Chris O’Donnell spends his days fighting crime with LL Cool J on the set of the hit drama NCIS: Los Angeles, but when he unwinds at his home on the city’s West Side, he is every inch the family guy-and nothing like the one created by Seth MacFarlane. “For sure my top priority is family,” says O’Donnell, 40, who married his college sweetheart, Caroline Fentress, 37, back in 1997. “Healthy, happy family.” Sipping a can of Tecate in his backyard while his black Lab Kimmy snoozes nearby, O’Donnell adds, “We’ve always wanted to have five kids.”
Though his traffic-stopping roles in Scent of a Woman (opposite Al Pacino) and as Robin in two Batman movies put him on the international lust list, O’Donnell took the less-traveled road in Hollywood: He settled down at age 27. And listening to him gush about his children leaves no doubt about his family values. Lily, 11, “is a really sweet girl…. She loves fashion,” he says; Chip, 9, “has always been joined at the hip with me and is obsessed with sports”; Charlie, 7, “likes his Legos and toys”; Finley, 4, “is independent and real finicky”; and Maeve, 2, “is just the happiest little baby.”
After Maeve came along in 2007, the O’Donnells broke ground on a custom house that will be ready next spring a few miles from the one they live in now. It’s a far cry from the childhood O’Donnell, the youngest of seven, had growing up in Winnetka, Ill., where he shared a bedroom with his three brothers. “We had two sets of bunk beds in one room,” he recalls. “I didn’t get my own room until I was in high school.” The son of a dad “who was in radio,” and a stay-at-home mom, “I grew up in a nice neighborhood,” O’Donnell says, “but this is a different world. This is goofy out here. It’s a lot of people with a lot of crazy money. So it’s a challenge to keep things in perspective for our kids-trying to teach them the value of a dollar, that sort of thing.”
Recalling his own childhood, he says, “I rode my bike to school. I didn’t go on an airplane until I was 15 years old. When we went to Florida, we drove-we took two cars and stayed in a motel.” He tries to keep things down-to-earth with his own kids by staying close to his extended family (“The kids have lots of cousins”) and pals. “None of my friends,” he emphasizes, “are in the business.” That’s why, he explains, “my kids are not fazed by show business. They’re more fazed by sports! And they’re scheduled all the time. They have stuff going on constantly.”
His own love of hockey, baseball, basketball, football and golf has rubbed off on the little O’Donnells. “Chip is about to begin soccer, and he’s in two football leagues right now, and then in the spring lacrosse, baseball and basketball will all overlap, and in the summer it’s soccer, golf and tennis,” O’Donnell says. On weekends these activities become a family affair. “If it’s baseball season, we’re playing baseball. If it’s lacrosse, we’re throwing the lacrosse ball back here on the lawn. We have big football games back here, and soccer, and we’ll shoot hoops.”
Expending all that energy can make a family hungry. “Caroline is a great cook,” says O’Donnell. “I love to barbecue. We definitely host a lot of dinners and stuff. The grill gets fired up pretty often.” Watching his brood running around with Caroline, he smiles proudly-but says he won’t press his luck. “We’ve got our hands full,” he says. “Five is great, and the new house has a bedroom for each kid. And we’re going to stop there!”
Chris O’Donnell’s STARRING ROLES
BATMAN & ROBIN
After first playing Robin opposite Val Kilmer in 1995, O’Donnell teamed with George Clooney in 1997.
SCENT OF A WOMAN
Portraying prep-school student Charlie Simms opposite Al Pacino in 1992 earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
NCIS: LOS ANGELES
Starring as undercover crime fighter Callen (with LL Cool J as Sam) “keeps me in L.A. and keeps me working,” he says.