‘This Is Us’ Postmortem: Milo Ventimiglia Didn’t See That Twist Coming, Either

Gerald McRaney as Doctor K, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
Gerald McRaney as Doctor K, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Sept. 20 premiere episode of This Is Us.

Stars — they really are just like us. Sometimes they miss the clues that lead up to the big reveal too. Such was the case for Milo Ventimiglia when he first read the pilot script for his new drama This Is Us.

“People shouldn’t feel bad for not catching it. I certainly missed it,” the actor tells Yahoo TV. After all, says the actor, the twist — that his Jack and Mandy Moore’s Rebecca are the parents of Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — wasn’t obvious. “They did a very good job of cloaking the connection between these characters and the time change — and hopefully people missed the details because they were so caught up in the storylines and the relationships we were presenting.”

Ventimiglia is excited to explore those storylines and relationships further in a show he says is “basically life caught on camera.” He chatted with Yahoo about his faux family, channeling his dad, old-age makeup, and his “timeless ass.”

This is quite different than your last TV gig, The Wishpers. Why was this something you wanted to do?
For me, people have gotten used to me being in the heavy furrowed brow, world-is-ending realm. They expect me to be around fake dead bodies or aliens or superheroes. And I am fine with that. I wasn’t looking for something different, but I also welcomed it once this kind of found me. I was a huge, huge Dan Fogelman [show creator] fan and also one of John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, who directed the pilot. Coincidentally the four of us have a lot of friends in common. So when the script cam to me off cycle from the normal pilot season in October, I paid attention because of the names associated with it. And then, I read it and I loved it. It would have stood out in a pile of a 1,000 scripts. But I took the meeting just because I wanted to meet these guys who our mutual friends told me are great guys. But when I read the script and met the people behind the series and they were good people on top of being talented, I got nervous. I really hoped I made a good impression because by that point I really wanted the gig. Jack is a character I really hope to play with for quite awhile.

 How would you explain the show and the role?
That has been the most difficult thing about this project — to explain it to people who haven’t seen the first episode without ruining it. It’s about parenthood, childhood, trying to be your best self, loss, career challenges and ambition, confidence or the lack of, self-esteem, falling in love, marriage. You name it, we will probably touch on it at some point through one of the interconnected stories that follow characters that you can really root for. You will see their heartbreak, their victories, and you will relate to them at the end of day.

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Four of the characters are united because they share a birthday.
That is the thread that ties them together at first. They all have the same birthday and they are all turning 36. But there is more to it and once people know the greater connection between these characters and storylines, then they will really be invested.

I find the birthday concept and the theory that sharing a birthday might lead to shared traits or interests to be very interesting. Think there is anything there? You share your July 8 birthday with Sophia Bush, Kevin Bacon, Beck, John D. Rockefeller, and one of Kourtney Kardashian’s children for instance.
I can only hope to reach their level of success. I have a few friends with the same birthday and there are undeniable shared qualities. The way we approach life and the happiness we get out of it is very similar. You can read into it or deny it and both arguments can probably be made, but I like to believe in a little bit of magic.
 

Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Did you see the twist coming at the end of the pilot when you read the script? Or were you made aware that you and Mandy Moore are actually the other characters bio and adoptive parents?
No. I was completely floored. I was at 35,000 feet in the air on a plane reading it for the first time and I think I even said out loud, “Wait, what?” I leaned back in my chair and thought about it and then I finished reading it and then I went back to page 1 and read it top to bottom again to see if I had missed a clue.  For the last 45 minutes of my flight, I started imagining and dreaming about what I would do with this character. Who is this man I am going to play? What are his faults? His dreams or his wants in life? What des he want to accomplish? When I was back on the ground in LA, I realized just how excited I was about this show.
 

I totally missed it and did not figure it out. I think I was sidetracked from noticing details by your naked booty flying across the screen.
It’s not your fault. My ass is timeless. And also what I am wearing once I put on clothes is a lot like what hipsters wear to coffee shops in LA. And beards are commonplace now, too. A lot of people say they just thought Mandy and I were a hipster couple who collected some retro furniture living in Brooklyn or Silverlake.

 

I think it took see the fireman offer you a cigarette in the hospital for me to process what decade your storyline existed in.
Me too. I totally remember that people smoked everywhere when I was a kid. It’s funny when I talk to younger people who have seen the pilot and they are blown away by the idea that people smoked in planes and in hospitals and in restaurants. They think it is some sort of alternate reality. And I’m like, “This is not sci-fi. It’s just the past and we were a lot stupider back then about the effects of secondhand smoke.” It is bizarre to think that the generation after me doesn’t know what life was like before email and cell phones. It’s like, “We had pagers, mother f***er, and books on actual paper and pencils and all kinds of antiquated things. Yes, I am old.” But going back to the original point, I thought that was the genius of Dan, John, and Glenn. They were very careful about what they showed and how they angled the camera in order to keep that mystery until the end. And I thought that was a smart play for the story. But there are little clues that you would likely catch if you go back and watch it a second time. You will see the date on box in a very different way.

