June 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

'Last Ship's' Eric Dane has weathered choppy seas

Eric Dane is captain of a ship stuck in the Arctic Circle on 'The Last Ship.' (TNT / MCT)

He's battled some turbulent seas, but actor Eric Dane is at last in command. Professionally and personally he's overcome the odds, which he demonstrates as the captain of the lone Naval destroyer adrift in a world stricken by a deadly virus in TNT's new series "The Last Ship," premiering Sunday.

Dane confesses he harbors a "love-hate" relationship with acting. "When I love it, I love it more than anything," he says. "And when I'm not feeling it, I have a deep disdain for it. I don't know if I can articulate exactly why, but I think with anything there's a balance, and you can't have an intense amount of love for something if you don't have the polar opposite of that for it."

Dane struggled for several years doing roles in "Gideon's Crossing," "Charmed" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," until he suddenly caused cardiac arrest as Dr. Mark Sloan in "Grey's Anatomy." He was signed for one episode, which turned into 140.

But Dane suffered a rough start. He lost his dad at 7. "He was a Navy man and ended up becoming an architect and interior designer. He was a troubled soul," he says, seated in an alcove of a hotel hallway here.

"He died of a gunshot wound. My grandmother thinks it was an accident. Everybody's got a different opinion on it. My mother raised two kids." When asked what his mother did for a living, he shrugs, "My grandparents were OK (financially)."

Now the parent of daughters, 2 and 4, he says he understands what effect his father's death had on him. "I never realized how cognizant and aware I was at the time until I had my own kids and I see how cogent Billie is at the age of 4 and think, 'My God, this must have been devastating at the age of 7.' The awareness that I would've had at that age must've been devastating."

At first Dane had no intention of acting. "I was a water polo player in high school and my season was short and I ended up getting roped into playing Joe Keller in 'All My Sons.' Dead serious. And I fell in love with it. I was, like, this is the greatest feeling ever!"

In fact, he dropped out of high school a month before graduation in San Mateo, Calif. to try his luck in L.A.

"I moved down here with 40 bucks in my pocket and took about three or four acting classes a week and tried to figure out what it was about this thing that I liked so much. I don't know if it was a result of the studying the studying I think made things a bit more complicated for me. I think, for me, if I can dummy things down it's easier for me to wrap my head around it because I have a tendency to complicate things."

Early on he did complicate things, he says. "I used to party a lot when I was a kid and cleaned up my act when I was 26 years old and I stayed a real good boy for a real long time," he nods.

"I got into a lot of trouble. I don't have a (criminal) mug shot but I used to play around with some pretty serious stuff. I've been in rehab a couple of times."

Like his character on "The Last Ship," who's searching the globe for a vaccine, Dane was in hot pursuit of a cure for MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), when he was felled by the disease and hospitalized. Tethered to a Dilaudid drip, he became addicted to pain killers and found himself in rehab again.

"It was sort of a behavioral modification center, it wasn't a stereotypical rehab," he says. "It wasn't a fancy rehab. It was rough. Friends put me there. It was a pretty interesting experience."

Dane is married to actress Rebecca Gayheart. "The gutsiest thing I did was propose to my wife over dinner and jump in the car and fly to Vegas that night to get married," he says.

"I didn't want her to change her mind. Now that I've got her, 'Let's go.' She said yes and she's been saying yes for the last nine years. She said, 'Yes,' and I said, 'Check.' I love that woman."

Having his daughters has altered his perspective, he says. "Being a father changed the way I look at everything; the way I look at my work. There's a certain work ethic that comes along with being an actor, and there's a discipline that comes along with being an actor. It's not just sitting in front of a camera and saying lines. Every time I get maybe a little bogged down because of the process or the long hours, if I can't do it for myself, I can fall back on, 'I'm doing it for my kids,' and that carries me through."