The Untold Truth Of Chris O'Donnell

Let's be real — given all the negative headlines coming out of Hollywood in recent years, it's seemed like legitimate good guys with acting careers are few and far between. However, Chris O'Donnell hasn't attracted tabloid attention for behaving badly — quite the contrary, in fact. 

The wholesome, clean-cut actor made a career for himself in the early nineties depicting characters who — one way or another — benefited from his soft touch. As time passed and his acting roles changed, his attitude remained the same, and his core audience and fanbase grew with him. Though he has suffered the same critical and box office bombs as most other actors — the mid-nineties mishaps "Batman & Robin," "Mad Love," and the Ernest Hemingway biopic "In Love and War" are a few examples — he's nonetheless maintained a consistent career for himself, particularly on television. He's thrived on the shows "Grey's Anatomy" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," which have both utilized his gentle appeal.

By charming both television and film audiences, O'Donnell has become a Hollywood success story — and he's done it without sacrificing the values he holds dear. The key to his life, attitude, and career? It's all here.

He's from a large Catholic family

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Chris O'Donnell was the youngest of seven siblings in a large Catholic family — an environment within which the "NCIS: Los Angeles" star "learned his altar-boy values," according to Rolling Stone. His wholesome religious upbringing seemed to have a positive impact — it kept him grounded in Hollywood, where even the most humble of stars can get caught engaging in some less than decent behavior.

The family values O'Donnell grew up with have seemingly influenced the way he treats everyone around him. "Chris has every friend he's made since the delivery room," "Batman Forever" director Joel Schumacher told the Chicago Tribune. "From the doctor who slapped his bottom to the person he met yesterday ... When you work with him, you become part of his extended family." Unsurprisingly, these values have also extended to the large family O'Donnell has with his wife Caroline.

The two share five children together, with O'Donnell telling Redbook that he and his spouse grew up with "the same values and traditions." Caroline was the sister of one of his college roommates, and they shared "a little smooch" when she came over one day. They "didn't see each other again for three years," but the actor "had never forgotten her." Soon enough, they reconnected. O'Donnell was 26 when they got married. As he told Redbook, having "a traditional family life" was what he desired, not "the playboy lifestyle" that some Hollywood stars embrace. 

Chris O'Donnell's teen model origin story

Chris O'Donnell wasn't exactly eyeing a career in acting when he first sought to get paid for being in front of a camera. In fact, at age 13, he decided to try his hand at modeling. As he told the Chicago Tribune, he thought, "'These guys are making $65 an hour for doing nothing. This is excellent!'" — and what teenage boy wouldn't want a piece of that pie? O'Donnell told Rolling Stone that his sister hooked him up with an agent she'd met at a wedding who agreed to see him. "We went downtown," he recalled, "and the agent said I was perfect." 

Indeed she did. Maureen Brockman, the agent in question, told the Chicago Tribune that his "fabulous smile and adorable personality" made him "a perfect package," and she knew immediately that he could find work. Taking baby steps into the next phase of his budding career, O'Donnell started doing commercials. His most notable promotional moment is arguably a 1987 McDonald's commercial in which he's shown serving breakfast to basketball legend Michael Jordan.

His appearance is brief, but his star quality is evident: Has anybody ever looked so enthusiastic and chipper slinging burgers behind a fast food counter? Clearly, this kid could act! His subsequent first feature film performances in the early '90s movies "Men Don't Leave" and "Fried Green Tomatoes" further cemented his burgeoning talent and proved that he wasn't just model material.

The actor's college years

Despite gaining a respectable level of success with his formative Hollywood roles, Chris O'Donnell headed off to Boston College, where he majored in marketing. As he told the Chicago Tribune in 1993, his entertainment career had only just started prior to heading off to college, so, like any good traditionalist, he stuck with a pragmatic plan. However, as he started to book more gigs, he had an epiphany, and soon realized that acting was "what [he] wanted to do."

