Milo Ventimiglia has been stealing women’s hearts for 28 years through his roles on shows like Gilmore Girls and This Is Us, but now the 45-year-old actor is making a departure from his perfect partner persona to portray a role that is a bit darker and more mischievous. Ventimiglia now stars as a con man named Charlie who falls for an undercover CIA officer named Emma (Catherine Haena Kim). The two are unknowingly on a collision course professionally. The series is based on the Korean Broadcasting System series My Fellow Citizens.
Ventimiglia spoke to LAMag about why he wanted to portray a darker character after the competition of This Is Us, how active the This Is Us cast group chat remains, and the real reason why he’s now known as Uncle Donut.
Milo! Or shall I say Uncle Donut? I heard your co-stars have a little nickname for you. Care to explain how this one came about?
I’m in my office right now at home and you know, the duties of an uncle or godfather, you bring them treats and things and everybody loves donuts. So I have affectionately been known for the last 13 years as Uncle Donut. And in my office here, my goddaughter actually painted me a donut. That’s Uncle Donut.
Well, I guess I have to ask because we are LAMag, do you have a go-to Donut spot in Los Angeles?
I live not too far from Yum Yum Donuts, for years I was really into Fonuts. You know how everything has become healthy, vegan, and gluten-free? So I think the first time I walked into Fonuts I was ordering a bunch of donuts. I’m like, ‘Give me a strawberry shortcake, give me a chocolate girlfriend, give me a banana chocolate girlfriend,’ and the person behind the counter is looking at me and I’m like, ‘What?’ And they’re like, ‘That’s gluten-free, gf,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s not a girlfriend? Okay, great, no problem, for sure.’ Blue Star’s good, although those can get a little too far, Randy’s is always a staple. It’s fun seeing Dunkin’ in town. I’m not really a Krispy Kreme guy, more West Coast.
I love how we’re having a conversation on donuts here. Let’s get back to your new show, The Company You Keep. It really makes fans see you and your talent in a whole new light. Was that intentional after This Is Us came to an end?
Yes, actually it was, it was for how iconic Jack had become. I knew I needed a departure. I needed to play something that was not Jack, but at the same time, I wasn’t looking to play this horrible father, horrible husband, and really dark character. I just knew I needed to do something different, and when this show came up in development about a year and a half ago, it was brought to my company by way of, Jon Chu’s company, and Jon and I kind of go way back in early directing days and producing days, and I just saw a great opportunity for a fun story as well as a fun character. I understood quickly the differences between he and Jack and at the same time, the similarity of just having a golden heart. Charlie, I like to call him a good bad guy, but he also deals in some dark shit, but he’s still a decent human being. He’s got a heart, he’s got a moral compass. He’s got a code, so to speak. So, he’s different, but he’s also strangely the same. I like playing guys like that, that have some equality about them that maybe isn’t nefarious or maybe isn’t good, but you’re rooting for him. It’s funny, it goes back to college days. I had a college professor named Sandra Caruso and she wrote this review, a scene that I put up in college and I think the character was not a very good guy, and she said to me, ‘No matter who you play, always find love in the role. Always find love in a character.’ I’ve really taken that to heart since I was 18, even the bad guys that I play, I’m like, ‘You gotta find a way to inject love into who they are. There may be a different variety of them, may be a different strain of it, but it humanizes these characters.
You’re pretty much the first This Is Us cast member to find their new successful TV home. Do you still talk to your NBC co-stars? How active is that group chat?
The group chat is a little quiet. It’s still there and from time to time Ken will say something out of left field and offensive and we’ll all kind of weigh in and try and protect him, but, Mandy [Moore] and I still keep up. I know she was in New York doing a show and her family was out there and when the show premiered got a nice message from Sterling
[K Brown] and Dan Fogelman was always encouraging. His office was right next to our writer’s offices, so I’d see him on the lot of Paramount quite a bit. I know Justin was gearing up for his show on CBS, so everybody’s working and doing stuff. Sully [Chris Sullivan] was working, I think Sue [Susan Kelechi Watson] was working. Jon Huertas was with our group, but not in front of the camera, he was directing, which has been wonderful to have a friend behind the camera who’s talented with that craft. So I was hoping to pull some people in, but it was also just timing. Everyone’s working, everyone’s busy.
Any hope for a cameo in your new show?
I’m sure there’s going to be a cameo at some point. If we get picked up for more episodes, I’m always looking, but it’s tough. These are in-demand actors, and I think when you start to kind of pair us back up in a new setting, it doesn’t completely take the magic away from what ‘This Is Us’ was, but I think people will be nostalgic and hang on to that version of let’s say, who Mandy and Milo were or Justin and Sterling versus embracing them as something new.
I think when we do it all individually it works. It can totally work. I’m excited to see Justin play something new on his CBS show. I’m excited to see Mandy play something new. I’m excited to see Sterling do something new. But when you start putting us together as an acting troupe, I think everyone’s just going to go right back to ’This Is Us’ and I think a lot of us want to respectfully move beyond it.
So on that note, what would Jack Pearson think about a guy like Charlie?
I don’t think he’d like him. I think he would understand Charlie’s want to look out for the neighborhood. Charlie wants to just be a decent guy, but I still don’t think Jack would agree with it. Jack for any of his faults, he definitely was not into doing anything that was breaking the law or so bad or harmful or would put him in a place where he could be taken away from his family or his family was taken away from him. So I think Jack would understand it, but not agree with it, but also want no part of it because that’s his main focus, it’s always his family.
Well, it’s all in the company you keep, right? I read that you almost gave up on Hollywood after Heroes. How did the company you keep in real life inspire you to keep going?
I think what it really came down to was people that were bringing work to me. After Heroes, I had a hard time getting a role. I think it was almost one calendar year between when I wrapped ‘Heroes’ and did this other film before I actually got a job again as an actor. And it kind of wears on you because people aren’t buying what you are selling in a way, and it’s a personal thing. They’re not interested in me. So because of that I was like, ‘Let me go find something new,’ but then, a small film would come up and I was like, ‘I don’t want to disappoint these people that are bringing me in to tell their story.’ And another small film comes up and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to disappoint this director.’ And those jobs just start to stack up and then a bigger opportunity comes up like an Adam Sandler movie and you go and you have fun and you put your heart into it, and you play a real idiotic character and it’s a lot of fun, and then you just find yourself in this role where you’re not worrying about the outcome. You’re just present in the moment of these characters you’re playing with the people you’re playing them with and you’re focused on that. I just got really focused on that and I was kind of inspired. That’s what kept me here. That’s what kind of kept me in town. What kept me working was, I don’t want to disappoint somebody, and now I’m enjoying myself. I’m working with really talented people and I’m having a great time. Let’s just keep doing it. And I kind of haven’t stopped since.
Before I let you go, have you ever pulled off a con?
I don’t think I’m that nefarious. I don’t think I’m thinking that far ahead, so the quick answer is no, I’ve not pulled off a con like that. I’ve never conned somebody. I think what I’d like to hopefully do is get an honest reaction from someone. Allow someone to be themselves and I’m just presenting what I’m presenting, and if they’re into it, they’re into it. If they’re not into it, they’re not into it.
Watch new episodes of The Company You Keep Sundays at 10 pm on ABC.
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