By David Hochman
Six seasons into Grey's Anatomy and Patrick Dempsey—aka Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd—still makes fans' hearts skip a little as he performs brain surgery within the walls of the show's Seattle Grace Hospital. The actor, 44, dons a dashing doctor's coat again in the movie Valentine's Day, a comic homage to amore that stars an ensemble cast, including Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway. Without the stethoscope, though, McDreamy is more McDude, a family man (he and his wife, makeup artist Jillian Dempsey, have a daughter, Talula, eight, and three-year-old twin sons, Darby and Sullivan) with a low-key approach to romance and a serious passion for … auto racing? Luckily, that's only one of the things that rev his engine. Here, he confides a few more.
1. A sense of humor, strength, and, oh God, understanding. The three things I love in a woman.
2. My wife's sense of humor. Her response to my nickname? Amusement.
3. My wife's strength. Marriage works best when you're completely open with each other, and free to be an individual, and strong enough to go off and do your thing.
4. My wife's understanding. She knows how important it is for me to race, where I can totally recharge myself. Racing rounds me out, so then I can balance my life with my wife, career, children, and myself.
5. Love before jewelry. I've never really believed in Valentine's Day. You're anxious about buying the right gift, but it's really about your heart, not a TV commercial for De Beers diamonds. The best Valentine's Days are magical and spontaneous and just sort of unfold.
6. Marriage. Once you go through the Romeo-Juliet phase of a relationship, you can become road-weary. The key is to find that childlike innocence and openness again. Little things—Jillian recently surprised me with wood chimes. Anytime the wind blows, it reminds me of her.
7. The girl behind home plate. My first kiss was behind the backstop of a baseball field. I was in fifth or sixth grade and very nervous, intimidated, and unsure. Girls are all-consuming at that age.
8. My lab coat. Did I ever think I was going to be a doctor when I grew up? Nope. But the role is a good fit for me. When you play a doctor, you project a sense of authority and security and safety. I like that energy.
9. Faking it. It's easy to make brain surgery look real because it's all about staying still or making small movements—unlike open-heart surgery, which is much more physical. What's not easy is when we show a brain on TV. Sometimes we use real animal parts, which disturbs people on the set.
10. Sunrise. It's my favorite time. The older you get, and certainly when you have children, you're up anyway. You might as well enjoy it. And then I like going to work. I enjoy the process of making the show. That's a good day.
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