Playing Nice With Chris O’Donnell

Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J on the set of NCIS: LOS ANGELES.
Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J on the set of NCIS: LOS ANGELES. Ron P. Jaffe / CBS / Getty Images

It’s been two decades ago since a young Chris O’Donnell broke out as the handsome Charlie Simms opposite Al Pacino in Oscar-winning film Scent Of A Woman. In that time, O’Donnell has starred in a dozen or so movies, married, had five children, and, since 2009, made the switch to television. In his role of Agent G. Callen on NCIS: Los Angeles O’Donnell has never had a problem showing a little aggression while pursuing fugitives, but on the field during one of his kids’ many sporting events O’Donnell has trained himself to become a poster man for self restraint. Given the show’s reasonable production schedule he’s been able to make time to volunteer coach and referee at local games only to be shocked by the level of un-sportsmanship, not by the children, but their parents, so much so that he’s agreed to become an ambassador of the new Play Positive campaign recently launched by Liberty Mutual. After wrapping the show’s sixth season, we talked with O’Donnell about his experiences on the field, fantasy football and the difficulty in planning getaways with his co star LL Cool J.

We were just chatting about fashion week, what’s your day-to-day style like?
My uniform in general is a button down shirt, a pair of jeans and some loafers. Now if I’m in Maine, where we are during the summer, I love to just go with a tee shirt, shorts and a pair of topsiders. Something that is appropriate for a dock.

Where’s your place? 
We have a house that’s on an island near Camden. There are tons of little islands around our area that you can just sail around a visit. We go sailing. When we’re all together we’ll go play golf or tennis. It’s nice to have that time to talk and just spend time with your boys. It’s an amazing counterbalance to the life in Los Angeles.

You have to get your costar LL Cool J up there.
We actually did talk about doing it this summer. The problem is that our production schedule is busy in Los Angeles, so when we finally both get to the East Coast neither of us wants to move. He’s based in Long Island and I think once he step in his door he doesn’t want to leave until he has to. I’m sure it will happen sometime.

You’re from Chicago, but have you been able to make LA feel like home yet?
Going to the kids’ grade school to drop them off and getting involved with the sports programs have really helped us meeting families who aren’t involved with the industry. We play everything. Soccer. Football. Then on our own we’ll go golfing or horseback riding when we can.

Did you play a lot of sports growing up yourself?
I played everything. There was a new survey done that says that the sports programs at schools right now are really suffering and being cancelled. As a father of five that’s really upsetting to hear.

How are you on the field? Are you able to watch your kids play without getting too worked up or becoming a soccer dad?
I have a lot of energy when my kids are playing but I’m glad to say I’ve never been escorted off. Half the time I’m on the field myself as either a coach or as the referee and it’s really sad to watch these parents set a bad example for their kids by being loud and eventually getting escorted off. I’m shocked when you have these parents that think their kid is the next John Elway and that other kids shouldn’t get the same amount of playing time.

Were you a star player when you were growing up?
I’m fine with saying that I wasn’t the best player on any of my teams, barely got in the game but I truly appreciated those coaches that did their best to make sure I felt like I was a part of the team. As far as my kids they all have different abilities, some are star players and some don’t even want to walk on the field. That’s what you are dealing with when you’re a father and that’s why I’m so glad to be a part of the Play Positive program.

Do you have a favorite game to play with your kids?
Personally football is the best game to play with the family. Just throwing a ball around. It also inspires a lot of talks with the boys that might not have come if we weren’t outside of the house, there just one on one. I also love watching it, I’m so glad the NFL is back! I go crazy when it’s not on.

What team are you rooting for?
I’m still a big Chicago Bears fan. Jay Cutler is driving me nuts right now.

I also hear you play a little fantasy football…
[Laughs] It’s true. I’m in two leagues. One league I’m in is just with little kids. I’m not even joking. It’s my kids and their friends. I try not to take it too hard on them. Then I have my other league on the NCIS set with the cast and crew. Eric Olsen is in it. LL isn’t. Chip, my 13-year-old son, is the general manager of my team. He does all the picking and the slotting. We do the pick every week and there is a buy, so I told him he has to put his own money, 5 whole bucks. He does a better job than I would if I’m being honest, he pays more attention to the stats.