The epiphany came late in his studies, so he "never switched to a theater major or a film major." This fact perfectly embodies O'Donnell's seemingly humble nature — he was a few years behind the rest of the world in realizing what a talent he was. In fact, his college roommates didn't even know that the guy they lived with was a bona fide movie star — that is, until they took a personal call for O'Donnell from the one and only Barbra Streisand. 

Recounting the incident on "Watch What Happens Live," the actor told host Andy Cohen that it happened after Streisand decided not to hire him for the film "The Prince of Tides." She left a message with his roommate while he was at the library, which raised some questions. Worse still, when Streisand said that she'd call back the next day, "The entire hall was waiting to answer the phone," O'Donnell recalled. Who wouldn't be?

Chris O'Donnell is one of the nicest guys in Hollywood

In a 1997 profile of the star, the Chicago Tribune mused on how Chris O'Donnell had garnered "some of the worst press in the history of celebrity journalism" due to his impeccably clean-cut image, which earned him nicknames including "Mr. Squeaky Clean" and "The Safe-Sex Symbol of the '90s" — insults that seem incredibly twee in the hindsight of the Me Too era.

Understandably, O'Donnell wasn't hurt by the media taunts. Rather, he almost seemed amused by them. "It frustrates them that I have this clean-cut image," he told the Tribune, his hometown newspaper. "It's not normal for an actor to be like this, I guess. But I'm not trying to create an image. I'm just being myself." It certainly didn't seem to harm his career. If anything, his decency and authenticity went a long way in impressing filmmakers. In an industry full of bad boys and Brat Pack kids, he was a breath of genuine, wholesome air. 

Frank Price, a producer on the movie "Circle of Friends," stated that O'Donnell's "unassuming" nature — being "friendly" and not "doing the star thing" — was nurturing for production, and it actually helped his performance as something of a heart-breaker in the film. "He was able to do this in a way that you still cared very much for him," Price the Los Angeles Times. "It's impressive to find a guy with that kind of good grounding and instincts."

He faced his fear of heights

In addition to being a grounded guy, Chris O'Donnell seems to prefer keeping his feet on the ground, as evidenced by his experience filming the 2000 thriller "Vertical Limit." When he was cast as a young climber in the movie, he had a fear of heights. According to Rolling Stone, the actor performed "many of his own stunts," including one that required him to be "attached to a rope and lowered over the lip of a 2,000-foot cliff." He had never attempted such a feat before.

Understandably, the young star wasn't exactly comfortable up there. "I was like, 'Um, can someone please show me a copy of my paycheck?'" he told the magazine, "'Remind me what I'm doing here.'" As he recounted to Dark Horizons, the role required him to be in peak physical fitness to adequately measure up to the demands of the movie, and he only had 30 days to be trained on "how to look and feel comfortable on the mountain." He confessed, "When I first went up and was put in some of those positions, I literally was shaking."

Did O'Donnell overcome his fear? The actor has since braved some stomach-churning heights to shoot scenes for "NCIS: Los Angeles," and in 2017, he shared an Instagram picture of himself hanging from a snowy mountain while filming "Vertical Limit" in New Zealand. He gave it the affectionate caption, "I want to go back and hang in New Zealand."

Inside Chris O'Donnell's relationship with Reese Witherspoon

As somebody who openly admitted to rejecting the "the playboy lifestyle" favored by other Hollywood celebrities of his time (per Redbook), it's not surprising to discover that Chris O'Donnell's dating history isn't extensive. However, there is one interesting name in his apparently slim little black book: Reese Witherspoon.

O'Donnell admitted to having enjoyed a minor romance with the "Cruel Intentions" star at the beginning of his career, when Witherspoon was similarly just starting out. The "Mad Love" star told Movieline (via Lebeau's Le Blog) that the two "hung out for a little while" around the time of the release of the critically acclaimed 1992 movie "Scent of a Woman," which propelled O'Donnell to a new level of stardom. Sharing the screen with Al Pacino will do that to a boy.

