Milo Ventimiglia Explained The Inspiration For His This Is Us Role, And It Brought A Tear To His Eye

Actor Milo Ventimiglia is best-known to audiences as Jack Pearson from the hit show This Is Us. In the series, his character is a Vietnam veteran and an all-round great father. But Ventimiglia’s Emmy-nominated performance wasn’t quite all him. The actor, it seems, sought inspiration from a particular source. And when he explained it all to an audience at Paleyfest in 2017, both he and they ended up in tears.

From a young age, Ventimiglia knew he wanted to be an actor. “I remember watching the Academy Awards with my mom and dad as a kid and seeing the acting clips [and] thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2018. “But I didn’t understand that it could be a career. I just knew I wanted to do it.”

Ventimiglia, fortunately, knew he had the blessing of his parents in whatever he wanted to do. However, he also gained a work ethic from them, and that was what helped him progress. “I never really had a safety net of you can take it easy, you can ride this out,” he told Mr Porter in 2017.

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“My mom and dad were incredibly supportive, they made sure I was supported through school, but the second I got my first couple of jobs, I paid back student loans from Mom and Dad,” Ventimiglia went on. In fact, one of his first jobs was as “party guest #1” on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Ventimiglia has come a long way since then, though. And while he may be best known for This Is Us at the moment, he has, however, had a successful career for a while now. He’s played none other than the son of Rocky himself in the Rocky movie series, starting from Rocky Balboa. He was Jess in Gilmore Girls. And he also had a starring role in Heroes, which was a massive hit and picked up a whole shelf of awards.

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The success of Heroes certainly put Ventimiglia on the map in a big way. Other roles followed, but the part that would end up defining his career came along in 2016. That’s when he won the role of Jack Pearson, a husband and father raising his family in ’80s America, in the drama series This Is Us.

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Ventimiglia, however, “wasn’t what they were looking for” when he turned up for his This Is Us audition. “They wanted somebody completely different,” he said on Variety’s Actor on Actors in 2017. “I walked in with my beard and my long hair and set my motorcycle helmet down and they went, ‘Who is this guy?’”

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And yet, Ventimiglia was, indeed, the perfect person. “We just started having a conversation and then we read the lines. I think they just saw something different than someone who had practiced the words,” the actor went on. “And they picked me… You’re in the right place at the right time as you’re supposed to be.”

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Right off the bat, though, Ventimiglia connected with This Is Us. “When I read the script and saw the family connection and that Jack was the patriarch and was going to be shaping how the adults became the people they are. It seemed like a really, really nice journey piece,” he told Interview magazine in 2016.

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“I don’t feel the pressure to deliver this unrealistically great man to the screen,” Ventimiglia said of Jack. “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.”

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Audiences did, indeed, like Jack, despite his issues. “[He] is so flawed, even though his heart is in a good place,” Ventimiglia told W magazine in June 2017. “A man like Jack leads with his heart and it’s very simple to him. He loves his wife and he loves his kids. They are his world.”

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Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting things about This Is Us was that the actors, and audiences, knew from the beginning that Jack was going to die. “When I read the pilot I knew [he] was no more in the present,” Ventimiglia told W magazine. However, “there was never any intention to get rid of [him].”

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“[Writer] Dan Fogelman told me, ‘Milo, listen, just because Jack is dead in the present day, it doesn’t mean you’re ever going anywhere. We’re not killing you off. You are still around, and [his] presence is felt in his family in the present day, even though he’s dead.’” Ventimiglia told W magazine.

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Poor Jack eventually met his end in February 2018. In fact, Ventimiglia even teased the fans about it beforehand. “Once you figure out the moment where it’s going to happen, you may get some hope — and then it’s all going to go away,” he told EW magazine in January that year. “I think the best thing I can say — or the worst thing I can say — is: It’s going to be f***ing painful.”

