morning with former boy wonder Chris O'Donnell
only BC graduate ever named to People magazine's "most
beautiful people in the world" list turned up in late April
at an Alumni House breakfast reception looking happy and rumpled
in jeans, a sports shirt, loafers with no socks, and carrying a
Dunkin Donuts medium. Chris O'Donnell '92, star of screen and latterly
stage, was on campus to receive an achievement award at the fifth
annual BC Arts Festival, and the 9:00 A.M.
buffet was the first stop in what would be a day of handshakes,
autographs, sitting for an "Inside the BC Studio" interview
in a tent on O'Neill Plaza, meetings with local media, and visits
to old haunts, including a drop-in on some stunned freshmen who
happened to be living in O'Donnell's old room in the basement of
In the Alumni House library, O'Donnell sipped his coffee, greeted
old friends, posed for photographs with anyone who asked, recalled
student escapades (an administrator standing near me confided that
he'd been a member of a disciplinary panel that removed O'Donnell
from campus housing in his sophomore year), and accepted gifts of
maroon and gold football jerseys for his son and daughter and a
gift-wrapped box for his wife ("a maroon and gold negligee?"
he quipped). And after he had made his thanks, he retreated to a
wall he could lean against, where he chatted amiably with students
who gathered around him.
O'Donnell was just as relaxed and engaging on O'Neill Plaza later
in the morning, where before an audience of several hundred students
(two-thirds female) he was interviewed by Luke Jorgensen '91, a
member of the theater faculty who had been O'Donnell's RA in the
old days. In fact, there was at least one moment when O'Donnell
seemed to be the only relaxed person in the place. It came early
in the interview when Jorgensen re- cited the titles of most of
O'Donnell's 15 movies. All drew cheers and applause, and some—Scent
of a Woman and Circle of Friends—drew roars, until Jorgensen
got to The Bachelor, a Christmas 1999 bomb whose reviews
are still painful to read. Silence in the tent. A few frozen smiles.
A titter or two. And O'Donnell on stage, grinning in amusement.
The interview provided a good deal more evidence that the man whose
movie gift was to be a boy or boyish was in fact a grown-up (a "mensch,"
in the argot of Hollywood). O'Donnell thanked BC faculty by name
for the help they gave him when he was a student torn between a
marketing degree and a movie career, and did no Hollywood-related
name-dropping that was not required. Additionally, all his jokes
were on himself, he was interesting and articulate on the variant
exhaustions caused by film and stage acting, and he cleanly admitted
that he did not try to be a serious actor until late in his 13-year
career. Schooled in modeling, not theater, "I relied on instinct.
I had the same bag of tricks I would use," he said. A sharp
turning point came when he was chosen last year for his first stage
role, the lead in Arthur Miller's The Man With All the Luck.
He rehearsed so relentlessly, he said in a television interview,
that walking on the street in New York he would hear people using
random words from the script in speech and would complete their
sentences with play dialogue. The reviews of his performance were
uniformly good. O'Donnell is next scheduled to appear in a movie
about the life of Alfred Kinsey, who researched America's sexual
practices in the 1950s.
At the end of the interview, students lined up at floor microphones
to ask questions. One asked whether O'Donnell would want his children
to become actors. He turned the question a bit. "I worry sometimes
about kids in L.A.," he replied. "There's an incredible
amount of wealth. You want to keep things in perspective for your
kids. I worry more about the lifestyle than whether they'll become
Later, O'Donnell met with Michael DiMattina '04, who like him hails
from the Chicago area. DiMattina is the first recipient of a financial
aid scholarship created by the actor.
Actor Chris O'Donnell '92 (left) with the theater department's Luke
Jorgensen. By Lee Pellegrini