PASADENA, Calif. - Tate Donovan has been an actor for 30 years, yet he admits he still gets panicky before each project.

"Every time I act or direct I'm nervous. That's the most interesting thing ... I still get totally nervous, and think, 'I'm not going to be able to pull this off' or 'I don't know what I'm doing.' You'd think I'd be like, 'Oh, I got this.' But never," he says.

"There are moments I've felt, 'I've got this. I don't have to worry about it.' And then something happens and I trip up or think I didn't prepare enough. So it's fascinating. The most surprising thing about life in show business is how you continually get nervous."

He didn't have to fret about auditioning for his role as the wealthy son who is suspected of murder in NBC's "Deception," which airs 10 p.m Mondays on NBC. But playing him is a whole other challenge.

Best known for "Argo," "Damages," "Friends" and as the voice of Hercules in Disney's animated movie, Donovan often portrays the stalwart good guy.

"I was very intrigued to play this character because the whole world thinks he's guilty of murdering this woman and raping her when he was younger, and he got off because he was super wealthy. You know when you have a kid and you tell him he's a bad seed, they become bad seeds. So he really doesn't care what people think of him. I think he prefers it if people don't like him. It's more his comfort zone."

Donovan, 49, is just the opposite. "I want people to like me, everywhere I go. I'm an actor - I desperately want people to like me," he says. "So it's a very liberating, fun experience to play someone who doesn't give a darn about how you feel about him."

The New Jersey native has had a lifetime of caring what people think. When he finally admitted to his family he wanted to be an actor, his father didn't speak to him for four years.

That breach continued to fester. "The death of my father - literally dying in my arms - was probably the most amazing intimate experience I've ever had," he says.

"It changed me, I guess because I had a lot of anger toward my father and seeing him suffer and being so close to him just burned away all that anger and made me realize that it doesn't matter whether you think your parents are good parents or bad parents, or they mussed you up, or you're angry at them, it's their tremendous impact on you."

He says he became less judgmental. "I understood things a little bit more ... That has actually helped me in my acting and directing - which is to get away from 'good' or 'bad' and to get more to what's the effect? Is my character a good guy or a bad guy? That's meaningless. It's like, 'What am I doing? How can I make this scene better as opposed to judging it?' Once an actor or director judges something as good or bad or good or evil then he's distanced himself from it. If you're intimate with it, if you accept the gray of it, it's generally a lot more compelling."