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In fact, Jack ends up dying of smoke inhalation after a fire, just as everyone thought he was okay. It was, indeed, a very painful moment. But he wasn’t technically gone. “This is episode 14, so that’s only the 32nd hour we’ve ever known this family,” Ventimiglia told EW magazine. “So, if [he] died in 1998, when the kids are 17, there’s still a lot to know.”

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Despite Jack’s death, audiences would still get to see “different sides of him, what made him, what shaped him, what inspired his romance with his wife, what happened with he and his brother in war,” Ventimiglia explained to EW magazine. “There’s a lot of life left in him; even in death, there’s a lot of life left in [him].”

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And This Is Us fans did indeed get to see Jack’s experiences in Vietnam. Ventimiglia worked hard to ensure those scenes seem as authentic as possible. “We had a technical boot camp with a company called Sigloch. Matt Sigloch’s guys ran us through basic operating procedure of a solider, and a solider of the Vietnam era,” he told EW magazine in October 2018.

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Ventimiglia also sought to understand the emotions a Vietnam soldier would have felt. “Young men [were] being drafted. This draft was going to drastically change someone’s life and put them on a course that a lot of guys just couldn’t recover from. That was something that was as much preparation as learning how to operate an M16 rifle,” he said.

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For the Vietnam episode, the This Is Us team also brought Tim O’Brien, Vietnam vet and author of The Things They Carried, on board as a consultant. And the ex-solider was impressed with the performance of the episode’s leading man. “I think Milo nails the essence of what it’s like to care for one’s men in the way I remember it,” he told the New York Post in October 2018.

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Ventimiglia also drew a lot from his own life when it came to playing the character. Indeed, he sought inspiration from the people around him. Jack was a recovering alcoholic on the show, one who relapses and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. The actor, then, was keen to portray that struggle in as authentic a way as possible.

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“I have a good amount of friends that have been through the program, and a lot of friends that have alcoholism in their family. I think a lot of people are unaware of what alcoholism really looks like,” Ventimiglia told Esquire magazine in February 2018. “I always saw Jack as a guy who would kind of ‘take the edge off,’ and he was functioning.”

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Ventimiglia’s own life experiences also helped him have sympathy with some of the more controversial characters on the show. “Miguel — Jack’s best friend, who ends up married to Rebecca many years in the future — gets a huge amount of hate from fans who see that as an unforgivable betrayal. Do you feel the same way?” Esquire magazine asked him.

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“No, Miguel’s great! I mean, he was Jack’s best friend! One of my best friends in real life told me, ‘Hey, if anything happens to me, you’re responsible for my family. Literally, move in: They are your family… But no business with my wife.’” Ventimiglia said. “I said okay, got it, understood. That same friend hates Miguel, but I was like, ‘No dude, I am Miguel in that situation!’”

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There was also the issue of Jack’s abusive father. Once again, Ventimiglia looked to people he had known in real life for help with portraying that. “When I was younger there was someone I was close to that had a rough upbringing with their parents. And they were worried about the kind of parent they would be,” he revealed to Esquire magazine.

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However, Ventimiglia himself didn’t go through that as a child, in fact, his early life was quite the opposite. “I am truly one of the luckiest people in the world with the parents I got. My mom and dad are magical and I continue to learn from them,” he told Esquire magazine when asked how the show had changed his perceptions of family.

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“I’m playing almost directly the era of when my parents raised my sisters and me. There were three of us, we grew up in the ’80s, I was a teenager in the ’90s,” Ventimiglia went on. “Everything [on This Is Us] feels very close to how I was raised… But I think the value of family — and not only the family you’re born into, but the family that you make and you create with your friends — that’s a message I’m often reminded of.”

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It was in March 2017 that Ventimiglia revealed just how much of Jack had, in fact, come from his own family. When attending Paleyfest that year, the actor fielded a question about who exactly provided the most inspiration for the character. When he answered he was brought to tears, as were some of the audience.

