Why Rob Lowe Thinks Patrick Dempsey Was The Better Choice As Grey's Anatomy's Derek

(Image credit: Vanity Fair)

Grey’s Anatomy has spanned 16 years and 17 seasons so far, catapulting actors and showrunners into epic fame and fortune. Its notoriety in the years since its premiere is widespread, but it took many by surprise back in the early days. West Wing veteran Rob Lowe initially turned down the show’s lead role of Derek Shepherd, and now thinks Patrick Dempsey was the better choice for the character known as "McDreamy."

In an interview with Variety, Rob Lowe explained his perspective on the iconic Grey’s Anatomy character and what him playing Derek Shepherd rather than Patrick Dempsey would have meant for his career.

The veteran actor, famous for a 7-year stint on The West Wing, had this to say,

This is what longevity, experience and recovery give you. There are no accidents. Whatever decision you come to, if you come to it from the right place, it’s never wrong. Me in that part isn’t as interesting as Patrick in that part. If it’d been me (the fans) wouldn’t have called me ‘McDreamy,’ they would have called me Rob Lowe.

In other words, Rob Lowe doesn’t suppose he could have made the character into the husky heartthrob surgeon quite like Patrick Dempsey. It’s a compliment to Dempsey, who ultimately did perfect the smolder on Grey’s Anatomy, but I’m not so sure that Lowe couldn't have nailed the part in his own way, and not just because he was a teen heartthrob and Emmy-nominated star of The West Wing who now lives a mile away from a royal prince.

Alas, Rob Lowe was destined for other great parts. He reflected that turning down Grey’s Anatomy set him up for a role in Parks and Recreation, stating,

That alone for me is enough.

Indeed, Parks and Rec would have just not have been the same without Rob Lowe, just as Grey's Anatomy wouldn't have been the same without Patrick Dempsey. After all, Parks and Rec became a hit in its own way as a comedy shot in the similar mockumentary style of The Office. At the time of its airing, Rolling Stone determined that the show “defined” the Obama-era of political humor.

Characters were notorious for their individual quirky mannerism and personalities. Rob Lowe’s character, Chris Traeger, evened out the crew of misfits with his positive demeanor and deadpan obsession with fitness. It’s hard to imagine Patrick Dempsey finding the same kind of subtle humor that Rob Lowe and the others managed in the legendary Snake Juice episode.

Rob Lowe can tip his hat to Patrick Dempsey in Grey’s Anatomy all he likes. But his dramatic and comedic talents are undisputed – and hey, a chiseled jawline never hurt the facts either.

Lauren Vanderveen
Movies and TV News Writer

Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.