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This Is Mr Milo Ventimiglia
The This Is Us star on turning 40 and TV as therapy as he models the latest watches by Piaget
Mr Milo Ventimiglia is good company. As he eats avocado on toast in the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA, he is asking as many questions as he is answering. At no point do you feel like the peak fame he is experiencing as the star of the biggest drama on American TV right now has gone to his head. Remarkably, he’s pretty chilled about the whole thing.
An average of 15 million people tuned into the debut series of This Is Us, the NBC family drama following a set of triplets from procreation to present day, making it second overall only to The Big Bang Theory in the latest rankings. Mr Ventimiglia plays Jack, the construction worker father to his brood known as “the big three”; Ms Mandy Moore plays his on-screen wife. The show’s success, which includes 10 Emmy nominations at this Sunday’s ceremony – Mr Ventimiglia is in the Outstanding Lead Actor category – he believes is down to how real and relatable creator Mr Dan Fogelman’s characters come across.
“People need shows that are similar to their life, where heart and family is front and centre. Hopefully, it’s forcing them to look at their lives, how to make a positive change, to connect with a family member or connect with a loved one, see another side, communicate. People have told me the show is therapy – they have a good cry, but also they feel like they have a better approach to their own life by watching the show.”
So far this year he’s been a guest on Ellen, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon; the series has won People’s Choice, Critic’s Choice and Writers Guild awards and the network has commissioned another two 18-part seasons, locking in Mr Ventimiglia until February 2019. Yet, 18 months ago, you might not have recognised him. How is he coping with the change of pace? “When everyone pushes harder and faster because of the speed of growth of the show, I start to back off, slow down, remain present. When I was younger, I got caught up in dreaming too far ahead in the future. The older I’ve gotten, the more I want to appreciate where I happen to be, the people I happen to be with, the moments that don’t happen to everyone. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do since I was a kid. There’s nothing more that I need.”
So far, so philosophical. But wisdom follows experience and Mr Ventimiglia has been here once before. Eleven years ago, Heroes, the NBC sci-fi superhero show that had the handwriting of a classic comic-book adaptation (it wasn’t), became a hit show across the globe. It won People’s Choice and Television Critics Association awards and Time magazine named the cast in its “Person Of The Year” list under “People Who Mattered”. Mr Ventimiglia played Peter Petrelli, a nurse-cum-paramedic able to absorb other’s special powers, the romantic lead opposite Ms Hayden Panettiere. As the pair became involved off-screen, Mr Ventimiglia was subjected to the 24/7 media attention that comes with being one half of a famous hot couple. Twelve years his junior, she was 18 when they got together and two years later, they split.
What did he learn from the experience? “Never do it again,” he says. “There are things that happen to you in your life that shape who you are. Everything I’ve been through from jobs to friendships to partnerships, everything has built me to who I am. You learn from it. You learn a better way of doing things. It wasn’t until my mid to late twenties that the job wears on you, relationships wear on you. But I wouldn’t change a thing. When you get knocked over the head in life, it builds your perspective.”
Previously, he had also dated Ms Alexis Bledel, his co-star in Gilmore Girls, the high-school drama that gave him his big break at 24 having dropped out of UCLA after four years of interrupted study as acting took off. “I realised I had to let school go. There’s always one thing I wish I could have done – finish.”
Born in Anaheim, California, to a father who was in the printing business and a school-teacher mother, most of Mr Ventimiglia’s youth was spent in Orange County, growing up with his two elder sisters. He is a third-generation immigrant, holds an Italian passport and his father was raised in a Sicilian-Italian speaking house in Chicago. His mother is “English, Irish, Scottish, French, Cherokee and black – a blonde-haired, blue-eyed mutt.”
A strong work ethic – one of the Ventimiglia family values – was there from the beginning. “I never really had a safety net of you can take it easy, you can ride this out. My mum and dad were incredibly supportive, they made sure I was supported through school, but the second I got my first couple of jobs, I paid back student loans from Mum and Dad.” So in his mid-twenties, he decided he was ready to have his own production company, which he set up with his friend Mr Russ Cundiff, with whom he shared a taste for the same comics and films. Mr Ventimiglia would dress up in suits when pitching in an attempt to look older. (While he no longer wears suits for meetings, his collection includes nearly 40 from Ralph Lauren’s Black and Purple Label.) Gradually, they won business in the form of commercials, fashion campaigns, short films and digital content projects.