He revealed that Witherspoon was the first actor he'd ever dated, so "it was weird" — particularly as he was still making the transition from college at the time, and relationships didn't appear to be a priority. Ultimately, his fling with Witherspoon "was nothing serious." He shared his views on romance during his early Hollywood career, confessing, "I never had a serious girlfriend because it was too much fun dating different girls. With Reese, it just kind of didn't work out."

Was there a rivalry with Leonardo DiCaprio?

With their striking blue eyes and respective boyish charms, it's no surprise that Chris O'Donnell and Leonardo DiCaprio had something of a casting rivalry going in the early '90s. Both actors, for instance, were initially considered for the role of Robin in "Batman Forever." O'Donnell would go on to play the iconic Bat-buddy, while DiCaprio seemed to shrug off missing out on the part. He told Shortlist he took "just one meeting" with "very talented" director Joel Schumacher, but ultimately decided that he "didn't want to play the role." 

Later, O'Donnell would be among the list of names rumored to have been considered for the role of Jack in "Titanic"– which famously went to DiCaprio. There were also rumors that the "Batman & Robin" star was to continue his superhero legacy by becoming Spider-Man in what would eventually become Sam Raimi's rendering of the classic hero, per E!. Interestingly, that role went to DiCaprio's pal Tobey Maguire – a fact which may have stirred up good guy O'Donnell's self-proclaimed competitive streak. 

Speaking to Movieline (via Lebeau's Le Blog) about going up against the same actors time and time again, O'Donnell admitted he gets "too competitive" during auditions, especially when he's forced to wait around with other actors trying out for the same role. "I can't stand that," he said. "When it comes to the point where I'm trying to get a part, I'm like, 'I don't want to talk to you.'"

Batman & Robin didn't kill Chris O'Donnell's career

By the end of the '90s, the clean-cut Hollywood heartthrob appeared to have done a vanishing act, prompting many people to wonder, "What happened to Chris O'Donnell?" The majority of naysayers appeared firmly fixed on the idea that the phenomenal box office flop "Batman & Robin" was responsible for having not just "destroyed the franchise," as the actor's regretful co-star George Clooney once put it on "The Graham Norton Show," but for destroying O'Donnell's career, too. 

By all accounts, the film wasn't the actor's proudest moment, with O'Donnell revealing in a behind-the-scenes video that it seemed like he was "making a toy commercial" as opposed to a movie. However, contrary to popular belief, O'Donnell didn't have his career cruelly snatched away because he donned those iconic Bat-nipples and codpiece for a second time. Instead, he chose to scale back his career so he could spend more time with his young family.

"I was being offered these huge films that would have taken my career to a different level, and I decided to put on the brakes," he told Redbook while reflecting on how crazy his life got during his Robin years, "I knew if I continued on that track, I probably wouldn't have gotten married." Instead, he chose to live a more chill life with his wife and children, thus achieving the work-life balance that so many dads strive for. 

He was never a fan of Robin

Frankly, it's amazing Chris O'Donnell went anywhere near his "Batman Forever" role considering that he wasn't exactly the biggest fan of the caped crusader's circus-trained sidekick. Ironically, the star once outright rejected a suggestion that he and his college roommate dress up as Batman and Robin for a costume party. "I said, 'there is no way I'm getting dressed up as Robin. Not even for Halloween am I going to be Robin,'" he recollected to Entertainment Weekly. "And then of course I ended up as Robin across the world." 

Even after O'Donnell depicted the character for two films, it seems poor Robin still couldn't get much respect from the actor, if his treatment of his movie costume is anything to go by. During an appearance on "Conan," O'Donnell joked that his wife keeps his Robin suit "next to the bed" before revealing that it's actually stuck in a "giant wood crate in the basement." Like many items symbolic of regrettable acts, he's "been lugging [it] around for twenty years." 

