Nov. 9—SACO — Days after driving a race car through northern Italy for the upcoming film "Ferrari," Patrick Dempsey was back in Maine, picking kale and having lunch with local students.
Though the two situations might seem starkly different, the actor and Maine native saw a lot of similarities.
"It actually reminded me of Maine quite a bit, how closely people there live to the land, the traditions they have with farming," Dempsey, 56, said Wednesday, sitting at a picnic table at The Ecology School in Saco. "I think our connection to the land is really important, so it's great to see this school on the site of an old farm, and see these kids learning in nature."
Dempsey was at The Ecology School to meet with students and film promotional videos for the school and one of its major corporate partners, Poland Spring. Dempsey has worked as a spokesman for the Maine bottled water brand, appearing in digital and TV ads. The Ecology School offers weeklong programs in sustainability to students and their teachers from Maine and across the country.
After picking carrots and kale along the banks of the Saco River with about a dozen students from Saco schools, Dempsey had lunch with them and school staff. They ate salad and carrot muffins made with ingredients grown at the school, plus lobster rolls. Dempsey, best known for his role as hunky doctor Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on the ABC medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," chatted with the kids easily. He encouraged some to "eat your kale, it's good for you," he said, and talked about farming and gardening.
"It was sort of surreal meeting a celebrity in person, but he was so nice," said Adeline Burman, 14, a freshman at Thornton Academy in Saco. "It was so cool learning about ecology and just talking about our world."
Dempsey says he tries to get back to Maine about once a month, and hopes to come back more often once his twin sons, now 15, graduate from high school in California in a few years. About six years ago, he bought a Kennebunkport fieldstone house known as Rocky Pastures, once owned by noted Maine author Kenneth Roberts and built in the 1930s. After having a home for years in Harpswell, Dempsey said he was looking for a place in Maine closer to Boston, because of all the flying he does, and started looking around online. He said the idea of buying a historical home and one owned by a famous Maine writer appealed to him.
"I thought 'Wow, Kenneth Roberts.' I knew 'Arundel' and some of his other books. I just thought it was a great opportunity to get something of historical significance," Dempsey said. "I've been working on the restoration and keeping the land undeveloped. We've got a lot of deer and turkeys coming through, and it's nice that the community uses the field in the winter for cross-country skiing."
He says he's letting his sons learn to drive "the way I did," in a pickup truck around the field at their Maine home.
Since buying the Kennebunkport home, Dempsey has been open and engaging with his neighbors. Many happy fans in the Kennebunkport area have posted photos of themselves with Dempsey at corner stores and restaurants. In 2017, Dempsey posed for photos that later appeared on Facebook with a Portland firefighter who was giving him boxing lessons.
In 2020, Dempsey made a video for the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Arundel Chamber of Commerce reminding people to socially distance on the Fourth of July. In 2021, he gave an interview to The Village, a monthly publication covering the area, and talked about living in Kennebunkport, his favorite locations in town and his work with the Dempsey Center.
Dempsey has long been known in Maine for his philanthropy. He started the Dempsey Center, which has locations in Lewiston and South Portland, in 2008 to help cancer patients and their families. His mother's battle with cancer was the inspiration for the center. Amanda Dempsey died in 2014 after a 17-year battle with cancer. Dempsey has raised millions of dollars for cancer treatment, most notably through the annual Dempsey Challenge fundraising bike ride in Maine each fall.
Dempsey grew up in the central Maine towns of Turner and Buckfield, north of Lewiston, and first gained fame as an actor in the 1980s, with roles in the teen comedies "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Loverboy." But he's best known for his role on "Grey's Anatomy," from 2005 to 2015, along with several guest appearances on the show over the last couple of years.
His latest film, the musical fantasy "Disenchanted," begins streaming on Disney-Plus on Nov. 18. It's a sequel to the 2007 film "Enchanted," with Dempsey playing the love interest of Amy Adams' starry-eyed princess. An accomplished race car driver himself, he also plays one (Piero Taruffi) in the upcoming film "Ferrari," about Italian sports car entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari. That film just finished shooting and is due out next year.
When asked about what he's doing next, Dempsey said he wants to spend as much time as he can in Maine and help with continuing the work of the Dempsey Center.
"I'm just really happy to see that the center has emerged from COVID in a much stronger position and that we continue to reach and help more and more people," said Dempsey. "I appreciate Maine more the older I get."