As they say in Hollywood, timing is everything and, for child star-turned-“NCIS: Los Angeles” lead Chris O’Donnell, this was certainly the case.
“I got my letter from Boston College and it said, ‘You’re wait-listed,’” the Chicago-born actor recalls of senior year in high school when it was the classroom, and not a film set, on which he had set his aspirational sights. “Then I got a call from David Rubin, the casting director (of ‘Men Don’t Leave’), and he said, ‘You’ve got the part.’ And I couldn’t believe it. He says it’s going to film from July to October. And I sat there thinking, ‘Oh my God. I’m going to miss college.’ And I actually said, ‘Let me call you back.’ Because this was a huge decision. I loved acting, but I was so excited to go to college. I think there was a part of me that was scared, thinking, can I do this? What are the chances that I’ll actually be successful at (acting)? I was the youngest of seven kids and my dad worked his ass off my entire life and I said, ‘I need to have a real job. I can’t just chase an acting career the rest of my life. I need something to back it up.’ So the idea of getting a finance degree, because I also loved business, just made sense. I figured if the acting thing doesn’t work out, that’s what I’ll pursue.And then Boston College sent me a letter and said, ‘You’re off the wait-list. Unfortunately we can’t take you until January.’ And I said, ‘This is meant to be.’”
It wasn’t until sophomore year when a roommate relayed a phone message from Barbra Streisand that fellow classmates noticed O’Donnell wasn’t your average co-ed majoring in finance.
“I wouldn’t trade my current job for anything,” says O’Donnell. “It affords me the ability to be in Los Angeles, to see my kids every day and have a steady job. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years and it’s just crazy. To still be providing for my family like this is so great.
And I love the people I work with. I remember sitting in my house as a kid and watching LL Cool J in videos. If you would have told me that 30 years later he and I would be spending every waking hour together, I would have been like, ‘You’re insane.’ It’s so funny how life brings you together with certain people. He and I have a solid bond and I can trust that guy with my life.”
But while working in television is “very satisfying on a professional and an artistic level,” the itch to return to the bigscreen remains.
“I want to do film again at some point,” says O’Donnell. “And I will. I’m actually excited, when the show ends someday, to take some time off for a while. I’ll be a 50-year-old guy. I’ll be a different person than people remember. And there will be exciting new roles to take on, but this is where I’m supposed to be right now.”