The actor reveals to ET why the hospital scene was the 'hardest thing to film' on the show.
On Sunday's post-Super Bowl episode, the long-anticipated answer to the looming mystery surrounding Jack's death was finally revealed. Nearly two seasons in the making, This Is Us showed that Jack didn't perish in the house fire, but died hours later at the hospital from a heart attack due to complications from smoke inhalation. Equally heartbreaking was Rebecca's face going ghost-white as she saw Jack's lifeless body on the bed.
Mandy Moore shared during the This Is Us after-show that she wasn't aware Ventimiglia would be present for the heart-wrenching scene in the hospital room, and Rebecca's reaction to seeing his body was genuine. (Producers supposedly used Moore's first take.) Ventimiglia, 40, went into great detail about why he felt it was important for him to be there for that crucial moment, calling it the most challenging scene he's had to film on the show.
"I know how I am in regards to moments of experience, especially in moments of experience between Jack and Rebecca, and I wanted to... not throw a curveball for Mandy, but I wanted to be there," Ventimiglia told ET during a call on Monday. "It's one thing to have to act alone, it's another thing to take the history that she and I have worked on for two years and be a still, lifeless body there in front of her."
"I was ultimately hearing her break and fall into a million pieces. That might have been the hardest thing to film, because I had to lay still, but because I was listening to my friend crumbling," he continued.
When asked how he kept his emotions in check during Moore's emotional breakdown, Ventimiglia humbly noted that accomplishing difficult scenes like this are part of being an actor.
"That's just part of the job. That's the way that it goes. You know that you can't move, you can't make a peep. You have to be there for your scene partner. That's pretty much all I was focused on: I'm going to be here for Mandy," he recalled. "That's pretty much our routine in general. We're always there for one another. We made a pact of that ever since the beginning: Let's make this couple real."
Ventimiglia revealed that there was no extra footage from Jack's death scene left on the cutting room floor, telling ET that it was intentional on creator Dan Fogelman's part that audiences never saw Jack struggle in his final moments alive.
"We were never going to see the moment from Jack's point of view or the room of Jack actually dying. You weren't going to see that," he emphasized. "I think that was a very kind thing, not only to the audience, but also to Rebecca. I want to believe that Jack knew something was not quite right and he might have asked his wife to step out of the room so that she didn't have to suffer through that. But it was edited and ran as it was originally conceived."
Ventimiglia also spoke at length about filming the final scene that viewers saw Jack alive in the hospital room with Rebecca, when they were sweetly joking about their failure to buy batteries and Rebecca blocking the television, the latter Jack's final words to his wife.
"Mandy and I, over the course of filming the show, have grown to appreciate the time that we get together. But knowing that was the last time for Jack and Rebecca was especially painful. We had to keep an eye on ourselves that we weren't playing too much into it because the truth is, Jack and Rebecca made it out out of the fire and, to all their knowledge, the hard part was done," he said to reporters on the call. "We didn't want to put too much into the body language or the way they responded to one another. It was just Jack and Rebecca sitting there, as they have in the past, reflecting on what that hospital means to them or getting beyond the event that they pretty much walked away from. We were doing our best to be Jack and Rebecca in that moment dealing with any given thing."
Looking ahead, Ventimiglia assures fans worried that Sunday's episode marked the last they'll see of Jack alive in the past that that is simply not the case. Though Tuesday's episode will revolve heavily around Jack's funeral, it will also show Jack alive and well in happier times with his wife and kids revolving around the family station wagon.
Ventimiglia revealed to ET that while he wanted to be present for the filming of Jack's funeral, he chose not to watch. Instead, he wanted his character's "presence to be felt" and not to be distraction on the day.
"But my heart breaks for the family, for Rebecca, for Kevin, for Kate, for Randall," he conceded. "Here is a family who have lost such a large part of who they all are as a group, and the idea of moving forward and moving on is something that's hard to bear. They are a strong family, and that's one thing that Jack's given them is strength, so my heart breaks but at the same time, I don't worry about the Pearsons at all."
The funeral episode will have a "somber tone" to it," he teased, promising that there is "a lot of lightness" as well. "There is a lot of laughter and a lot of lightness, but it's also the life of the Pearsons," Ventimiglia previewed. "They are a great, fun group who have had a bunch of heavy times but they also know how to laugh."
But did it feel a little strange essentially watching his own funeral? Ventimiglia chuckled at the thought before offering up a piece from his signature Milo Ventimiglia humble pie: "I can't have any sadness for myself or my character, but I feel for other people. I can't imagine [Jack's death] was a fun scene for my mother or my father to watch, nor will the funeral be."
This Is Us returns with a new episode Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.