Tate Donovan Tate Donovan

Tate Donovan always plays the nice guy. Remember The O.C.'s Jimmy Cooper? Friends' Joshua? His character on Damages (Wednesdays at 10 pm/ET, FX) might have gotten his hands dirty a time or two, but he's a regular saint compared to his colleagues. But is that about to change? We chatted with Donovan to get his take on swimming with the sharks, and to see how close his character comes to the dark side before the season wraps.

TVGuide.com: On a show chock-full of morally questionable characters, where do you think Tom Shayes falls?
Tate Donovan: I think he's better-looking than most of the people. [Laughs] No, I think the greatness of the show is that there is a lot of moral ambiguity, and everyone's capable of doing anything. That's what keeps it exciting — you just don't know which character is going to do what. You can't trust anything.

TVGuide.com: So do you ever fear that one day Tom will just get whacked?
Donovan: I'm pretty sure that I, Tate Donovan, would only survive 10 seconds in the world of Damages. I would just be eaten alive. But I don't think they're necessarily itching to get rid of me. Tom comes off as an affable guy, but we've seen he's capable of doing selfish things. He's doing what he must to survive in a pretty treacherous world. I think he really loves his family, and will do whatever it takes to stay afloat.

TVGuide.com: And by whatever it takes, you mean buying off a plaintiff like Monique Bryant?
Donovan: Yeah, and I think he was planning on doing it. I think he thought that this is what it takes to become a big-time lawyer. That case comes back as another big plot point for my character down the line.

TVGuide.com: You mentioned the family, but we haven't seen much of them this season. I worried the writers might've "gone there" with Ellen and Tom's West Virginia road trip.
Donovan: [Laughs] No, they didn't go in that direction. I guess they thought Ellen had enough on her plate without one of her coworkers groping at her. But we haven't seen much of the family so far, and Tom has to make some tough decisions on that front later in the season. And Ellen and Tom's relationship is definitely changed by the end of the season too.

TVGuide.com: Does that mean Tom won't be helping Ellen with the FBI? Tom could surely build a strong case against Patty.
Donovan: All I can say is you're clearly watching the show very carefully, and I'm very impressed with you. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Speaking of Patty, is she ever going to treat Tom like the partner he became last season?
Donovan: No, not at all. [Laughs] He's still totally second fiddle. But it's an interesting place to be. Tom sort of lays in wait, but that position has its unique sense of power.

TVGuide.com: And there's certainly tougher gigs than playing second fiddle to Glenn Close, right?
Donovan: Definitely. She's the type of actress who raises the level of everybody. Everyone on the set knows we have to do a great job because comes totally prepared, and she asks the greatest questions I've ever heard an actress ask. Our show is written and shot very last minute, and it's a crazy web that we weave. And she's really fantastic about always getting it right.

TVGuide.com: So you guys are as confused shooting it as we are when watching?
Donovan: Definitely, but it's good. It's like life — you can't make decisions based on the end, you just have to be present in the moment. You never know just how the producers are going to use it, but you just try to be as real as you can and as good as you can be in that scene.

TVGuide.com: Is it ever a surprise to you when you see the finished product?
Donovan: All of our producers [Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman] are genius editors. They will take scenes from last year and mix and match. It's like you give them clay, and they mold it into a piece of art. It's really extraordinary.

TVGuide.com: So, give us your best teaser for the rest of the season.
Donovan: Oh, God. Good luck, man. I have no idea. I have a friend who calls the show the New York Times crossword puzzle of TV shows. It's a total brain teaser, but it's addictive, and once you've started, you gotta complete it. But it's challenging.