At 46, actor Chris O’Donnell still has the same boyish charm that helped launch his career more than 20 years ago in films like Fried Green Tomatoes and Scent of a Woman. For the past six years, his role as Special Agent G. Callen on NBC’s NCIS: Los Angeles has kept him happily close to home in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife of 20 years, Caroline Fentress, and their five children. The youngest of seven kids himself, O’Donnell reveals the special bond he has with his mom Julie O’Donnell, why he owes his acting career to her, and some of her parenting secrets.
What did you learn from your mother?
I definitely got her stubbornness, and I mean that in a good way. It’s that mentality where you’ll do it all yourself to get it done just the way you want. We entertained a lot because we had a big family and we also seemed to have a revolving door of people coming over, especially friends. Mom could cook for 30 people, and the kitchen would never look messed up, and she could put out a great meal. Just watching the way she would work, it rubbed off on me.
What do you appreciate about your mom now, that you didn’t when you were younger?
Now that I have five kids of my own, I think about the moments where she just decided what was best for us, and that was the way it was going to be. We could fight about it, but it wasn’t going to change because she knew best. If there was a kid she thought was not a good influence on you, you were not doing a sleepover at his house and that was just the end of the story.
Every day I’m faced with a different challenge with my own kids. I’m always thinking back, Well, what did Mom used to say here? I’m using the old, ”Because I said so,” which carries a lot of weight. I look back on it now as a parent and I think, Yeah, she put her foot down because she was the law. Dad [William Charles O’Donnell, Sr.] was working all the time and Mom ran that house with seven kids. If she had to call on Dad for backup, that was one thing, but she was running the ship and she was pretty good at that.
How has your relationship with her changed over the years?
I was her youngest, so I was her little precious love and her baby, and I’m sure I got spoiled rotten. But as you get older, and suddenly you’re running your own family, the relationship changes. You’re both adults, and people have different opinions. If there’s something she’s doing now or something that I don’t agree with, I will speak up.
What’s the best advice she gave you?
She was never an actress, although it was always her dream as a kid. She wrote fan letters to all her favorite stars, so the fact that I’m in this business is a dream come true for her.
When I was a little…