On the USA television series "Burn Notice," he plays a do-it-yourself ex-spy. That same DIY mentality follows actor Jeffrey Donovan in his own life. Reached by e-mail, he told me that he loved to plan out and "actually do my own renovations. I designed and built a 100-foot split-cedar rail fence to enclose my property. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Don't recommend doing it alone. I also built a 100-square-foot back porch. Again, don't recommend doing it alone."
Donovan, who lives in Topanga, Calif., is in Chicago these days starring in the comedy "Don't Dress for Dinner" (which opens Sunday at the Royal George Theatre and runs through Jan. 11). Topanga, he said, is on the outskirts of Los Angles, "up in the Santa Monica Mountains. It's very rural. Coyotes and deer fight for territory."
He shares the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with girlfriend Kathryn and their three boys (the oldest is 10). "It's a small ranch house that was built in the '50s that has not been altered since it was built. It's one of the older buildings still up there" in the area. "It sits on an acre of land overlooking the Topanga State Park. My front yard is basically 11,000 acres. There's no way anyone is building in front of me."
Donovan, 40, who also can be seen co-starring with Angelina Jolie in " Changeling," says his decorating style is "whatever my girlfriend's style is. She has a way of making the house shabby chic, but masculine at the same time."
Most luxurious feature in your home: Believe it or not, it's not there yet, but I'm an avid golfer and my backyard cannot grow grass because of shade and nutrients. So I will be installing a cutting-edge artificial turf putting green that actually allows percolation.
How is your home similar or different from your childhood home? I grew up in low-income housing in Massachusetts that had a major road, Route 110, as my front yard. Not the best for little boys running around. Now my house is in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains. Sooo different.
One thing in your house from your childhood: I have a picture of me and my two brothers from 1974 framed on the wall. It's a picture of us in one of those beach photo-booths and we crammed all three of us on the stool. We were 4, 6 and 9. During the Blizzard of '78, our house got water damage and flooded all our pictures as children. It's one of the few remaining pieces from my childhood.
Weirdest food item in the pantry or fridge: Whatever has been opened by the kids and put back without finishing. It becomes its own science project.
What item in your home most reflects your personality: Fresh herbs. Love cooking with them. And my 50-bottle wine cellar. I just can't force myself to drink any of them.
Favorite household chore: I don't do chores. Not since I was 16. I can afford someone else now.
Is "green living" important to you? Absolutely. My entire house is electric and will be solarized by the end of 2009. I will be off grid. I also drive a hybrid.
What kind of exercise equipment would we find in your home? Nothing. I have yard work and chain saws for that. Digging holes and pushing wheelbarrows is all the workout equipment I need.
What is currently on your nightstand? Half-finished "Atlas Shrugged" [by Ayn Rand] and just finished "Rules of Deception" by Christopher Reich.
Biggest surprise we would find in your closet: Half-eaten food. The kids hide it for future eating, I guess. I have a bunch of squirrels living with me.
Favorite room in the house: Back porch, overlooking the park under massive oak trees.
Any keepsakes in the house from previous acting jobs? I have this black-and-white photo that [actor] Colm Feore took of me with a vintage instant camera on the set of "Changeling." The film is set in L.A. in the 1930s and I am standing next to a Ford Model T. It could have been taken 70 years ago it's so realistic.