Dan said in our fall preview interview that he wants to use these characters to track the evolution of a marriage and that we will definitely see you at different ages and stages. There may even be some aging up of you and Mandy with makeup and prosthetics.
I have never had the opportunity to act in tights or a Lord Of The Rings type project, but I always imagine that once you put on the tights and the ears or the tail that you feel like you are really in that world. This is the same for us. We are transported into that era by the wardrobe and by being physically aged and by little things like the cigarette. It is not a far reach anymore to go from my late 30s to late 40s or even early 50s. It feels like a very pure experience as an actor. We are not putting on anything unnatural and I should know. I have done my fair share of running around in vampire teeth and alien eye contacts. This feels a lot more comfortable. And it comes off at the end of the day unlike my full-body tattoos I had for my last show. Those stayed on for five days and people really treated me differently. They would cross the street to walk on the other side. I had people actually try to fight me. That was the oddest experience. Now people just want to hug me and tug the beard.

Chrissy Metz as Kate, Justin Hartley as Kevin (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
Chrissy Metz as Kate, Justin Hartley as Kevin (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

I do get the sense that Jack is a good guy who really loves Rebecca and who was a good dad.
Yeah, what I know about him so far is that he is a good dude. I think his love for his wife and children is strong. But from what I have heard all marriages have ups and downs and he mentions that his life hasn’t always been perfect so I think there will be time to explore those things. As I understand it from Dan, because our characters are in the past, we are not beholden to a linear timeline. I think we will jump around from 1980, when the kids are born, to 1988 and then back to 1975 or forward to ’95. They are a timeless memory with regards to their kids. I think that whatever they choose to jump back to will be done so the audience is learning something new about them or about how that affected the kids.

In real life, you are not married and have no children. Is it a stretch or is it easy because we are dealing in universal emotional touchstones?
True, I am neither a father nor a husband presently. But ironically, it was the easiest role to jump into. I feel like I’m playing my father, and my father is the greatest man I know. I watch him with my mother and with his sisters and see the example that he was to all of us and I identified this good-natured, kind-hearted fun spirit with my dad, and that has made it so easy to find Jack. He has a good sense of humor. He’s goofy. He’s picking up a rectal exam tool and making a joke about it, which I could totally see my dad [doing]. He’s still after sex with his wife on his birthday. He loves tradition. I just connected to him. It was a lot easier to dive into Jack’s shoes because I had already experienced a guys like this through my dad. And I don’t think you have to be a dad or a husband to play one. I didn’t shoot heroin to play a drug addict. I didn’t have to get abducted to be in The Whispers.

The relationship you have with Mandy feels so heartfelt and real.
We only had two days to get to know each other when we shot the pilot, but we had some conversations leading up to it. I made it clear that from action to cut, she was my wife, and I would do whatever I could to get it right and whatever she needed from me. If you’re not happy, I’m not happy. We made a pact to be open and communicate and it has worked so far. I truly believe if people aren’t already in love with her, they will be after watching this show. She is so amazing. She has such a good spirit and such a kind deep soul. I keep getting affected by moments we are filming now. I catch my heart breaking as I watch her work. I have to do very little prep for a scene with her.

Ron Cephas Jones as William, Sterling K. Brown as Randall (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Ron Cephas Jones as William, Sterling K. Brown as Randall (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

It must be strange to be on an ensemble show but work with very few people in the ensemble. Will you get to work with Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley or Chrissy Metz much?
That is to be discovered. So far no. But I am very proud of my fake kids. The whole time I watched People versus OJ I was like, “That’s my man. That’s my son.” I’m like a proud papa of an Emmy winner. The nice thing about us as a cast, even as spread out as we are currently, we are still connected. Justin had an idea about something for his character in the present day and we talked about it and it worked out with something I was doing in the past. So we presented it to the producers and they liked it. I try to go to set as often as I can to see what they are doing and watch them chew the scenery. I’m like a ghost.
 

Is there an era you are most excited to play in?
No I don’t think there is one I am more draw to. I look forward to all of them because it is going to be cool to find the subtle changes in the relationships and in him. I get to play something totally different every time because he will be different at 30 than he is at 36 with newborns or at 42 with toddlers. And if we go earlier than the pilot, I don’t have all the information or all the experience that I would have had at 36.

You will also be seen on the return of Gilmore Girls on Netflix this fall. How did it feel to go back to Stars Hollow?
I loved the show and I was very happy to go back and be involved. In the time I spent on that show and in the years away from it, I got really close with Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino]. They basically adopted me as their fake son and we have stayed close over time. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. There was never any other thought when a Gilmore Girls revival idea was being floated other than when and where do I show up?  That show was my education in the business. I was trying to figure the business out and now I was on this fast-talking incredibly smart series playing a character that was too smart for his own good and thought he knew everything. Going back allowed me to honor that character and that education. Plus, they also are telling new stories and furthering these characters that people already love. They wanted to give more to the fans and it felt very pure. It did not feel like a money grab.
 

How do you feel about present-day Jess?
I think he turned out to be a very good guy. I think that the purpose that Jess always served was to get people to think about what they were doing and that purpose became more pure the older he got. He didn’t have to do things to get a reaction to serve his own purposes anymore. In the new version he is there to inspire some people hopefully.

Did it make you think about what happened to any other characters you have played over the years?
Now I feel like a schizophrenic trying to remember all the voices in his head. I don’t know actually. I have made my peace with my parts. And a lot of guys I have played are heavy, man. They are killers. They have lightening shooting out of their hands. They are playthings for aliens. I think I’m good just hanging out with Jack at the moment.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.