Clearly, he'd made a mistake. "When we did the movie I said, 'I really want a costume,'" he told Conan O'Brien, "... and then this truck showed up with this giant box ... What are you gonna do with it?! You're not gonna put it on display like, 'Hey guys, have you seen my Robin costume?' It's absurd!" Honestly, our vote goes to keeping it beside the bed.

Chris O'Donnell's bromance with LL Cool J is real

As every fan will attest, there's a true love story at the heart of "NCIS: Los Angeles," and it's the platonic one shared by special agent G. Callen and former Navy SEAL Sam Hanna. What some fans might not know is that in real life, Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J's friendship isn't too dissimilar to that of their characters on the show.

In an interview with ET, O'Donnell opened up about how he and the hip hop legend turned actor share a brotherly bond — in every possible sense. "He's someone I have great respect for, and there's a mutual admiration," he said. "But we also love to just torture each other and constantly drive each other crazy." O'Donnell added that the ribbing was purely affectionate between the two, comparing it to the "way you pick on your sibling" — which the actor would have had plenty of practice doing, given that grew up the youngest of seven. 

Cool J told Parade that the two of them "share a common sensibility," which he finds hard to explain. "We had never met before the show," he said. "Then we went to the gun range for weapons training, and we just clicked." The two were able to further bond over being devoted parents to a sizable brood, with Cool J raising four kids to O'Donnell's five. The Ladies might Love Cool J, but clearly so does O'Donnell. 

His family members have guest starred on NCIS: Los Angeles

In keeping with his strong family values, it's hardly surprising that Chris O'Donnell's family members have appeared on "NCIS: Los Angeles" more than once. During one of the coolest "bring your family to work" days imaginable, the actor's wife Caroline filmed a 2015 episode of the show titled "Command & Control" alongside their daughter Maeve — who, by all accounts, stole everyone's hearts.

O'Donnell told ET that his daughter, who was 7 years old at the time, took her moment in the spotlight very seriously. "She had one little line, and she would rehearse it at home," he said. "She was a little nervous when she got there, but then she arrived at my trailer and they put a big star with her name on the board." O'Donnell's mom similarly enjoyed special treatment on the set while filming a 2012 episode featuring several of the mothers of principle cast members playing poker together in a scene. 

As O'Donnell told People, he "knew this would be the biggest deal" for his mom, and the second they wrapped, she was eager for more. "She thinks this is her big break," he said. If" 'Mom 2' appears in another script I'm sure she'll answer the call." Additionally, all but one of O'Donnell's kids have now starred alongside him in the show, according to Country Living. Hey, the family who IMDB's together, stays together. 

How much is Chris O'Donnell worth?

When it comes to depicting an agent in the extensive "NCIS" universe, fighting fictional crime certainly pays handsomely. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Chris O'Donnell's salary is rumored to be in the region of $350,000 per episode, with the website reporting that the actor has a net worth of $25 million as of 2021. 

Being one of Hollywood's premier good guys, it's hardly a surprise that O'Donnell likes to share the wealth by supporting charitable organizations. As reported by Parade, his "natural inclination is to give back" because of how he was raised, with the actor telling the website that it's "a win-win" for him to be able to use his "name recognition" to help causes he cares about and "raise awareness."

In particular, O'Donnell has been supporting the venture philanthropy organization REDF since 2000, when he raised $500,000 by participating in a charitable golf event. In 2013, he was even appointed as one of the organization's board members. REDF provides support for people facing significant employment barriers by "investing in social enterprise companies" that "help the unemployable." O'Donnell told Parade, "We're trying to get people back on the onramp to having a job again, and giving them not only a job, but the support they need to maintain a job, and then prepare them to have another job in the future."

Being the "Mr. Squeaky Clean" of Hollywood certainly pays off — and it can even help others, too.