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“Here we go, you’re going to find me crying,” Ventimiglia said. Of course, This Is Us fans are used to crying, but this was a special case. “My father.” Then the actor pointed to the audience, where his father, Peter, sat. His mother, Carol, sat next to him. They had been there among the fans all along.

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“Dan Fogelman and all the producers and writers wrote this man [who] loves his wife and loves his kids, really as simple as that,” Ventimiglia said. By that point, he was obviously crying. “And I saw that in my own father. There’s not a moment in my life where I don’t think about how he raised us, my sisters and I.”

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“So, my dad,” Ventimiglia finished, as the audience then began to cheer. Not only was he crying, but his dad was too. Luckily, the fans of This Is Us had come prepared. There were, of course, tissues aplenty on hand. And everyone needed some, because the actor’s heartfelt words had truly opened the floodgates.

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Ventimiglia has talked about his father before, and how much he influenced the portrayal of Jack. In fact, in 2018 EW magazine asked the actor about the Vietnam scenes in This Is Us. “We’ve talked before about your dad being a Vietnam vet, and you have Tim O’Brien as a consultant and co-writer of this episode,” went the question. “How much have you talked to them about their experiences?”

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“I guess I kind of mashed up everything that I knew in speaking to my father and Tim, as well as just what we needed to accomplish in playing Jack in war,” Ventimiglia explained to the interviewer. “It’s not Tim’s experience, it’s not my father’s experience, it’s Jack’s experience. It was one of those things that just had to inform how he is with his family.”

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In another interview, this one with The Hollywood Reporter, Ventimiglia went into more detail. “My dad and I have spoken quite a bit about his experience in war,” the actor explained. “I’ve got a lot of friends that are veterans of current conflicts as well as on active duty, so I get it from all sides.”

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“The one thing that I always try and do is bring in the emotional responsibility to represent what they’ve been through in what I do as an actor and playing a fictional character,” Ventimiglia went on. He then added, “It’s tough — we all live through things in life. All we want to do is relate to other people that have had our shared experiences. [And] to know that we’re not alone in what we’re feeling.”

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“So, talking to my dad about his experiences, or talking to my friends about their experiences, I just try and reflect that in how I play Jack in war,” Ventimiglia added. “It’s not only the family that you’re born into, but the family you make. What we are going to see over the course of the Vietnam stuff is just how Jack is looking out for the guys he’s in war with.”

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Ventimiglia said a similar thing when he was interviewed by Vulture magazine about the Vietnam scenes in August 2018. “[Jack] outshines a lot of adversity that he’s up against. And the one thing that I know my father said about his time in Vietnam was that he was surprised that such a beautiful people and such a beautiful culture could be caught up in such a horrific war,” he said.

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The actor continued,“I know from what I’ve read already of the Vietnam storyline, Jack feels the same. [He] is a very caring, loving, nurturing man and he has the same sentiment my father shared with me about this horrible war that he was in.” Ventimiglia then added, “So without specifics, it’s understanding that that war is a pretty horrible thing.”

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Indeed, almost every aspect of Jack Pearson seemed to have been filtered through Peter Ventimiglia. In 2017 the actor told Entertainment Tonight that his father also influenced Jack’s stoicism. “I didn’t see my father cry until I was 21, until the passing of his father. It made me think about how my father raised me and gave me strength where maybe other people may crumble,” he said.

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“It doesn’t mean you don’t have those moments of doubt. [It] doesn’t mean my father doesn’t have those moments where he has to keep himself together. I would see how people looked up to my father and the way he spoke to them,” Ventimiglia continued. He then added, “For me, this character was able to allow me to relive moments I had in my own upbringing, and hopefully convey a strong patriarch who loves his family and who loves his wife.”

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But perhaps the most touching thing Ventimiglia had to say about his dad came in a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Growing up, my father represented this person of strength, of character. I saw not only the way he would talk to other people and his family, but also how people would talk about him,” he said. “For me, it’s always been, ‘I want to live up to that.’”

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