Q. You starred in films like Can't Buy Me Love in your 20s, then made an acting comeback in your 30s on TV's Will & Grace. Was fame different the second time around?
A. Totally. Back then I wasn't ready for such recognition; I would have short-circuited! But now it's a blast. Those interim years of struggle allowed me to appreciate success more fully. Luckily I have survived in the business for 25 years.
Q. And your new movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, just came out. Your boys must be excited!
A. They're a little young to see the film, but they love the cartoons. When I was considering the role I said, "I'll only do it if I'm given toys for the boys!" Just kidding. But I know one day they'll think it's cool that I got to be in an action movie.
Q. You play a race car driver and racing is one of your biggest passions off-screen. Is that why you took the gig?
A. Everything fell into place. I ran into [director] Michael Bay at a Ferrari event, and he told me about the character's vintage car collection. In fact, the photos of me in the film are from real races.
Q. Knowing you hit speeds up to 170 mph, does Jillian fear for your life?
A. Not at all. She's completely supportive because she understands that racing makes me happy and calms me down in a strange way.
Q. Have your kids exhibited any daredevil tendencies?
A. Oh yeah. Talula loves go-karts, and they all ride skateboards and scooters. They are so active—the older they become, the bigger our first-aid kit gets!
Country road: "We live in California but have homes in Maine (where I'm from) and Texas (where Jillian's from). I think it's important that the children are not always in the Hollywood scene. We want them to experience being surrounded by family and nature."
Slice of life: "We have a pizza oven in the backyard, and we love having family pizza parties. Since the kids choose their own toppings to pile on, they can't complain about not liking what they're eating."
Family circus: "I dabbled in magic as a teen and even competed as a juggler. So when I need to keep the kids occupied, those skills come in handy, no pun intended."
Proudest moment: Creating the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. "After my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I wanted to give back to the wellness community in my hometown where she was treated. Patients should know someone is looking out for them."
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.