Milo Ventimiglia has been through plenty of ups and downs in his career. Following a popular stint on Gilmore Girls, then a lead role in Heroes, Ventimiglia seemed to go quiet. While he continued working, his star never seemed to rise to its previous heights. But now all that has radically changed with the role of Jack Pearson in NBC’s This Is Us.
Ventimiglia has experienced a kind of renaissance, and with it, much critical acclaim and an Emmy nomination for his nuanced portrayal of the father of triplets who ultimately suffers a tragic—but as yet unknown—fate. Now heading into its second season and renewed for a third, This Is Us received an impressive 11 noms for its dramatic take on family life, though in a strange turn of recent events, one of 11 was taken away. Meanwhile, fans are going crazy trying to solve the mystery of how Jack will meet his fate.
The chemistry between you and Mandy Moore on This is Us is perfect. Was that instant?
When we were there with one another in the very beginning, it clicked, in terms of liking one another. After conversations Mandy and I had had, we approached the work the same way and we both cared very deeply about the work. When time goes on and you’re on the same page with the work, and with your own characters and everything, then you just get closer as people and you become friends. Then, the bond that the audience gets to see is just what happens when you spend a good amount of time with someone that you really care about and that you’re sharing the work with. I thank God that [Dan] Fogelman picked who he picked.
The series creator has said that he never intended Jack to be this handsome guy. What did he tell you when you went in for the audition?
He never told me that he had a different vision when I walked in. Dan’s a very kind man, a very optimistic man, someone who wants the best for people. So when I went in, I never felt like he was hoping for someone different than me. I think as he explained to me, in his mind’s eye when he created the show and the characters, he just saw someone different. But he was like, ‘There was no doubt that when you walked in and we started talking, and you did your reading, that you were Jack.’
Why do you think Jack spoke to you personally? What resonated about him for you?
How simply he saw the world. I liked that he was an uncomplicated man; I like that his love of his wife through the season, his family, was all he needed. It was all that drove him to do what he did. I saw a lot of my own father in this man, someone who worked hard and basically gave his kids everything. Everything they’d ever want or need, including the kind of upbringing you’d hope you’d have, where you learn those hard lessons, but you’re not put in a bad position. My parents showered me with love and hugs and kisses, but at the same time, they gave me a good head on my shoulders hopefully, so when those bad situations came up, I was able to avoid them. So I don’t know: I saw a lot of my own father and my own upbringing in Jack and the Pearsons.
Fogelman has said that Mandy’s character is based on his own late mother. Do you know if Jack based on someone specific in his family?
That, I don’t know. He’s never told me if it’s relating to someone. But I feel like there’s a lot of Dan in all the characters—they’re really very much him. Dan would never admit it, but I think a lot of Jack’s strength comes from him. He’s honestly one of the best bosses to work for. Not only in the words he gives us, but the humanity, the spirit that he gives all of us. He has a way of making decisions that need to be made, and at the same time having this boyish excitement through the whole process.
What do you think is the reason for this huge appeal that Jack has?
I think a lot of people will peg him as the perfect guy. But I think in his imperfections, he is just like all of us. He’s a man who’s trying to do good for his family, for his wife, for his life—he’ll kill himself for them. I think that’s a very admirable thing, and to have that on network television, where a lot of things are crime or deep fantasy or scandal, I think it’s nice to have a good guy with good intentions who’s still human and makes mistakes. He’s someone that we can all relate to.
Fans are obsessed with Jack’s death. Were you surprised by what a massive deal that’s become?
Yeah, actually I have. With so much going on on the show, it’s surprising that people focus almost all their attention on that. Even when any of my co-stars will do press and I’ll ask them how it went, they’ll tell me, “Oh, they just want to know how Jack dies.” Like we’re all carrying this one big secret. You know, if anything, it means that the character has impacted people, and I think that’s always the biggest compliment to the process of the storytelling. To the writing, to the cinematography, to what us actors are able to do. It’s all working, it’s just all working that people care so deeply about this man. People are connected to this man. I’m very, very grateful.
Fogelman has said we will get a piece of the puzzle in Episode 1 of Season 2. Does that mean we have to wait for Season 3 to find out what happens to Jack?
Dan and I, the whole team, we’ve talked about the ending [of Season 1]. We knew that it was pretty polarizing. Some people were satisfied with the end of the season, and there was a good amount of people that weren’t satisfied because they didn’t find out how Jack died. They’re like, “Ah, we gotta wait around?” Hopefully people know that we have a lot of stories to tell in a very long series career. And that’s just one of them. So knowing what Dan said, we’re gonna find out pretty quick, but if you know anything about Dan’s style of storytelling, he may give you one answer, but that one answer’s going to come wrapped up in 20 more questions. That’s actually just storytelling, because it leads to conversation, and it leads to desire of discovery. There’s just a lot that is going to come from it. I know that Dan is mindful of the fact that people want to know. So it’s gonna happen; it’s gonna happen pretty quick.