updated 05/24/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/24/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT
That woman was Bojana Jankovic. "We made eye contact," she says. "And that was it." They started a two-year long-distance relationship before she moved to Los Angeles and married Weatherly last September, giving the actor the stability he never realized he had longed for. After shunning the spotlight since his high-profile engagement to then-Dark Angel costar Jessica Alba ended in 2003, Weatherly, 41, has finally mellowed out. Now, he says, "there seems to be complete joy in everything that happens."
Marrying the Serbian-Canadian Bojana, now a resident in internal medicine, also helped him come to peace with his years as a Hollywood hotshot. "I had gotten to a much more mature stage in my life and understood myself much better," says Weatherly, who doesn't dwell on his ill-fated romance with Alba. "That was a long time ago. I'm very Zen and living in this moment."
He's never been one to second-guess his decisions. Growing up in Fairfield, Conn., he sparked to acting early on, dropping out of American University at 21 to pursue it full-time, much to dad Michael's chagrin. "His father was like, 'I'm cutting you off!'" says his mom, Patricia, "but I felt he could try it. It's an attitude, and his is so positive." Clarifies Weatherly: "At no point did he ever cut me out. He just wanted me to earn my way in the world."
Now Weatherly is encouraging the acting dreams of his own son August, 14 (from his first marriage). "He's the coolest of the cool," he says, raving about seeing his boy in a school play recently. "He played two roles, and I was bursting with pride." August might also get to play big brother sometime; kids "are definitely in our future," says Bojana, 29.
But first, there's the matter of Weatherly's NCIS future. His contract ends after the May 25 season finale, and he and his costars are still negotiating with CBS over a new deal. However, "I fully expect us all to be back in July making season 8," says Weatherly. "I will be sad if it ever ends. It may never end!"