You’re the youngest child in a family of seven kids, and now you’re father to a brood of five, ranging from 5 to 13. What’s the best part about belonging to a big family?
Your family unit is your own world, all the drama and hilarity, all the personalities. Yes, you’ll have close friends, but your family’s on a different level. You fight, you have ups and downs, but you know it’ll wash over because it’s your family. With my kids, it’s just a completely different love. Until I had my first child I didn’t realize that there was this other level of love -- your kids are a part of you. I always wanted to have a bunch of kids … when we got to four, we thought, “This is insane!” We were done. But then we had a little surprise, and now five years on we can’t imagine life without our youngest, Maeve.
Do you and your wife Caroline ever feel overwhelmed as parents?
Very! Anyone who has kids does. But Caroline is a full-time mom, and we have a nanny, so we’re lucky -- and it’s still overwhelming. You think of single parents raising kids and holding down jobs, and I can’t even imagine. We’re very blessed to have five healthy, happy kids. [There's a lot of] chaos -- it’s just that time in their lives right now, the age when they’re so fun. Even on the mornings when you’re so tired and you have to get up to take your kids here or there, I have constant reminders from friends who are 10 years older who say: “It goes by so fast. Soak up every bit of it.” Already, I only have one left who’s small enough to pick up and cuddle -- the rest of them are too big! I can’t believe it.
Share a typical weekend at the O’Donnells'.
The older ones are into sports, and we’ll have Saturdays where we might have six or seven games in one day. So Caroline and I divide and conquer. We split up. And the kids, they each lobby to see which parent is going to which game. When we only had a couple of kids I was really involved in coaching, but now I tell the coach, “I have seven other games today. I’ll help you out when I can!” We also spend a lot of time at the beach, surf a bit, and play volleyball together.
Mother’s Day is coming up. Do you help your kids honor their mom in some special way?
They do it on their own. It’s more special when [a gift] is generated by the kids. My oldest daughter is the ringleader when it comes to stuff like that. You just have to be careful what her ambitions are. She fancies herself a chef and makes some pretty elaborate concoctions in the kitchen -- some shockingly good -- but usually with a really big mess.
At the height of your film career, you turned down big Hollywood roles to spend more time with your family. Looking back, at 42, are you content with how everything turned out?
I’ve always known family was a priority for me, and it’s something I really wanted. So it’s a matter of balance. Had I continued to crank out films, I would not be sitting in my house right now with five kids and living the life I’m living, so it’s not even close. I would never trade the children we have, or the family set-up we have. I’m so fortunate to have a steady job in such a competitive industry. Forget the fame -- success can be very fleeting. To be working on a show at a point where I need to be locked down and stable in one place because this is where the kids go to school … I feel so incredibly fortunate.
Now you star in a hit TV series, NCIS: Los Angeles, and you even direct episodes. How do you balance the pressures of the set with the demands of family life?
It’s an amazing schedule for a 1-hour show. We keep it to 12 hours a day. It’s a credit to the production team. I hear so many stories of other weekly shows going 14, 16 hours every day, where Fridays nights usually extend as late as 2 or 3 in the morning, so they call it “Fraturday.” That never happens on our show. I’m either home for dinner, or I drive the kids to school in the morning.
You share a lot of screen time with ultra-buff LL Cool J. Feel the pressure to stay in tip-top shape?
I will never be in the condition he is -- he’s a rare human physical specimen! I’m more concerned [about exercising] in order to maintain my energy level. We’re doing 25 episodes this year. That’s 200 days of filming. You gotta watch it, and get in workouts simply to recharge your batteries.
While playing Robin during your Batman & Robin days, you injured your back doing a stunt. Does this injury still plague you?
My back pain is not going away. Like anything, it gets worse when I don’t take care of myself. It’s all about core muscles. If I feel back pain it’s a reminder that I need to get back into the gym. If I can stretch out in the morning and get a 30-minute workout in, I’m a new man. Yoga is the greatest thing for it. For me, two days a week of traditional cardio and weightlifting, plus one day of yoga -- that’s the perfect way to take care of my back and my body.
You often hit the links for celebrity golf tournaments. Is golf your prescription for de-stressing and unwinding?
It is. More so when I was younger and traveling on location around the world. I feel at home on a golf course. But lately I spend more time playing beach volleyball. The kids are with me, and we’re all at the beach together. It’s a great workout, and the sand is so much easier on my back.
What’s a perfect day look like for you, when you have no place to be and no calls to return?
There’s something about being in your own house. You don’t have to be on some exotic vacation. The greatest thing is when something is cancelled, and now you don’t have plans and you think, “Wow, I’ve got nothing to do!” But as far as what I dream about, it’s the summertime. We spend our summers in Maine on a little island. Just long days, time on the water, great family time and memories, and getting a full day out of life with the kids. Great company, food, and wine. It’s pretty perfect.
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