a race team. I think [it was because of] the history of the brand and its association with Le Mans, and certainly [Steve] McQueen. Also, the image of the Monaco watch and, you know, it was through motor sports that it really became such an iconic brand. It’s also one of the first big sponsors in motor sports. So, for me, it was like a perfect partnership.”

In June, Dempsey (through the Dempsey Racing Team, which he founded in 2006 with TAG Heuer as sponsor) took part in the gruelling Le Mans 24-hour race that is usually held in France. The team, racing in the Porsche 911 RSR, finished sixth in the annual event.

We cannot help but draw parallels between Dempsey and McQueen — both actors, with a love of racing and TAG Heuer ambassadors. While McQueen acted in the 1970 cult movie Le Mans, wearing the square-dial Heuer Monaco on his wrist, he never actually took part in the race.

Dempsey says, “Well, I think it’s hard to compare myself to McQueen. He’s such an iconic character and a person who [knew who he was]. It’s nice to be mentioned alongside him. I’m very proud of the fact that I got a chance to race at Le Mans and was able to take the podium. He never did it. He didn’t get a chance to race there. He did make a movie [though] and it’s nice to be a part of that. Certainly, it’s nice to be a part of the history.”

Dempsey has always kept his cool, whether over tabloid stories or during races. He embodies TAG Heuer’s tag line — Don’t Crack Under Pressure — and identifies with it. A case in point is the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji race in Japan in 2015, for which he raced the final part for the Dempsey Proton Racing team to finish first.

He elaborates, “One [aspect] that really is in context with [the tag line] and certainly within racing is when we won in Japan and improved at the podium [compared with our performance in] Le Mans. There was a lot of pressure because we were leading the race. I had to finish my stint and it was the last one before the end of the race and I had just remembered that it was my race to lose if I didn’t keep it together. I realised that and breathed and got the job done.”

TAG Heuer also gave him the opportunity to make his directorial debut in a biographical short film on Jack Heuer. It’s a lovely mood piece shot in black-and-white and is now available for viewing on Youtube. This begs the question of whether Dempsey will ever play [the great-grandson of TAG Heuer founder Edouard Heuer] in a feature film or even direct it.

He replies, “Well, it’s funny, we were talking about that this morning. I think it’d be fun to do a story about him when he first went to New York, the moment when he was really kind of taking over the company and it was the new generation. This was New York in the 1950s and the evolution of the brand and his brilliance when it came to marketing. I think there’s a lot to be said there.”

TAG Heuer was founded in 1860 and has been pushing the envelope when it comes to technical creations since. CEO of TAG Heuer and president of the LVMH Group Watch Division Jean-Claude Biver began steering the brand to greater heights when he took over in 2014. In just one year, he had gained market share and TAG Heuer has been performing better than before.

The brand enjoys great popularity, as does Dempsey. On Sept 13, at least 500 people showed up outside TAG Heuer’s Wisma Atria boutique to catch a glimpse of Dempsey as he declared the recently concluded Heuer Globetrotter exhibition open. The exhibition had a unique concept that saw 10 different boutiques worldwide exhibiting 40 vintage watches each. In total, 400 TAG Heuer vintage timepieces were on display concurrently.

It was the Formula 1 weekend too, and Dempsey along with F1 driver Max Verstappen formed two teams each and battled it out on the latest racing video game, Gran Turismo Sport. The day’s festivities included the launch of the Carrera Heuer 01 Red Bull Racing Edition Timepiece.

The early years
Dempsey’s first brush with TAG Heuer began as a child. He recalls that he was seven or eight years old when he noticed the TAG Heuer logo on his Matchbox cars. In a recent Architectural Digest interview, the actor said he grew up in Maine, right next to Route 4. His dad used to race cars and would bring home a Matchbox car for Dempsey once a week.

Fast forward to few years ago. Dempsey bought a 1972 Monaco TAG Heuer vintage watch, which he still wears on a regular basis — clearly, he has always been a fan of the brand.

The actor has had a long career in Hollywood, beginning in the 1980s with movies such as Heaven Help Us opposite Andrew McCarthy. In the 1990s and the noughties, his roles were meatier. We remember him in Face the Music with Molly Ringwald and 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama, one of his most memorable rom-com roles, opposite Reese Witherspoon. His other notable movies include Enchanted (2007), Made of Honor (2008), Valentine’s Day (2010) and Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016).

As the projects keep pouring in, Dempsey ensures he spends quality time with his wife Jillian Fink and their three children . What’s his definition of time? “I think it’s to be present and without distraction. I think that’s what it means. Time well spent is to be present, not in the past or the future but where you are with the company that you’re with.”

His time is also spent giving back to society. On Oct 7, he held a bike-and-run event called the “Dempsey Challenge” in his hometown of Lewiston, Maine to raise money for a cancer centre he started in partnership with a hospital in 2008. The creation of the centre was inspired by his mother, who died of cancer in 2014.

If any of you are still entertaining the notion that Dempsey might put on his McDreamy scrubs again, you’ll be disappointed. In a Vanity Fair interview late last year, Dempsey said, “I think after a certain period of time, no matter how much money you make, you want control out of your own schedule. It had been long enough. It was time for me to move on with other things and other interests. I probably should have moved on a couple of years earlier. I stayed a bit longer than I should have.”

He is now making up for lost time, and we’re betting the best is yet to come.

Since Dempsey loves racing, we threw him a speed round and asked him to say the first thing that came to mind. Even in his jet-lagged state (he had arrived early that morning and left the same day), he was still sharp, answering at lightning speed.
Options: TAG Heuer
Dempsey: Dream come true
Speed: Slow
Time: Not enough
 Family: Everything

Dream timepieces
You do not have to be a Hollywood star nor drive race cars to be able to own one of these TAG Heuer timepieces. Here are two you might want to consider.

Red Bull Racing Formula One Team Carrera Heuer-01
TAG Heuer has been the official timekeeper, official watch and team performance partner of the Red Bull racing car since 2016. What is not to like about this chronograph beauty in steel with its eye-catching 45mm diameter that highlights the colours of midnight blue and red — the team’s official colours.

On the dial, you notice the three counters: chronograph minute counter at 12 o’clock with snailed ring and red lacquered hand; chronograph hour counter at 6 o’clock with snailed ring and red lacquered hand; and small seconds counter at 9 o’clock with snailed ring and polished, rhodium-plated hand.

Look behind and you can admire the Calibre Heuer-01 Automatic Manufacture Chronograph movement through the blue skeleton dial and sapphire caseback, bearing the Red Bull Racing Team’s logo. The bracelet H-link steel bracelet or blue leather and black rubber strap with a racing car-seat effect and steel deployment buckle with safety pushbuttons and TAG Heuer logo round off the look.

Back in 1962, Jack Heuer designed the Autavia — a name derived from the worlds of automobile and aviation. This year, it made its appearance at Baselworld. While it kept to its root designs, some changes were necessary.

Firstly, it has been upsized from 39mm to a bold 42mm version and features a 12-hour graduated bezel that protects the new Heuer-02 calibre proprietary chronograph movement. Some of the watch’s functions include a self-winding calibre, power reserve of 80 hours, date at 6 o’clock and water resistance to 100m. In black aluminium, the bidirectional notched bezel encircles a black dial with three white snailed counters in an optimal layout.

For the collectors, not to worry, the retro lines are still present such as the “Mushroom” push-pieces, a ridged crown and the Heuer logo. For the vintage touch, a distressed calfskin leather strap pulls the retro look together.

This article appeared in Issue 801 (Oct 16) of The Edge Singapore.