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The Transformation Of Dylan McDermott From Childhood To Law & Order: Organized Crime

Many a die-hard Dylan McDermott fan will remember him as one of the dramatic go-to hunks of the 1990s. In addition to starring opposite Julia Roberts in "Steel Magnolias," the actor brought Manhattan yuppie Sal to life in the original (read: the only) "Jersey Girl" in 1992, and after taking on roles in "In the Line of Fire," 1994's "Miracle on 34th Street," and Jodie Foster's "Home for the Holidays" (one of her earliest turns as director), McDermott became a primetime staple as lead defense attorney Bobby Donnell in "The Practice," which ran until 2004. But despite his early and ongoing success, McDermott's road to stardom — and to playing crime boss Richard Wheatley on "Law & Order: Organized Crime" — was both atypical and anything but easy.

In a 2020 article for the Wall Street Journal, the actor spoke at-length with Marc Myers about his upbringing in Waterbury, Connecticut, the difficult circumstances that led to his childhood reliance on sitcoms, his mother's death, and his eventual adoption by (and close relationship with) his stepmother, "The Vagina Monologues" author Eve Ensler. While McDermott may seem like he was born into the role of film and television star, the interview revealed he hadn't even considered acting until his late teens.

Dylan McDermott overcame a difficult childhood

In "Sitcoms Taught Dylan McDermott Everything He Knew About Family," the actor explained to The Wall Street Journal that his parents were just teenagers when they married, and after they split up, he and his sister Robin went to live with his maternal grandmother, Avis. "She was a 'swamp Yankee' from Maine and as tough as nails," he said, adding that "She worked two jobs — one in a factory making machine parts and the other as a caterer." As a "latchkey kid," McDermott spent a lot of time in front of the television. "Sitcoms weren't just entertainment for me," he explained. "They were educational. I learned everything about how families were supposed to behave. I mirrored what they did." 

McDermott's mother Diane was killed in 1967, and her death was ruled an accident until an investigation in 2012 reclassified it as murder. Though he's understandably been hesitant to discuss such a personal matter with the public, McDermott did shed some light on it, admitting that "it has been a long unraveling to the truth," and that questions remain for him. While living with his grandmother in Waterbury, the future "American Horror Story" star was frequently robbed, and at one point came face-to-face with an intruder at the age of 11, forcing him to become "an adult fast." At just 14, McDermott was already working in his father's Greenwich Village bar until the wee hours of the morning, then heading to clubs. It wasn't until his father's 1978 marriage to an up-and-coming playwright that the then-17-year-old McDermott was inspired to try acting. 

McDermott's adoptive mother was the first to encourage him to act

In a 2014 interview with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation (via YouTube), Dylan McDermott explained that Eve Ensler, who legally adopted him when he was 19, was "that one person" who believed in him. "My theory," he said, "is that all you need is one person to believe in you, and you can do anything ... (Ensler) saw something in me that I never saw in myself and she said, 'you're an actor,' when I was 15 years old." Ensler took McDermott to his first acting class at HB Studios, he told the SAG Foundation, and he was instantly "enamored of it" — a feeling that surprised him, since, having waited on so many actors during his time in Greenwich Village, he'd (unsurprisingly) come to believe "they were all horrible." 

In a 1999 interview with The New York Times' Dinitia Smith, Ensler sang McDermott's praises as well, crediting him with her learning "how to be a loving human being," and saying she "always wanted him to know he had a mother." McDermott eventually starred in Ensler's play ”Scooncat” as "a man ruled by technology," and to this day, the two remain close. McDermott, whose birth name is Mark (but who was told to change it for his career), ultimately changed his name to Dylan after Ensler suffered a miscarriage around the time he landed his first role. "I changed my name to the baby's name they had chosen," he told The Wall Street Journal, "out of my love for her." 

Despite a difficult childhood, McDermott's relationship with Ensler served as a source of stability and inspiration, and it's no wonder he repeatedly credits the playwright with more than simply helping him launch his career.  

McDermott found love in a coffee shop in the '90s

Like so many Gen-Xers, and nearly every character on "Friends," Dylan McDermott met his first spouse in a coffee shop in the early '90s. As he told Diane Sawyer of then-wife Shiva Rose in a 2001 interview (via People), "I was in love with her right away ... For her, it was a little longer, you know, a couple of years. But for me, it was right away. I guess it was grace." The pair married in 1995, and had two children together, Collette (born in 1996) and Charlotte (born in 2005). 

