Milo Ventimiglia may be playing one of television’s best dads on This Is Us, but he looked to his own family for inspiration behind Jack, the endearing Pearson family patriarch.
“I feel like Jack has the same heart as my father,” Ventimiglia told Interview magazine. “My father was a very fun dad; he was always coaching our soccer sports teams, he made sure that we had activities to do. He was kind of goofy and fun. But at the same time, he had a lot of lessons to teach us.”
“I try and reflect a lot of how I was raised by my father in the character that I'm playing now in being a dad,” added the 39-year-old actor, who grew up with two older sisters. “You gotta be strong for these kids. You also have to be fun and teach them all the lessons, not just one, or two, or three.”
When Ventimiglia is on the set of This Is Us, he has a visual reminder of his childhood in his trailer that helps him get into the mindset to play Jack, whose death serves as a sort of ongoing mystery for fans.
“I'm in my trailer right now, and in it I have a photograph of my dad and I when I was about 3 years old, and above it, it says ‘Be a good father’ and below it, it says ‘Be a good husband,’” he shared. “It's really simple -- really simple, easy things to look at right before I walk out of my trailer.”
It’s clearly helped. Since the show’s debut, Jack has become a glowing example of a father giving his three children (two biological, one adopted) the necessary tools and lessons to succeed as the best versions of themselves.
“I don’t really consider it,” Ventimiglia said when asked if it was intimidating portraying a character viewers are rooting for. “I don’t feel the pressure to deliver this unrealistically great man to the screen; I just want to be honest to who he is on the page. If I can reflect that and put some heart into him and make him real, then I think I’ve done my job, and I think that people will like who he is.”
It’s been a particularly fulfilling year professionally for Ventimiglia, who also reprised his role as bad boy Jess Mariano on Netflix’s Gilmore Girls revival, A Year in the Life.
“I think I’ve gotten older, just as a man,” Ventimiglia said of playing Jess a decade later. “So maybe if when I was younger I would want to see a reaction, at this point I want someone to open their heart up and give me all the details, make me see how I can help them along. It felt a little more akin to how [I] approach things in life nowadays as opposed to reckless juvenile antics, which I think is what Jess was a master in.”
Though Jess was one of Rory’s three loves on Gilmore Girls, Ventimiglia was less interested in the debate over which boy she should end up with and more into what she wanted to be and do professionally.
“What is she going to achieve for herself? It isn't reliant on the guy that she ‘ends up with,’” he said. “It was one of those things that I never really thought about in great detail, other than what she was going to do in the world of literature or business or anything else that she excelled in.”
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life ends on a satisfying note, but the final scene -- and the much ballyhooed last four words -- will leave even more to be desired.
“I think that any good storytelling lends itself to closing a chapter but also knowing that there’s few more volumes beyond that to dream of. [Executive producers] Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino] really crafted a story that gives the satisfaction of a closing, but people are also still going to want more,” Ventimiglia said. “It's not quite like sugar, where if you eat more you want more. It's more like you found a coin on the beach and you wonder if there's buried treasure underneath.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is streaming on Netflix.