Milo Ventimiglia (‘This Is Us’): ‘You won’t see what’s coming’ with Jack in Season 3 [Complete Interview Transcript]

Milo Ventimiglia is coming off the second season of “This Is Us” having further deepened his beloved character, family man Jack Pearson. He is also coming off his first Emmy nomination, where he was nominated alongside co-star Sterling K. Brown in the Best Drama Actor category. Both are in the running again for Season 2, where they could become the first duo from the same show to earn repeat nominations in the Drama Actor category since 1999 with Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits from “NYPD Blue.”

Ventimiglia recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria and contributor Amanda Spears in an exclusive video chat about his newfound awards success, what it takes to play Jack Pearson and what’s ahead for Season 3 of “This Is Us.” Watch the web chat above and read the entire interview transcript below.

Gold Derby (Rob Licuria): Milo Ventimiglia, the first thing that we need to talk about straight up is that Emmy nomination last year. You have no idea how excited so many of us were about it. I can’t even imagine how excited you were so I wanna go back to the morning of when that was announced.

Milo Ventimiglia: Sure, the morning of, I had a lot to do that day. I had a call time of 11:30 in the morning and I had to go to a photo lab and I had to run around town and awards, I feel like they have a strange way of diminishing the good work of others, and I don’t take compliments too well. I just like to work hard and… just work hard. So I kind of purposefully put myself on my motorcycle without any access to anyone. I think the announcements were at 8:30 and at 8:29 I got on my motorcycle and I left my house. Now, what I did do, though, I put in some headphones so that I could at least hear my phone ringing, and usually what happens around award time, especially being in the conversation, my best friend and producing partner, Russ, he’ll usually give me a call to say, “Hey buddy, you got kicked in the teeth this year. It’s okay. I still love you. You’re the best.” And that’s the phone call I usually get from my best friend, Russ. And what happened instead, I pulled out of my house and Russ was actually there and he goes, “Where are you going?” And I’m like, “I gotta go run some errands and then I gotta go to work.” And he was like, “Okay?” So then I got back on my bike and then I took off. I think he was maybe expecting to sit there together with me. He’s the kind of friend that shows up at five in the morning to say, “Hey bud, I still love you. You’re one of my favorite actors. I believe in you. Keep putting in the hard work.” So I got on my bike and I left and at about 8:34 I was riding and I heard my phone ring. And I thought, “You know what, it’s probably Russ.” So I just silenced it. And then in rang again. And I let it go. And then it rang again. And I’m on the freeway and I clicked it on and actually I hear Russ telling me, “Buddy, buddy, you got nominated. Buddy, you got nominated.” And so I pulled over.

Russ has been around for me almost my entire career so I think for him and a bunch of other people, to maybe see a recognition, I think was exciting and emotional. He was crying and he told me and I was like, “Great, okay. Cool. I gotta go. I gotta go to the photo lab. I gotta drop off this film. I gotta go talk to my editors about these prints that I’m making.” That was that. So I hung up, I got back on my motorcycle, I kept going and then my phone just kept buzzing and chirping and going and going. And I tuned it all out. And I started thinking about the 23 years I’ve been in front of the camera and how odd it was to me that people wanted to put me in a group of their favorites, or what they considered the best. I’ve never understood that. I show up to work because I love it. I really don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t an actor. I’m sure there’s a bunch of things I could’ve figured out, but for me, the happiest I am is when I’m on-set, and the reward has always been an audience watching or people saying to me that the work that I’ve been a part of or the work that I’ve done has impacted them or their friends or their family. So to hit that other level of, “No, no, no, buddy. You’re now one of seven,” which was kind of an odd number for actors for last year, it was both satisfying, humbling, terrifying and exciting.

GD (Rob): Yeah, it was so exciting because it doesn’t happen very often. “NYPD Blue,” “True Detective,” those are the last two shows that had leading actors nominated in the same category. It’s very rare and most of us were expecting to see Sterling there because he had a lot of awards attention.

MV: Sterling also had a great storyline that first season. He was able to show what he is capable of as an actor that he’s been working at for so many years.

GD (Rob): Yeah. But then to see you there as well, it was so wonderful because many of us really respond to Jack’s story. I do especially as a father myself. So I’m wondering, you go through Emmy season and then you’re there on the night. What was it like to be there? You were so happy for Sterling.

Gold Derby (Amanda Spears): That was the best moment. Seeing you so happy for him, just giving him that big hug.

GD (Rob): So what was it feeling like on Emmy night, ’cause it was your first time being there, so what was it like?

