Patrick Dempsey Talks Racing, Watches, Film Projects at TAG Heuer Party

TAG Heuer Patrick Dempsey Event Main - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TAG Heuer

Helping to unveil the brand's 50th anniversary Monaco watch, Dempsey commented on the watch's cameo in the 1971 Steve McQueen film 'Le Mans.' “That kind of product placement was really vanguard at the time … and of course there’s nobody cooler than McQueen.”

Patrick Dempsey isn’t one of Hollywood’s typical brand ambassadors, who often aren’t asked to do much more than show up at various events, mingle with VIP clients, and always be seen wearing the product. A TAG Heuer ambassador since 2014, both Dempsey’s role and his enthusiasm are evident as he discusses the brand’s iconic Monaco timepiece, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“This particular watch I used through the running of Le Mans this year,” the actor explained to The Hollywood Reporter, gesturing to the Monaco on his wrist. “I used it for the timing and the pit stops and was part of the [research and development], which is really exciting. The practical side, to capture time with sports, that’s how I use it.”

On Wednesday night at New York’s Cipriani 25 Broadway, Dempsey introduced that Monaco to the more than 500 guests who turned up to catch this latest debut, the third in a series of five models created to celebrate the anniversary. TAG Heuer is issuing a different timepiece for each of the Monaco’s five decades: The watches honoring the ‘70s and ‘80s were released in May at Monaco’s Formula 1 Grand Prix and in June at Le Mans, France, respectively.

Following a light show on Cipriani’s Italianate walls and ceiling, Dempsey, in an ivory linen Brunello Cucinelli suit, took center stage alongside Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne to premiere the ‘90s homage, a chronograph with a gray grained rhodium-plated dial in a 39mm stainless-steel square case. (This year’s Formula E race takes place July 13 and 14 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, hence the timing of TAG Heuer’s event.) The ‘90s-era Monaco retails for $6,550 and, like the other anniversary editions, is limited to 169 pieces.

The Monaco was introduced in 1969 by Jack Heuer, great-grandson of the company’s founder; now 86 years old, he’s the retired honorary chairman. “The greatest honor for me has been the ability to get to know Jack Heuer, to understand everything he did,” Dempsey said. “He really geeks out over the technical side of [watches]. He’s an engineer, so he loves that. But it’s also how he marketed the watches. His story is really something special.” 

Though his passion for watches extends beyond TAG Heuer, the brand’s history with racing also clearly resonates with Dempsey, who wore a Monaco at Le Mans even before he signed on as an ambassador. As the watch commemorates 50 years, it’s easy to conjure the imagery of another actor who also embraced racing, Steve McQueen, who famously wore the watch in the 1971 film Le Mans. The production had requested TAG Heuer chronographs for the film, and Heuer sent three models: the Carrera, Autavia and the Monaco, which hadn’t enjoyed the sales Heuer had hoped for the square timepiece. It was McQueen who chose the Monaco.

“That kind of product placement was really vanguard at the time,” Dempsey pointed out to THR. “The narrative of the story is a bit tricky, but I think it captures the essence of Le Mans and the time and place perfectly. And of course there’s nobody cooler than McQueen. It’s a perfect combination of Hollywood and racing.”

Hollywood’s history includes a healthy assortment of actors with a passion for racing — most notably McQueen, Paul Newman and James Garner — and Dempsey, both a driver and team owner, is all too happy to include himself in that group. “The real passion for the sport, the personal challenges, and also the camaraderie — I love all of those things,” he said. “It would have been nice to go back in time and be together with those guys at the same time and race together. It’s something you can fantasize about, certainly.”

Dempsey says he’s satisfied by the ways in which he’s able to combine his two passions. He’s a producer on The Art of Racing in the Rain, based on the 2008 Garth Stein novel; starring Amanda Seyfried and This Is Us’s Milo Ventimiglia, the Simon Curtis-directed film is set for an Aug. 9 release. Dempsey also is the executive producer of Hurley, currently available on iTunes, a documentary about ‘70s racing champion Hurley Haywood, who was a five-time winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona and also won at the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans — all while concealing that he was gay. “He talks about his sexuality and also his journey in motorsport,” noted Dempsey, who appears in the film.

On the horizon is Devilsa 10-part series produced by Sky Italia and Lux Vide, which Dempsey noted should see a U.S. release in 2020. “It’s a financial thriller set in 2011 — we shot most of it in London and Europe, and it’s a different type of character for me. He’s someone much darker than I’ve ever played before.”

Asked if he likes exploring his villainous side, Dempsey smiled. “It’s always good when on your first day, you’re nervous — that means you’re trying something different,” he said. “With racing or acting or anything, it’s important to learn to embrace being comfortable. That can fuel you and be a lot of fun.”