Patrick Dempsey: on track

As TAG Heuer launches its final special Monaco watch, brand ambassador Patrick Dempsey talks to us about acting, racing and Steve McQueen

People 28 Oct 2019

TAG Heuer ambassador Patrick Dempsey
Steve McQueen wears a TAG Heuer Monaco watch in the 1971 film Le Mans
The new TAG Heuer Monaco 2009-2019 Special Edition watch (left) with the original TAG Heuer Monaco watch, first released in 1969

Patrick Dempsey, as well as being a Hollywood actor, is also a racing driver and has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race four times, even finishing on the podium in 2015. Le Mans is also the title of the 1971 film in which Steve McQueen plays racing driver Michael Delaney while sporting the distinctive TAG Heuer Monaco. The final special Monaco watch – the world’s first square-dialled chronograph – is due to be released in Shanghai today.

The TAG Heuer Monaco 2009-2019 Special Edition watch
The TAG Heuer Monaco 2009-2019 Special Edition watch

Patrick, like you, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman were actors and racing drivers. What is it about actors and car racing?

It’s funny because Michael Fassbender has started to race with Porsche, and he’s actually really quick. I think if he has the opportunity, he could be very successful. And he loves it. He is one of the guys who is in there and has a natural ability.

Is it about talent and skill, or can you learn it?

I think it’s like any sport, right? And they [drivers] are athletes. Some people just have a natural ability that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never reach that level; you can get close, you can get competitive. In a race anything can happen, especially in an endurance race. It’s not necessarily about one lap speed, it’s about consistency, and knowing what your role is – especially when you have three other drivers [on your team]. You know what your role is, hit your marks and be consistent time-wise. Don’t make mistakes and you can succeed. But for sprint races you have to be fast right away.

Is there a desire for actors like yourself to replicate the on-screen adrenaline and excitement off-screen?

I think it’s all pretend. Acting is pretending; it’s an image, you fall into an archetype. The process in itself is more rewarding than the end result. But there’s something tangible about racing. You know if you’re quick or if you’re not, and it’s done. Success and fame are really quite empty, but when you cross the finish line and you’ve given it everything and you know how far you’ve pushed yourself, there’s something transformative about that. It’s solitary as well: you’re alone in the car with yourself and your thoughts and your emotions. That’s the appeal for me, and from what I read of both McQueen and Newman, they both loved it and I think they loved the camaraderie and the fellowship.

Was McQueen a formative influence for you?

He was always a person you would notice. There’s an essence, an internal quality that he projected, which has a lot to do with his upbringing and his dynamic. His rebellious nature was authentic to that time. He doesn’t come across as a movie star, he comes across as a guy and also really relaxed in his style. You never feel like he’s acting. He’s listening, he’s watching; that’s what I love the most about him. He could say a lot without saying anything.

TAG Heuer’s limited-edition Monaco watches

Of course, Steve McQueen wore a Monaco in the 1971 film Le Mans, something that has helped make this model of chronograph truly iconic.

This year, to celebrate 50 years of the Monaco, TAG Heuer has created five special, limited-edition models of the watch, each representing a different decade. Only 169 of each timepiece have been made – a nod to the Monaco’s 1969 birth date. The previous pieces include the 1970s edition, unveiled during the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix; the 1980s edition, presented at Le Mans; the 1990s edition, launched ahead of the Formula E Championship in New York; and the early 2000s edition, which debuted at an event in Tokyo.

Now it is the turn of the most recent decade, 2009-2019, which brings the Monaco story up to date. The last limited edition is a thoroughly modern, minimal Monaco, inspired by the sleek luxury codes that have characterised much of design in the past 10 years.

This model has polished pushers and an unconventional sandblasted stainless-steel case, and comes on a perforated black calfskin strap with black lining and grey stitching. A charcoal-coloured sunray dial features black-gold-plated indexes with SuperLuminova® so they are visible in low light and the dark. To ensure legibility in any conditions, the black-gold-plated hour and minute hands have a stripe of SuperLuminova® too. Rhodium-plated subdials also have a sunray effect. The marker at the 12 o’clock position on the dial is in red, as are the subdial hands and central seconds hand.

An unconventional feature, which has distinguished the Monaco over the past 50 years, is the position of the pushers on the right of the case, while the polished crown is on the left. This was the configuration on the original watch at launch in 1969.

The case houses the Calibre 11, a modern version of the automatic-winding chronograph movement that first appeared in 1969 inside the original Monaco.

The caseback of this special edition is engraved with “One of 169”, the “Monaco Heuer” logo and “2009-2019 Special Edition”. Displaying a design inspired by the original model, the stainless-steel caseback features a polished, vertical and circular brushed finishing.