The Corruption of Chris O’Donnell

Suspecting that Chris O’Donnell is not the straight-laced preppy he has played in movies, our reporter asks the actor about his brushes with The Seven Deadly Sins.

Sitting across from Chris O’Donnell in the lounge of The Argyle hotel, I can’t help thinking, ‘How goes the inevitable corruption of Chris O’Donnell? After all, it’s been a couple of years since he admitted on these pages to my esteemed colleague Martha Frankel, “I’m waiting to get corrupted. I know it’s going to happen sometime.” Certainly, he’s no less alluring to look at now that his pink-checked, vine-ripened frat boy sweet-ness is beginning to get edgier and more grown-up. Many admirers who found O’Donnell’s Walton Mountain appeal shattering will no doubt still have flutters when they see that the 24 year old, his hair cropped short, appears to be entering into a period of square-jawed, azure-eyed caddish young Paul Newmandom. Certainly a dozen different Tinseltown types I know would be eager to corrupt O’Donnell, given half a chance.

I thought it might be fun to question O’Donnell on Seven Deadly Sins-style stuff personified by voracious starlets, obscene salaries, the dissing of competitors and overweening ambition. In other words, I remark to O’Donnell, a good Catholic boy like myself, “Let’s clue in readers how far along you are on the road to damnation.”

This cracks him up, “Corruption and damnation?” he says. “I think I’m still pretty locked into my ways.”

“How about breaking the ice by talking about your love scenes with Drew Barrymore?” I ask, having heard that the duo’s nuzzling for Mad Love steamed up the camera lenses. The pairing of these two beauties strikes me as wickedly inspired. “So, Chris, did you have to strap down your manhood to keep from becoming aroused?”

O’Donnell tosses back his head and laughs, “Classic Stephen Rebello question, I love it! Shooting it, I tell you, was tough because you’re basically going at it for six hours and, well, Drew is such a young, sexy girl. Drew and I get along real well, though I don’t think you could pick out two people in Hollywood with more opposite upbringings. I come from this very conservative Chicago Catholic family, seven kids, and everyone knows exactly what Drew’s been up to.”

And about the love scenes, Chris?
“I wasn’t totally nude,” he says. “I had on my boxer shorts under the covers, but there were no attachments, no duct tape, no rubber underwear. But those kind of ‘What if?’ thoughts definitely crossed my mind, yeah. Look, love scenes are part of the job and you’re being very professional about it. But, there are brief moments, brief glimpses where you’d like… you know… but you keep your control.”

O’Donnell clamps his palms over his eyes, slumps in his chair, laughs, and then says, in a mock whine, “My mother’s going to read this, my whole family.”

Well, mine too, I say, so let’s not bore them.
“To tell you the truth, I was more nervous the first time I did one of those scenes.”

What first time?
“It was the first movie I ever did, Men Don’t Leave,” he says of the film in which he, 18 but looking 14, played Jessica Lange’s son who shacks up with older woman Joan Cusack. “The scene was cut. Joan and I were in bed, got into an argument, and I got out of bed in just my tighty-whiteys, standing there, yelling at her. When we shot it, I didn’t know if we were going to be fooling around in bed first or what, but the whole crew was there and I kept thinking, ‘Oh, what’s gonna happen?’ Truth is, I was so nervous, I don’t think I could have put myself in working order right then–even if I’d tried.”

I have heard that Warner Bros, is paying the actor a very fat salary for his role in Batman Forever, a role for which such other actors as Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith were supposedly in contention.
“I would definitely not say I’ve been paid too much,” he asserts. “In the scheme of what my brothers and sisters are making, out there working like crazy, actors are overpaid. But, no, I don’t think I’m overpaid and I’ll be looking forward to some raises, with inflation and all. Most of the movies I’ve made, I didn’t get paid anything for, really.”

“Turns out they want a Cirque du Soleil sort of look,” he says. “Then, I’ve got a full-body, spandex-latex, real superhero fighting jumpsuit, or whatever you want to call it, happening. You know, I have to admit, we’re four months into the shooting, but they haven’t actually finished my suit. Luckily, it’s got zippers so you can go to the bathroom. I guess Michael Keaton didn’t have those.”

“When I was cast, Michael Keaton was Batman and it seemed like it was almost going to be like a father and son relationship. Val makes it closer in age, which changes the dynamic of the dynamic duo.”

I want to know about O’Donnell’s on-screen kissing experiences. Who, to date, has been his best-kissing co-star?
“Let’s see, I’ve had Drew, Joan Cusack, Mary-Louise Parker, and Saffron Burrows and Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends,” he says, counting on his fingers. “You know, I’m going to have to go with Drew because of the fact that I kissed her the most.”

Turning serious, O’Donnell says, “I am definitely not part of the ‘crowd’ out here.” L.A. is not a city he’d want to call home and, in fact, he’s currently building a Chicago town-house, not too far from his family, which he’ll call home base. He confesses, with a shudder, “I almost got caught in the Hollywood web. They almost pulled me in. At the ‘hot’ clubs, I don’t know the bouncers and I have no pull at the door–they don’t recognize me and, really, I don’t care. I’ve been to most of the hot places at least once. There’s a lot of losers who hang out at these places. The bars are filled with people just trying to slip you their business card, who tell you, ‘Hey, I’m a producer and I’ve written some stuff…’ The women are like, ‘Are you important enough for me to bother with?’ But I actually met Reese in one of those places.”

