Some might say that Chris O’Donnell ’92 hasn’t done all that much with his marketing degree from Boston College. But returning to his alma mater this fall, the NCIS: Los Angeles and Grey’s Anatomy star showed a skill at marketing the values inculcated by a Jesuit education.
The actor spoke about his personal journey during “Espresso Your Faith Week,” an assortment of events in late September hosted by Agape Latte, which is part of Boston College’s Church in the 21st Century Center. Students packed into Robsham Theater on a Thursday night to hear the talk—“I feel like I’m here to announce a new iPhone,” O'Donnell said as he looked out on the crowd.
O’Donnell chronicled the ups and downs of his acting career. While studying at what was then called the School of Management, he began appearing in films such as Scent of a Woman, alongside Al Pacino. “I’d fly to LA for a meeting and come back the next day,” he said. “I’d go for one night just because I didn’t want to be away from BC.”
“First, remember your priorities...For me it was always my faith, my family, my friends, and my work...I had my ups and downs, but I never let the highs get too high, and it protected me from the lows.”
Graduation freed him up to take on more roles, including stints as Robin in two Batman movies. After marrying Caroline Fentress (younger sister of his Boston College roommate, Andrew) five years later and starting a family, O’Donnell slipped away from the cameras. And when he returned, he faced a personal as well as professional challenge.
“The film opportunities weren’t as easy to come by,” he told the Boston College students. “It was devastating. But I always put my faith and family before career and I think having that focus got me through it.”
O’Donnell eventually bounced back with theater productions and eventually his starring television roles, including now as NCIS Special Agent G. Callen.
Explaining the sources of his values, O’Donnell cites his devoutly Catholic family (which includes older sister Sara O’Donnell Groenings ’83) as well as his Jesuit education. He graduated from Loyola Academy in Chicago, which led him to seek out Boston College. And, the speaker left his undergraduate audience with pointed advice about both personal and professional life.
“First, remember your priorities,” said O’Donnell, who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago with Caroline and their five children. “For me it was always my faith, my family, my friends, and my work. It becomes a pattern of your life, and it serves you better than you know. I had my ups and downs, but I never let the highs get too high, and it protected me from the lows.”
He added: “Second, try things out of your comfort zone. The biggest risks can lead to the biggest success, and even failing helps you to grow and to become the person you’re meant to be.”