Patrick Dempsey talks Maine, acting and his challenge

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LEWISTON — Actor Patrick Dempsey is the star of one mini-series wrapped and set to premiere in the United States and another TV thriller filming in Rome.

He’s producing the movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” recently sold a documentary about auto racer Hurley Haywood and has his own racing team that competes internationally. He’s a husband and father of three.

But while Dempsey is moving in a dozen directions, there’s only one place to find him later this month: at the 10th annual Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston.

“The fundraising efforts, the individual fundraising efforts, are staggering. It’s amazing what people are capable are doing,” he said by phone Thursday. “It’s humbling to be part of that.”

Dempsey, 52, was born in Lewiston and grew up in Buckfield and Turner. In 2008, he and his siblings founded the Dempsey Centers — then called The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing — in partnership with Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to provide free support to cancer patients and their families.

The Dempsey siblings created the center in honor of their mother, Amanda Dempsey, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997 and battled the disease for 17 years before her death at age 79.

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Today, Dempsey Centers has two locations — Lewiston and South Portland — and serves thousands of people every year.

The Dempsey Challenge is the Dempsey Centers’ largest fundraiser — bringing in more than $1 million a year on average — and it’s one of the biggest events in the area. This year it will be held Sept. 29 and 30.

Earlier this summer, organizers announced that top fundraisers could win a private dinner held during the week of the Challenge at Dempsey’s new Kennebunkport home — a house bought, in part, for the use it could be to the Dempsey Centers. Organizers couldn’t say for sure Dempsey, busy with acting jobs, would attend the dinner. On Thursday, he made his own promise. 

“I’m going to be there,” he said. “I will definitely be there.”

His attendance at the Challenge — he’ll also bike one of the routes with his family — will mean a break from his packed schedule. The Dempsey Challenge comes most notably amid his work on “Devils,” a 10-part TV thriller about an international financial conspiracy.

“Devils” is a change for Dempsey, best-known for starring in romantic comedies and as Dr. Derek Shepherd — “McDreamy” to fans — in the hit show “Grey’s Anatomy.” The change, he said, has been good.

“The last few projects have been really quite different,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve had a great time. Change and being challenged, when you feel like you’re slightly nervous and you’re like, ‘Can I do this?’ that’s a good feeling to be in. Sort of being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.”

But while he’s challenging himself with different roles and new projects, Dempsey  keeps a home base in Maine, where he tries to return once a month. Not too long ago, he tried to bring some of that work home with him.

Before starring in the upcoming Epix mini-series “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair,” Dempsey took director Jean-Jacques Annaud on a drive around his home state.

The thriller, about a writer caught up in a murder investigation, was based on a book by Swiss novelist Joel Dicker. The book was set in New Hampshire. But on that Dempsey-led drive through Maine, Annaud saw something he liked more.

“He goes, ‘Why don’t we just set it in Maine?”‘ Dempsey recalled. “And I was like, ‘Why don’t we just shoot it in Maine?'”

Montreal won the shoot — “It’s very tricky with the tax incentives,” Dempsey said — but Maine was named the setting.  

During production, Dempsey became a kind of guide to all things Maine.

“There’s a few things, certainly with the accents,” he said. “It was almost trying to neutralize it because it’s very hard to get right. That was the big thing that I was very specific on.” 

And Bangor will be pronounced correctly.

“I’m the only one who says ‘Bangor’ and ‘Augusta,'” he said with a laugh.

During his monthly trips home to Maine, Dempsey often stops in the center he helped found. It gives him a chance to work with staff, to talk with cancer patients and their families. 

“That means a lot to me. It’s always very positive and very moving,” he said.

So positive and moving that Dempsey wants the Dempsey Centers to keep growing. It would be great to provide more support and education online for people who can’t drive or don’t live in the area, he said. It would be great to offer massage and other services to the doctors who work with cancer patients. 

“I think sometimes we forget the amount of pressure and the workload that they’re under and that they need support as well,” Dempsey said. 

And it would be wonderful, he said, if there were more help for cancer patients throughout the state.

“Ideally, I would love to be able to have a foundation that could support other like-minded centers throughout the state, so that we’re not taking away from their fundraising capabilities,” he said. “It’s important that we get the treatment to the people who need it and have that collaboration with all the different foundations and centers around the state.” 

Still, the Dempsey Centers and the Challenge have grown faster in 10 years than he expected. He called the effort “remarkable.”

And it’s an effort he’ll stick with, even when other work calls.

“I knew once we made the decision to commit, it was a lifelong commitment to the community, to the state and to this cause,” he said. “Without question.”

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Five Dempsey Challenge fundraisers will be chosen to have dinner with Patrick Dempsey at his cottage in Kennebunkport a couple of days before this year’s Challenge, which is Sept. 29-30. (C. A. Smith Photography)

Actor Patrick Dempsey walks during last year’s Dempsey Challenger in Lewiston to raise money for the cancer support center he helped found. (Dempsey Centers)

Actor Patrick Dempsey participates in last year’s Dempsey Challenger to raise money for the cancer support center he helped found. (Dempsey Centers)

Patrick Dempsey

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