- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

LOS ANGELES Chris O'Donnell is a Boy Wonder no more.
The erstwhile Robin from the last two Batman films vows he has thrown his last haymaker bedecked in a rubber muscle suit.
These days, he would rather talk about his two children than any plans to revive the stalled Batman franchise.
The producers of his newest film, "Vertical Limit," hope to cash in on his maturing persona. The movie finds Mr. O'Donnell atop the Himalayas' K2 mountain in a breathtaking rescue mission to save his sister (Robin Tunney), trapped in a cocoon of ice at 26,000 feet.
Unerringly clean-cut in his ball cap and sweat-shirt combo, Mr. O'Donnell spoke about juggling fatherhood with movie stardom during a recent round of interviews to promote the film.
"It's amazing to think about … a loved one in that much danger and about to die, and you're risking your life," Mr. O'Donnell says of the film's contrivance. "How far are you willing to risk yourself to save somebody?"
His own family priorities have changed considerably since he first came to the public's attention in 1990's "Men Don't Leave."
"When I think of family my whole life, I think of my mom, my dad, my brothers and sisters," says Mr. O'Donnell, the youngest of seven. "Now, when I think about it, it's my wife and my kids. It's amazing that these two little creatures unseated my parents."
Mr. O'Donnell, 30, says he drew on his own family ties to shape his character, Peter Garrett.
"Limit," directed by skilled action director Martin Campbell (his credits include the 1995 James Bond film "GoldenEye") proved a rigorous eight-month shoot.
The film was shot partly around New Zealand's visually striking Mt. Cook. The 12,000-foot-high mountain realistically stood in for K2, the second-highest peak on the planet.
"I's a physically challenging movie," concedes the Chicago native, no stranger to biting cold. "We were stuck in the middle of nowhere, and there was nothing to do."
Well, maybe not nothing.
He jokes that his new family was created "one born, one conceived" during the shoot.
"Limit" cast members got a taste for the danger of rock climbing at about 150 feet above the ground to prepare for their roles.
"I had a rope on me … but if you fall, you're still gonna fall and slam into the wall," Mr. O'Donnell says.
That is one reason the filmmakers made sure professional climbers such as Ed Viesturs, one of only a few to reach K2's summit, were a constant presence on the set.
Despite its Hollywood-style fabrications, the film strives to get some of the details right, such as how people do not see their own breath while they're high up on the mountain despite the staggering cold. At that altitude, according to Mr. Campbell, the thin air lacks enough moisture to form visible exhalations.
"I think we're trying to do something … true to the sport," Mr. O'Donnell says, shrugging off potential criticism that the film doesn't depict climbing in its true form.
"Show me a golf movie, and I'll poke holes in that," he says. "We made an effort to be as realistic as possible."
Besides, for the movie to show climbers moving one step every three minutes, a pace they sometimes must endure to complete a climb, would not be gripping.
Mr. O'Donnell's rise to success as a Hollywood actor took a quicker route.
He never performed in theatrical shows in school and was enrolled at Boston College as a marketing major before he successfully attended a cattle-call audition for the "Men Don't Leave" role. His initial resume also contained a McDonald's commercial also featuring Michael Jordan, hardly a star turn.
It was his sensitive portrayal of Al Pacino's aide in "Scent of a Woman" (1992) that catapulted his career.
Mr. O'Donnell's "Limit" love interest, Izabella Scorupco ("GoldenEye"), was struck by how level her co-star appeared on and off the set.
"He's so normal in real life," Miss Scorupco says, looking Bond-worthy in a pink blouse and cream-colored leather pants. "You just want to watch football with him."
Audiences would settle for watching him on the big screen, Miss Scorupco suggests. "He has an incredible charisma on film. The camera really loves him."
The perks of being a celebrity are modest for the unassuming actor with rich blue eyes.
"You get nicer tables in restaurants, which helps," he says. "You get bumped up to first class in airplanes."
Mr. O'Donnell says he rarely trades on his celebrity status, airline perks notwithstanding.
The actor also doesn't seem to be the type to be photographed hobnobbing with Sharon Stone or other Hollywood elite at some posh nonprofit function.
"If you came to my house, you wouldn't know it was a movie-star house," he says almost defensively.
Better proof of his low-key ways comes when he readily acknowledges not having any new project lined up. His agent must love Mr. O'Donnell's telling that to reporters.
As for arguably his most visible role, that of the hotheaded Robin, he says it's time to move on.
"I'm done," he says of the Boy Wonder. "I've always been a Batman fan as a kid, and it was a thrill for me to be in the films. But it got old with the last film. It's time for new blood."
Swearing off a lucrative franchise is not easy for a young actor coming off a stinker such as 1999's "The Bachelor."
"We spent a lot of time developing it," he explains of "The Bachelor," in which he starred and which he also co-produced.
"But ultimately, I felt rushed," he says. "Once we got [the] green light, it was like a mad dash to get started. Things didn't totally feel right. There wasn't time to fix it."
With "Limit," he took his time exploring one of the world's most dangerous pastimes.
"I personally don't have that desire to do it, but I can understand those that do," he says. "It's like a drug. You have to have more. You climb one mountain. That's great. Now, you have to climb a bigger one. There's a real sense of accomplishment"
Despite being the biggest name attached to his new film, Mr. O'Donnell feels little pressure in carrying such an action yarn on his compact shoulders.
"Martin Campbell and the film are the stars here," he says. "It's not a big Chris O'Donnell film."
Humility aside, should "Limit" ring up "Bachelor"-type box- office numbers, at least Mr. O'Donnell will have two young fans to cheer him at the end of the day.

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