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Proper Advice: Tate Donovan

Tate Donovan is an actor and director who has starred in or helmed some of the most iconic television of the past decade. Though best known for his roles in Damages, The O.C. and Friends, his ESPN documentary “Arthur and Johnnie”– about tennis great Arthur Ashe and his brother who took his place in Vietnam – won an Emmy. Tate will be playing John Hammond in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect coming out this summer.

A portion of the sales of the gear featured on Tate will go to Right to Play, a non-profit organization that donates time, equipment and space to children’s sports programs, using the power of play in all its forms to transform and empower vulnerable and at-risk youth world-wide.

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Hey Tate. Tell us, what role fitness does play in your life?

The older I get, fitness becomes more and more important. I love surfing, tennis, basketball, but I can’t just roll up and do all those things anymore. I can’t out of the blue go surfing and not destroy my shoulder. So I have to go to the gym and work with people who know what they're doing so I don't fuck my body up!

Regular sustained exercise always makes me feel better. I come from a big Irish Catholic family, we were always athletic and competitive, so exercise  is how we bonded and still do: when we get together we all go for a run. Plus, exercise is a daily reminder of how to be present in your body, which is essential for acting and directing.

I have a 15-year old stepson who loves to play sports. With us, getting out and doing a sport together, any sport, brings us back together no matter what’s going on. Non-verbally, we can just feel connected.

What is a recent challenge you’ve faced, personal or professional? 

Five years ago, I was dating a woman long distance, we got married and I moved to Austin. All my New York City actor friends were like “What are you doing in the suburbs?” My show-biz bubble was completely popped. Now I spend my days driving to football practice, going to PTA meetings, going to barbecues.

As you get older, you get set in your ways. And I’m so glad I just blew it all wide open. I became a full time step-dad when I was 52 years old. I moved to a place I used to hate: suburbia. But it turns out I love it, I love Austin. There’s something to be said about putting yourself into uncomfortable new situations later in life.

What has been your most valuable investment in recent memory?

Same thing. Moving to Austin. Uprooting myself. Investing in time with my stepson and my wife. Going for love rather than career. I spent my youth singularly focused on my career. 

What's one of the most uncomfortable experiences of your life, one that you would not take back or change?

Not to get too heavy, but it was probably my father’s death. His last three weeks on this earth, I spent every day and night with him. And the moment he passed, I held him in my arms. I would have been frightened, even repulsed by that idea when I was younger. But, fortunately, I faced my fear. Do you know that book Tuesdays with Morrie? That was my idea of how my dad’s death would be, that I was going to sit by his side, wit him telling me what life meant. That's not realistic – pearls of wisdom do not come from dying people's mouths. Death is not pretty. But facing it and being there with my Dad was profound, beautiful.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of advice – either giving it or receiving it. I was in theatre school and Carol Channing came to speak to us, do you know who she is? I had never met a professional actor in my life. And she said to us, “If you have even one ounce of doubt that you can make it in this business, you should get out now.” And I was devastated. I was riddled with doubt and I still am! Every scene I still say "Uh-oh, what am I doing?" So, I don't particularly like advice. And when parents ask me to talk to their sons and daughters about acting and film, I end up mostly just listening to them, hearing what they want out of their lives.