“As an actor, there’s a lot of downtime. I had this want to create work. Nothing is more satisfying as a producer to look around on set at 70 people and go, ‘Wow, these people are all working because me and my buddies put something together. I’ve got a great partner, a good office, and that allows me to go on set for 10, 12, 14 hours a day, check in through the day and on a day off I can take meetings, take pitches, sell TV shows, set up movies.’”
This summer, Mr Ventimiglia turned 40. In person he looks a decade younger. “I’ve always looked forward to being older because people always looked at me as younger. It was the same thing with my mother and my father. My father is 70 and my mother is closing in. But they don’t look it. They have young genes. Young spirits.” His dark hair is thick with no greys, his brow lines are few and he has the fresh face of dietary discipline. It’s no surprise he is is a lifelong vegetarian. “I never knew anything different. It’s not very Italian… I listen to my body. Eat a lot of lentils, beans, nuts. I do whey shakes if I’m on the go.”
Exercise plays an important part in his life off set and out of the production house. He works out with his trainer and friend Mr Jason Walsh, briefing him with the required body shape required for every new role. For This Is Us, Mr Ventimiglia was adamant his character was more “dad bod” than beefcake. “Jack works in construction. He’s a guy’s guy. He lives in Pittsburgh. He should be of a certain weight. Just solid. I didn’t want him to be rock-hard ripped with solid abs. I feel like I have the size and strength you want your dad to have. To be the strongest man in the room for his kids and for his wife. Beyond that, I’m a little loose in the middle. Whomever I’m playing owns my physique, my hairstyle, my beard, whatever. If I were playing a superhero, you’ve got to get the superhero shape.” Other than TV and film, his big passion is riding motorbikes. He owns two Harley-Davidsons, which he rides from his home in LA’s Westside to Divide Pictures’ base in Hollywood (he is looking to buy a third). And he’s recently taken up learning Japanese (said to be one of the best ways to stay young and stave off Alzheimer’s).
He celebrated his fifth decade by buying himself a 1963 Rolex Day-Date to join the new Omega Speedmaster (because he couldn’t find a vintage one at the right price), and 1977 Rolex with “Jack” engraved on the case (“Given to me by someone I love as a congratulations for getting This Is Us”). His collection doesn’t yet feature a dress watch like the Piaget Altiplano he wears in the MR PORTER shoot today, alongside the Mr Gérald Genta-inspired Polo S, which you might describe as a more affordable cousin of the Mr Genta-designed Patek Philippe Nautilus. The most important watch in his collection, however, is his father’s Seiko, bought in Saigon in 1968, on his first of two tours in Vietnam. “He pulled it out of the drawer one day and handed it to me. I was like, ‘Wow man, this went through a war twice as well as stood time’.” But the latest purchase, the 1963 Rolex in gold, is “the one that you pass on”, he says.
Neither Mr Ventimiglia nor his co-star Ms Moore are parents. The watch suggests he is in a relationship, but he won’t be drawn. Does playing a devoted father of three for seven months of the year make him want that to change? “At some point. I’m sure I’ll be a father when I’m meant to be a father. If I never have kids, then I was never meant to have kids as well. I think there’s a societal norm where you get married, you have a family, you raise a family, you pass on yourself to that family. Then you pass on. In entertainment, sometimes being a known person, you get to pass that on to a larger group of people than just your kin, than just your immediate family. You’re able to, hopefully, give something good out to a larger group of people.”
On the 26 September, season two of This Is Us airs. If you haven’t yet seen the first series, there’s a spoiler coming up: it is revealed early on that Jack is dead in the present day, but by no means does that mean he his character is going anywhere, no “Ned Stark moment” as he calls it, such is the nature of the narrative, which is split across the present day and the triplets’ formative years with Jack ruling the roost. But he does reveal that in season two, we will see how Jack dies, and witness a cameo from one of his mentors, Mr Sylvester Stallone, whose son he played in 2006’s Rocky Balboa. When the This Is Us producers mooted Mr Stallone’s name, Mr Ventimiglia knew he should make the call.
“[Working on Rocky Balboa,] I almost feel like he saw a little bit of himself in me. We both have this crooked mouth and we’d talk about sitting in the mirror and trying to correct and straighten it. He said when he was younger and he didn’t have money for acting school, he’d sit in a mirror with a little TV watching soap operas and he’d try and deliver the lines. He created himself. He taught himself. He saw others who maybe had a little more privilege and little more resources that he didn’t have and he still became this writing, directing, acting, producing superstar.”
And then he’s off for the shoot and a fitting of the new Ralph Lauren tuxedo he’s wearing on Sunday’s Emmys. And like everything else he does in his life, he wants it to be just right.
Season two of This Is Us starts 26 September on NBC