Rose and McDermott separated in 2007, and their divorce was made official in 2008 and finalized in 2009 (via People). At the time, McDermott had recently starred in Danny Pang and Oxide Chun Pang's "The Messengers," as well as ABC's short-lived dramedy, "Big Shots," while Rose had starred opposite David Moscow in "David & Layla," and popped up in television series "CSI: Miami" and NBC's "Las Vegas." 

Despite their public careers, both actors managed to keep the details of their divorce out of the press, and by 2009-10, McDermott was already back on the big screen in Patrick Hoelck's "Mercy" (not to be confused with Peter Cornwell's "Mercy," also starring McDermott) and Christopher Landon's subversive comedy thriller "Burning Palms" (via IMDb). After returning to TV as Officer Carter Shaw in TNT's "Dark Blue" and landing another lead role in CBS' short-lived mystery thriller "Hostages" (with "Hereditary" star Toni Collette), McDermott went on to play T.A.U. officer Jack Larsen in CBS' "Stalker." It was there where he met the significant other to whom he'd be connected for the next few years.

Dylan McDermott was engaged to Divergent star Maggie Q

In 2014, rumors began circling that McDermott was dating his "Stalkers" co-star, Maggie Q (via US Weekly). An accomplished actor and producer, by 2014, Q had already starred in "Mission: Impossible III," Len Wiseman's "Live Free or Die Hard," Robert Ben Garant's comedy "Balls of Fury," and the "Divergent" franchise. From 2010 to 2013, she played the titular role in "Nikita," The CW's reboot of 1997's "La Femme Nikita." 

The two did eventually confirm their relationship and later engagement, and in March of 2016, Q discussed wedding plans with People Magazine. "I want intimacy, and I want it small," she told the outlet, adding "I don't like big affairs. I don't really even love weddings. They feel like an event to me, and I m not really big on events ...I think traveling is in order." The wedding didn't ultimately take place anywhere, or at all, as the pair split after a four-year engagement. Since then, McDermott has been linked to both model Hettielly Beck (via Page Six) and table tennis pro Soo Yeon Lee (via Daily Mail). 

Romantic rumors notwithstanding, since the actor tends to keep his private life, well, private, it seems his most significant partner-in-crime following divorce and engagement to Q has actually been the Master of the Miniseries, writer-director-creator and Netflix-take-over-er, Ryan Murphy

McDermott and Ryan Murphy are a match made in heaven

Though McDermott is perhaps best known in the Ryan Murphy universe for his role as unfaithful family man and therapist-in-need-of-therapy Dr. Ben Harmon in the inaugural season of "American Horror Story"(a role he'd reprise in "American Horror Stories"), he's also starred in "AHS: Asylum" and "AHS: 1984." Then, in 2020, the "AHS" alum gave an Emmy-nominated performance as Ernie — a mustachioed pimp with dreams of becoming an actor — in Murphy's and co-creator Ian Brennan's "Hollywood." 

In an interview with Collider's Christina Radish, McDermott called his experience on the series "some of the most fun" he's ever had, and said he knew "Hollywood" was "a home run" upon his initial reading of the script. He then gushed about the prolific creator, saying, "That's why you wanna be in business with Ryan Murphy. He supplies these parts that no one else does because nobody thinks outside the box. Everybody just relies on what they've already seen. 'Oh, you've played a lawyer? Maybe he can play a lawyer.' They have zero imagination. And why Ryan is so successful is because he has so much imagination." 

McDermott went on to talk about how "American Horror Story" helped him avoid being typecast for all eternity. "I knew that I had to change," he told the outlet. "I knew that I had to shed that skin of The Practice guy, and I needed to mix it up hard, for me to survive, as an actor...next thing you know, I was crying and masturbating in front of a window (as Ben Harmon)." 

Thanks to all that, McDermott has managed to remain as relevant and in-demand as ever, and it's safe to say his role as the conniving, manipulative, and murderous Richard Wheatley on "L&O: Organized Crime" is a far cry from his role as "'The Practice' guy."