PEOPLE recently caught up with the veteran actor and father of three, who opened up about his fame, family and personal struggles — as well as his decision to return to the screen with USA’s new hit show Shooter.
According to the star, he previously “took a step back from acting” to focus on his children: Ava, 17, and Deacon, 13, with ex-wife Reese Witherspoon, and Kailani, 5, with former girlfriend Alexis Knapp.
“I wanted to be around as much as possible while my kids were still small,” says Phillippe, 42. “Now Ava and Deacon are teenagers, so the pressure and the guilt have decreased some. I’m really enjoying acting again, which is nice!”
And, he says, he’s found important ways to deal with his inner pain.
“I’m a lot more at peace than I was when I was younger,” he says. “I struggled much more with depression when I was in my 20s and 30s. I think the amount of reading that I’ve done, the work on myself and the ways that I’ve found to cope are healthier than when I was younger.”
“I don’t know what that specifically amounts to other than being more careful and considerate about why you make the choices you do or where the feelings you have come from,” he adds. “And then ultimately just breathe.”
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After a public split from Witherspoon in 2006, Phillippe says he developed a “pretty thick skin” when it comes to media scrutiny.
“I’ve faced every manner of gossip, and I don’t take myself as seriously now,” he says. “There is a freedom and a release that comes with maturity. I’ve made peace with it. We live in a time where being a private person isn’t really an option anymore. If you want to be relevant, you have to be connected.”
Now, armed with a revitalized career and a firm grip on his emotional well-being, Phillippe is ready for what’s next.
“I am happy,” he says. “It hasn’t always been like that, so I’m hoping to keep it going. And I think from there too, giving back and sharing whatever I can [is important].”
“When you go through dark periods in life or if you’re a person who has struggled with depression as I have throughout my life, to know that that can decrease and that it doesn’t have to be your defining characteristic, that you can find ways to manage and cope and feel better — that’s what I’m referring too,” he says.
These days, the actor says he’s “not nearly as dark a person as I used to be or as at the mercy of my emotions.”
“There is a sensitivity that will never change and an empathy that will never change but how you deal with those feelings and where you let them take you, that’s an individualistic journey for anyone who struggles,” he says.
RELATED VIDEO: Ryan Phillippe on Suffering from Depression
Ultimately, the star is in a positive place — and looking forward to the future.
“I’m in a good, happy, healthy place,” he says. “And there are so many more places I want to go.”
Shooter airs Tuesdays (10 p.m. ET) on USA Network.
• With AURELIE CORINTHIOS