And as one of the leading men on the year’s most successful hit, This Is Us, Ventimiglia is inching toward uncharted territory. On the NBC drama, he brings the soul to Jack Pearson, devoted husband and caring dad of three, a character that has quickly become, to many viewers, a surrogate father figure. “People are transferring this love for Jack onto me,” he says, almost in astonishment over the groundswell of admiration his character has received in a rather brief amount of time. He is too modest to suggest that he may be a big part of the reason why. “Hopefully, he can stay revered and not fall as fast as he rose.”
There was a time when Ventimiglia would have been anxious about the next big role or aiming haphazardly for success. But as the actor prepares to say goodbye to his 30s -- he turns 40 on July 8 -- he’s less worried about individual acclaim and more interested in satisfying his own creative curiosity. Ironically, it’s this change in mandate -- something that has happened in the past few years -- that’s brought him the critical praise (and Emmy buzz) he now contends with following the breakout success of This Is Us.
“I'm a working-class guy. I appreciate the hard work and I'm uncomfortable with any kind of accolade,” Ventimiglia says, shrugging off any undue attention that may come with playing Jack.
“Someone telling me I need to do better makes me want to do better,” he says, acknowledging that the role has “softened” him around the edges. “I’ve played a string of very serious men -- action-driven, science-fiction, fantasy-driven -- and now I’m just a dad with babies who have sh*tty diapers; teenagers who have freak-outs; and 8-year-olds who want to run around and splash kids at the pool. It’s softened me up to make me a little more accessible to people in life.”
On a deeper level, This Is Us has fortuitously paralleled the values and ideals Ventimiglia strives to live by each and every day. “[The show] has reaffirmed views that I have on life, on love, on kindness, on dedication,” he explains, specifically calling back to the final scene of the season, where Jack assures his wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), that the kids “are going to be fine” following their breakup. “They do the best they can [as parents], but at the end of the day, what happens to them is bigger than who they are.”
It’s also added a new perspective on “parents out there,” and the way he thinks about his mother and father. “There’s a lot that reaffirms the way I try to live my life,” he says, adding that it’s “more than the discovery of ‘Wow, I never looked at life that way.’”