MV: To be honest, I felt like I was in a room of my peers. I felt like I was in a room that felt, again, exciting but not too unfamiliar. After 23 years of being in front of the camera, I’m comfortable in a room of actors. I’m comfortable in a room of writers. I’m comfortable in a room of directors. There was no fear. There was no worry. There was nothing but excitement. When Sterling’s name was read… I tried to vote for him. I honestly tried to vote for him, but I guess you can’t vote for your own category, so I was a little bummed because I wanted to vote Sterling ‘cause I thought he had an amazing, amazing season. But there was no downside to the night. It was exciting to celebrate the business. It was exciting to celebrate creativity, so it was just about enjoying it. And then also, in the back of my mind was, “I gotta show up to work the next day.” So I had my scenes on my phone so that in little moments, little breaks, I could look at my phone and I could read my work for the next day to know that I was prepared for the next day at work.

GD (Rob): Such a pro.

MV: (Laughs.)

GD: Your cast won Best Ensemble this year. How did they decide that you were going to speak, or was it just you’re the patriarch? Were you nervous when you got up there, because we were so happy for you guys.

MV: How it was decided, we got an email from our bosses saying, “Hey, one of you actors has to speak on behalf of the actors.” And I had sent a message to all of us, all of our cast, and I said, “Hey guys, I’m sure we all have words to collect and words to say. I know I have a couple things I’d like to say, so why don’t we put our words together and we’ll figure it out.” And then what I got in that text chain was, “Mi, you do it. Mi, you write it. Mi, you do the thing. Just put it together. Go ahead. We trust you. Go ahead.” And I went, “Okay.” We are representing ourselves as that group as well as a crew. It’s not just how we interpret the words and I think of course it being the SAG Award, it is about acting but for us, and for many, it was important to make sure, and this is a conversation I’ve had with everyone on the cast, it’s highlighting and celebrating the writing and the crew and everything that is a part of what our jobs as actors are. To even be able to speak about our casting director from the show to the studio to the network, everybody that touches what we do as actors is important. I know that for me it’s a mathematical improbability, the way that this show is working, and I think it’s firing on all cylinders because of the people in every single department. Every actor, every writer, every director, hair and makeup, wardrobe, art, all of that. Even in that speech I went through those departments because they do touch our performances so closely and I know me myself, I do not exist without the crew. I’m just a crazy dude wearing makeup, I guess, reciting lines.

GD (Rob): Yeah, we’ve gotta talk about Season 2 because so many of the cast really had such amazing highlights. We’ve already spoken to Justin [Hartley] and to Mandy [Moore]. We’ll be speaking to Chrissy [Metz] probably next week. Everybody had an amazing season but you in particular, we really wanna focus on that because my theory on Jack is, because we see adult kids especially on the show love him so much and miss him so much, it makes us an audience really love him as well and make us think about our own families. That’s why everybody cries whenever they watch “This Is Us.” I’m one of those people. I think the pressure is on for you as a performer to make this guy relatable and lovable as you do. And then we find out how he died in the Super Bowl episode, so my question is, when you found out about the circumstances of his death and then you did the episode, what was running through your mind as you were preparing for that?

MV: I think we as people don’t really consider or think too much about how we’re going to die. We only think about how we live. So preparing for that Super Bowl episode, it didn’t feel like I was lifting anything heavier than any other scene I’ve played or any other moment I’ve had in Jack in the 36 hours that we’ve known him. It just felt like, “Let me embrace this man fully. From action to cut, let me allow him to live.” That’s been probably one of the greatest joys of playing this man is I don’t need to do anything but show up knowing my lines. And everything that comes out and tumbles out of me as a performer is just instinctually Jack and it’s because of what Mandy does or the kids do or what’s written that I’m able to let this man be alive. So there was no extra preparation knowing that he’s going to die, but I think what’s important to me and maybe it’s less in the performance but more in how I talk about Jack is for people to understand that he is flawed and he’s human and he tries to take responsibility for the moments where he hasn’t acted properly and as terrifying as they are, like admitting to your daughter that you have a drinking problem or being jealous of a wife’s performing partner or trying to relate to his kids in very unrelatable situations but he’s trying, he even says that, it was one of the last things he says to Rebecca, “I try.” I think she said to him, “Jack, you’re a good man.” He said, “I try.” I really, really appreciate that ‘cause I think best intentions are oftentimes forgotten. I think people look to the end result to pass judgment or say, “You know what, this doesn’t agree with me.” But they fall short of seeing someone’s heart trying their best. I don’t know, Jack is very much, I think, all of us. He’s a good man with a good heart who loves very simply but he’s not uncomplicated. And Jack, too, he really does try to shoulder a lot for his family. What we’re diving into for the third season, it’s gonna be things that man, his family had no idea about him. I think it’s really going to deepen that love. It’s like, “Wow, here’s the man who just wants his family to see the best and know the best and feel that love all the time,” but Dad went through some pretty rough times.

