Chris O'Donnell: Innocent Abroad

"I'm a different person when I work. I can't party when I'm working. I just can't. On School Ties I went out a lot, drank some beer, because we filmed 20 miles from Boston College. But with Scent and Musketeers, it's like a mission. When I'm on a film I train every day, full circuit. You can get in the best shape of your life. It's hard to do that in real life, but on a film you can. Now I'm done, I can fuck around for a little while. I can go see some games, go have some beers."

"You've played all these nice guys ... what's going to be your first prick role?"

"I'm less concerned about finding a prick role as I am about finding something... after these horses, and this long location shoot, I'm looking for something with dialogue, something that's maybe filmed at a studio. That sounds real good right now."

"I'm worried for you," I say.

"For me?"

"Yeah. You seem so sweet, and this is such a disgusting business ..."

"I'm waiting to get corrupted. I know it's going to happen sometime."

"Why do you think they sent me, Chris?"

He laughs, but he's not sure if he should be. "It pisses me off. Everyone is so afraid to tell you what they really think, because they don't want to insult you. Everyone's so afraid of everybody, you can't get a straight answer out of anyone. You see it at auditions, they say, 'Oh great, that was wonderful.' Even if it wasn't. And then you see it from the people who are working for you. After Men Don't Leave, I got a lot of attention and a lot of offers, people were really interested in me. And I said, 'Well, I'm going to school.' So things really cooled down, and I'm so glad I went to school, I don't regret it for a minute. It was the greatest experience I've had, those are my best friends. But then I came back, and suddenly you don't get that same amount of attention, and it's weird. And then I got Scent of a Woman, and then everyone's back on the phone. It's kind of pathetic, but that's the way the business is. And it also keeps it in your mind that this is a business and you can't get too concerned with trusting people."

This is one smart kid.

"But you have a good, big family. That helps, doesn't it?"

"Yes. I'm so grateful. I make all my decisions and I talk to my managers, but it's so nice to have my dad back home to read scripts. If I'm considering something, I say, 'Send a copy to my dad.'"

"You say that to the producers? You tell them to send it to your dad?" I'd like to sit in on those meetings.

"No, no, let's say my agent and I are discussing a script, and it looks like it's good... I tell them to send it to my dad because he's so Middle America, he's a real conservative guy, and I can trust him."

"Are your folks still married?"

O'Donnell gives me such a look. "Of course they are."

"Sorry," I say. Gee, the very idea that somebody's parents might be divorced. How did I ever ask such a question?

"Okay," I say. "I feel better. At least you're not totally alone out there."

"A lot of people who hear about how I got into this business think I'm not real serious. But everyone starts out some way. You need a break here and there in life, and I got one. But that doesn't mean I'm not working as hard as anyone else."

"Are you ambitious?"

"Yeah, I am. For Scent, I never wanted anything so bad in my life. And I really worked my ass off to get the part. Just getting that role was one of the most satisfying experiences I ever had in my life. I worked hard and prepared. It came easy to me at the beginning, but I'm paying my dues now, believe me."

"Do you have a girlfriend now?"

"Oh, now you want the dirt, huh?"

"Not the dirt... just the story."

"No, I don't. I date some girls here and there..."

"I heard Al Pacino told you not to date actresses."

"Nah, the last girl I dated was an actress. But she was a little young..."

"What's a little young?"

"Seventeen. She was a cute girl. It didn't bother me that she was so young, but..."

"Wait, you're only 23. Seventeen isn't so young for you ... maybe for Jack Nicholson, but not for you."

"Well, it bothered me in that suddenly people start talking about you and I don't need that shit. Last fall I dated a girl at school. We still talk every now and then. I love working, though. That's the best thing I do. This not knowing what you're doing stinks. Working is as good as it gets."


Martha Frankel interviewed Madeleine Stowe for Movieline's October cover story.

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