The actor left the ABC hit in 2015 after 11 seasons
Patrick Dempsey talks about leaving Grey’s Anatomy, repairing his marriage and relishing his new role in Bridget Jones’s Baby. Subscribe now for the exclusive interview, only in PEOPLE!
Grey’s Anatomy fans may still be mourning the loss of their beloved Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd after he was killed off last April, but Patrick Dempsey, the actor who played him for 11 seasons, was ready to move on.
“I’m very grateful for Grey’s Anatomy,” Dempsey tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “It’s given me the opportunity to do everything. But at the same time, there was a cost.”
Indeed, long hours and an enormous time commitment began to take a toll on the 50-year-old actor, who also struggled spending so much time away from his wife Jillian and their three children: Talula, 14, and 8-year-old twin boys, Darby and Sullivan.
“I think after a certain period of time, no matter how much money you make, you want control out of your own schedule,” says Dempsey, who stars in Bridget Jones’s Baby, out Sept. 16.
“It had been long enough. It was time for me to move on with other things and other interests. I probably should have moved on a couple of years earlier. I stayed a bit longer than I should have.”
And Dempsey says that when it came to discussions with show creator, Shonda Rhimes, “it was clear we were both ready. But we kept it very quiet.” With no table reads, the actor says no one knew how his character would perish. “I knew he was going to be gone, but I didn’t know how she was going to handle it. Shonda just said, I’m going to do it in a really good way and she did her thing.”
In the end, “I thought it was really interesting,” says Dempsey of McDreamy’s death. “It definitely woke people up. And it was beautifully symbolic in many ways.”
• For exclusive photos and much more from Patrick Dempsey, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Now, the actor is focused on more roles, producing and his work with the Dempsey Center, dedicated to helping patients with cancer and founded in honor of his late mother.
And of course, family. On a ski trip last winter, “I was so happy to be riding a chair life in a snowstorm with my kids,” says Dempsey. “I was really grateful to have the time to just sit down and enjoy stuff like that. I’m definitely more relaxed now. And happier too.”
Bridget Jones’s Baby hits theaters Sept. 16.