Bit parts on TV shows such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" eventually led to bigger roles, but in between there were moments in which he grew disenchanted with Hollywood. Ventimiglia had just come off the ABC sci-fi thriller "The Whispers," which was canceled after one season in summer 2015, and was reassessing what he wanted "out of going into my 40s, as an actor, as a man. I pulled my foot off the gas a little bit and backed off and re-engaged with life."
By October, the script for "This Is Us" turned things around.
"When Milo first came in to meet with us, I knew instantly that that was the guy," show creator Dan Fogelman says by phone. (In fact, hanging in Ventimiglia's home office is a framed copy of the email Fogelman sent to studio executives about casting Milo.)
"It just made perfect sense," Fogelman adds, "that, 'Oh, yes, he is the patriarch of this family.' This young man who would grow into an adult man who would bring a certain kind of masculinity and old-school dad to the part, but in a fresh and exciting new way. And look, there's no mystery if you don't care about this guy. And people do."
Writer and producer Bryan Fuller, who worked with Ventimiglia on "Heroes," isn't surprised in the least that the actor, who isn't married and doesn't have kids in real life, has become America's dad.
"It is no wonder," Fuller wrote via email. "The warmth and accessibility he brought to many of his earlier roles has transformed into something nurturing and strong. In many ways, Milo's evolution as an actor parallels his evolution as a human being. A good guy that has grown into a good man."
As "This Is Us" moves past one of its key plot points, Ventimiglia, who also splits his time producing projects with his longtime producing partner Russ Cundiff via their DiVide Pictures company, is eager to move on to other aspects of Jack.
"I feel like I've only been with this man a short period of time," he says. "We've seen maybe 32 hours' worth of Jack's life ... I still feel like there's a lot we don't know about him -- getting into his thoughts, into his heart, into his daily struggles as a human being. Then again, will we ever really know what the inside of Jack is? Because he mostly only reflects the positive."
Contemplating all that's to come also gets Ventimiglia wondering what Jack would be like today, at age 74.
"He'd be in love with those grandkids and he'd be doing something with houses -- something creative," Ventimiglia says. "And he'd be engaging with his adult children. I do wonder, though, if those lessons that his kids learned by only having Jack for a period of time -- if they would have been lost if he was still around. The what ifs can trip you up."
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