He was once Boy Wonder, a can't-miss Hollywood superstar. Nowadays, 35-year old Chris O'Donnell prefers a simpler, different name: Dad.
After laying relatively low for a few years, he has returned to prominence as Finn Dandridge (a.k.a. McVet) Meredith's veterinarian and love interest on Grey's Anatomy.
Chris and wife Caroline are proud parents of Lily, 7, Chip, 5, Charlie, 2, and three-month old Finley -- fittingly nicknamed "Finn" for short. The star talks about how he was shaped by a large-family upbringing in Winnetka, Ill., where he was the youngest of seven children, and the challenges and sweet rewards of having a growing family of his own. Below are some excerpts.
On going from one kid to... a lot more:
"The jump from one to two was okay, but the jump from two to three was absolutely insane. Three to four? You just gotta go into zone defense. So much of the day is spent managing things -- meals, tears, expectations, rides to school."
"I had this plate I won at a golf tournament on the top shelf in my library, and Chip wanted to see it, so he climbed up. Naturally, the thing fell and shattered into a thousand pieces. I came home and you could just see the devastation. He felt so bad. He couldn't even get it out of his mouth. 'Daddy, I... I... I... br... br... br...' It was so sweet. I just held him. Talking about my kids just makes me emotional. [Before Finn was born], Lily wanted a girl so bad, she would tell us that if it was a boy, 'I am packing my bags and I am outta here.' So when Finley turned out to be Finley, she felt so bad that she wrote a letter in that adorable kid handwriting that said 'Mom, I'm so sorry. I'm not packing my bags. I'm not leaving you.' The innocence. It hits you right in your gut."
On setting a good example:
"You learn what hard work is when you see your dad work hard. My dad (a salesman) put seven kids through college by being incredibly frugal and working his butt off. He and Mom never went out... These days, it's easy to let kids do their thing and not keep track of them. My wife and I try to keep things in perspective for our kids, which is tough in Los Angeles."
On the importance of religion:
"You want to give your children a change to live in a normal world. I think religion is a good part of that. Sundays are our biggest days together. We go out for breakfast, then we race to Mass. The world is getting crazier. Sometimes it seems so out of control. I don't think it matters which religion. It's just important to believe in something."
On balancing career and a family:
"I've made choices so I could be with my family. That makes it tough to stay on top at all times. There have been ups and downs. I was the actor everybody was talking about, then that changes, and the guys you came up with become huge stars. That's why Grey's Anatomy is such an amazing opportunity for me. It's like I'm playing on the New York Yankees again. I get to be on one of the top shows on TV and still be home to tuck the kids in every night."
On staying true to his roots:
"We had the first O'Donnell family reunion at Thanksgiving last year. All the siblings sat at the dining room table with Mom and Dad. There were little kids and cousins everywhere. It was so weird to sit down at the table we grew up at... we all got along. The beauty of being there was that it showed me how much family matters. You start to lose track a little bit, but get around that table and, man, it's all right there."
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