GD (Amanda): I love the season finale because we got to see older Jack. Was it nice to interact with the whole cast and not be like a drug hallucination with Sterling?

MV: (Laughs.) Or Justin?

GD (Amanda): Yeah, it seems like you only pop up when someone’s taken a narcotic, with the older kids.

MV: Yeah, it was fun but there’s definitely their set and then there’s Mandy and my set. It’s very different. I kind of felt like a visitor on their set. I felt like Dad who wasn’t quite in on all the jokes. But at the same time, it was so satisfying but also I knew that it was short-lived. I’m not gonna get these opportunities to play a scene with Chrissy as often as I will with Mandy, or with Justin and Sterling or Susan [Kelechi Watson] as often as I get to play with the little Big 3 and the teen Big 3. So for me, I think what I try and do is hang onto it, really just be as present as I can in those moments as a performer, knowing that I better appreciate it and I better not think about anything forward or anything behind me. I gotta be right there with it. When I look in someone’s eyes in those scenes, soak it in, kid, because that’s all you may get.

GD (Rob): Yeah, absolutely. Hey Amanda, I was gonna let you ask one “Gilmore Girls” question because Amanda is an uber-fan. My wife is obsessed with it as well so if we didn’t ask this I’d be in lots of trouble.

GD (Amanda): I have a 16-hour flight to plan my revenge on you.

GD (Rob): If you don’t mind, Amanda, what do you think? What’s the best question we should be asking Milo before we wrap up?

GD (Amanda): Was it a little surreal being at the Emmys and seeing Melissa McCarthy, who played Sookie, and Alexis Bledel, who presented with Gerald McRaney? ‘Cause I know tweeting at the Television Academy to have you present with them will not work. I just thought it was a full circle moment for the three of you to be back together.

MV: Yeah, even going back and doing the revival of those four movies, it was strange because again, I’m such a big “entirety of crew” guy, and we had a different crew. So it was the same writing, which I loved of “Gilmore Girls,” of Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino], and it was the same character and it was myself playing against Alexis, but it was a different experience. If anything, what really makes me happy is knowing that “Gilmore Girls” was 16 years in the past and that Alexis is still doing amazing work to get nominated and then win. It was 16 years ago that I’d be on-set and see Melissa in passing, because Sookie and Jess didn’t really have a whole lot to do, and like, “Hey, Missa.” “Hey, Mi.” “How’s it going?” But then to see all of her film success just go up and up and up you think, “Man!” It’s like we’ve all matured into these veterans, these war horses that have been around for a while and we’ve managed to hone our craft to where we’re on the big stage and people are taking notice. So it’s exciting. It makes me happy to see people that I came up with in places of success.

GD (Rob): Yeah, it’s freakin’ cool, we love it as well. We have a final question for you because we do this, Amanda and I, with most people we talk to.

GD (Amanda): Kind of an inner-show competition question, because we asked Mandy Moore and Justin Hartley.

GD (Rob): We did it already and the thing is, we’d love for you to tell us everything about Season 3 but we don’t want you to get fired, so what we do want you to do, if you don’t mind, is to give us three words that you think best encapsulate what you know about Season 3 especially for your character. And you can’t say these, ‘cause this is what Mandy said. She said, “Early days courtship,” and Justin said, “Discovery, self-aware and danger.” So you can’t say them. What do you think? It’s hard.

MV: It is hard. Can I say four words?

GD (Rob): Yes, you can.

MV: Won’t see what’s coming.

GD (Rob): That’s just gonna set Twitter on fire.

MV: It really is. I’ve spoken a lot with Dan [Fogelman] and the writers before we had our hiatus and even while they’ve been in the room and what I’ve heard of what the third season is, people have an idea and they think they do but man, you have no idea. You won’t see what’s coming.

GD (Rob): Wow, well we’re looking forward to that, mate. Thank you for your time. We hope to see you at the Emmys again. You deserve to be there along with the rest of the cast and good luck.

MV: Thank you, Rob. Thanks, Amanda. I really appreciate you guys, thank you.

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