“There’s no real competition,” says Dempsey, with not-quite-imperceptible defensiveness. “We’re so different. It will be interesting to see where the dynamic of that friendship goes in the show. I think the women characters are developed very well. I sometimes feel that the men get a little shortchanged. [Rhimes] is writing an idealized version of what men should be.”

That version sells. And Dempsey’s done little to disillusion fans of Dr. McDreamy off-camera. He’s a self-professed deliriously happy family man. He’s a gentleman. When Isaiah Washington, a costar on Grey’s, reportedly used a homosexual slur to refer to castmate T.R. Knight because Knight was late to the set one day, Dempsey famously got in Washington’s face; the incident ultimately led to Knight’s public coming-out. It also proved that Dempsey’s no wuss, even if he is most beloved by the Oxygen-channel audience. The George Clooney comparisons that began circulating when Dempsey hit it big with Grey’s suddenly seemed less hyperbolic.

“He’s such a great guy,” says Andy Tennant, who directed Sweet Home Alabama, in which Dempsey played Reese Witherspoon’s dashing—and ultimately jilted—fiancé. “George Clooney has larceny in his eyes, but with Patrick the twinkle is genuine affection and generosity and humility.”

“Patrick’s funny. He may be funnier than I am,” says Dane. “I came in to shoot my first scene, and it wasn’t comfortable. If you’re the only one in a towel on a set where everybody’s clothed, it’s kinda rough. We did the first take, and Patrick turned around and asked me when my calendar was coming out. I asked him when his shampoo campaign was coming out.”

“We’re almost there. We’re now in third. He’s bringing it home,” Dempsey says, reading a text message. “Thirty hours of racing in five minutes.” He sighs and puts his BlackBerry down. “That was probably the most important text I got all day—barring all the other bullshit I care about but care less about.”

Dempsey’s been working more in the past year than he has since his mini-heyday in the eighties. That’s when, as has been reported in the press ad nauseam since the runaway success of Grey’s resurrected his career, Dempsey starred in 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love. That same year, he married his manager, Rocky Parker, 48 to his tender 21. His slide into celebrity purgatory began with a string of mediocre movies that didn’t make much money—In the Mood, Loverboy, Mobsters (dubbed “Young Buns With Tommy Guns”). Mobsters director Michael Karbelnikoff remembers Dempsey as a kid on edge: “He was just looking for another actor to bond with and delve into the work. He was a very serious young man. He was pretty angry, married to this woman and looking at life from a place 15 years older than he was. It was hard for him to relax.”