Ah, yes, Reese Witherspoon, with whom O’Donnell engaged in a romance.
“We hung out for a little while when Scent of a Woman came out,” he recalls. “I did date her. It was weird because it was the first time I had ever really dated an actress. When I was in college, 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. It was nothing serious, to tell you the truth.”

“For those readers who fantasize about dating you, how about coming up with some good reasons not to?”
“The main reason not to date me is that I’ve got a girlfriend. Besides, I’m never in one place, so, if they want to settle down, that’s not happening. Also, I think I need to learn some patience with people. But, hey, I’m a pretty good catch, so let’s not give too many reasons not to date me.” Yet, he adds again, he is taken. Okay, I’ll bite. Who is she? “The girl I’m dating now and have been, for about a year and a half, is someone I met before these films started coming out,” he says, “She’s in Florida and I see her as much as I could see anybody else, because that’s the nature of the business I’m in. I think I see her more than most people in a long-distance relationship because of the fact that I’m moving around so much, plus I’ve got the means to get her a ticket. We’re in a real good situation now, real happy.”

How does she handle all the fuss made over him?
“Over New Year’s, it was her birthday and we went out to this bar to get a drink. When we walked in, they carded us. I always get carded. Anyway, we sit down and the guy says, ‘First round is on us,’ and I think, ‘How nice, he knows it’s her birthday.’ The guy comes back with the drinks and says, to me, ‘Do you mind if we get your autograph, too?’ And I’m like, ‘All right, sure,’ but then everyone in the bar was whispering [about me]. But my girlfriend was coot with it, yeah.

I can’t help wondering whether O’Donnell freaks out at the thought of perhaps one day having to do a mindless TV series.
Deadly earnest, O’Donnell says. “I talk about these TV shows and think, ‘They’re so ridiculous,’ but when you make money, attain a very comfortable lifestyle and, all of a sudden, the career doesn’t work out and the money’s not coming in, your self-esteem goes way down. People always say, ‘Why would anyone ever want to do that TV stuff?’ but look, it’s because people have to pay their bills. The key is, I think, don’t let your life get too extravagant when you’re young. I worked with a guy on a film who didn’t see a dime because he spent everything taking out women, buying clothes. When I said, ‘What are you going to do for money?’ he said he’s confident that he’ll always be able to work. If you keep making money, great, but if five of your movies tank in a row, what are you going to do? When I was thinking about doing some movie, I called Al Pacino, who asked, ‘Do you need the money?’ I said no and he said, ‘Don’t ever do anything for the money.’ So I didn’t do it.”

Even though he hasn’t been lacking for work, has he found time to blow some money on nights out?
“Lately I’ve been antisocial about going to premieres, benefits and parties when my girlfriend isn’t out here to go with me, but there have been moments when I think, ‘You’re not always going to be in the limelight. You should take advantage of it, enjoy yourself.’ So one night I was at a Planet Hollywood thing, by myself. Some friends were meeting me later, but I was standing there atone and Cindy Crawford walked in.” O’Donnell strikes an awestruck pose. “I was like, ‘Hold on, man, look at that.’ She’s so beautiful and I would never in a million years go up and introduce myself, but she walked right up to me and said, ‘Hi Chris, I want to introduce myself. I’m Cindy Crawford.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know. Howya doin’?’ So I sat at a table with Cindy Crawford and Corbin Bernsen and I went downstairs to grab my friends, roommates from college, who I was meeting. They’re standing there with beers in their hands, and I said, ‘Come on, I’ve got a table for us upstairs.’ We sat down and I go, ‘Guys, this is Cindy, this is Corbin, this is so-and-so,’ and they could not believe it. So that was a cool night out, yeah.”

I wonder how O’Donnell feels about Stephen Dorff’s having dissed him to me, in this magazine, about his performance in Scent of a Woman. Dorff made it clear he thought he, not O’Donnell, should have played the role of Al Pacino’s seeing-eye boy.
“They screen-tested four guys and he wasn’t one of them,” O’Donnell remarks. “After your Dorff story came out, I asked [director] Marty Brest, ‘Do you remember reading this kid?’ He said. ‘Yeah, he did a good job, but he just wasn’t right.’ I only read that Movieline story after [Dorff] wrote me a note saying, like, ‘Didn’t mean anything by it.’ I was like, whatever, buddy.” Would he care to comment on Dorff’s work? “I know the films he’s been in,” he says, dryly, “but I’ve only seen bits of them.”

Is O’Donnell especially competitive with his peers, who include not only Dorff, but such other comers as Ethan Hawke, Brendan Fraser and Leonardo DiCaprio?
“Too competitive,” he says, in a tone that leaves little doubt. “There have been times when I had to go audition and there were other people there. I can’t stand that. 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.'”

Before we part, I ask whether he thinks his mother will get stressed when she reads the finished article: has he been on his best “interview” behavior?
“Well. I haven’t been lying to you,” he declares, “but I’m not telling you everything. My family and friends see me as a real smartass, a wise-ass. The way people see me in movies, in the stuff they read about me, is kind of an idealistic view.”

Not if they read between the lines, kiddo.

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Movieline May.1995.

May 24, 1995 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links