Acting can be a brutal business, as Milo Ventimiglia well knows. So brutal, in fact, the beloved This Is Us star has been thisclose to walking away from Hollywood three separate times.
“I was just fed up,” the 39-year-old star tells PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly Editorial Director Jess Cagle for the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, while recalling the second time he almost left acting following a failed attempt at a Gilmore Girls spin-off and a couple of pilots that went nowhere. “I couldn’t catch a break to lock on to some work and be creative.”
Feeling frustrated, Ventimiglia says he almost switched careers to become…a mechanic.
“I was going to go be an auto mechanic,” he says. “In Southern California there’s this auto school and it’s advertised ‘Everybody needs mechanics, because they need those cars fixed’ and I’m like, ‘That’s a job that’s going to be in demand, so why don’t I learn more than I already know about cars and professionally fix cars.’ ”
Ventimiglia says he was at a breaking point after Gilmore Girls because “the business was getting in the way.”
“I wasn’t there yet in other people’s eyes,” he says. “So I was just like, ‘Look, I feel that I’m there and if you don’t see it then sorry, f— you.’ So I basically was like, ‘I’m gonna go.’ ”
But just before he was going to pull the trigger he landed the lead opposite Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa, and during filming he was also cast in the NBC series Heroes, which “kind of sent me on the next six, seven years.”
This wasn’t the first time the star contemplated a Plan B: He also considered a career in auto repair before he landed the role of Jess Mariano on Gilmore Girls.
Watch The Jess Cagle Interview: Milo Ventimiglia, available now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to people.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
Before landing his most recent role on This Is Us, Ventimiglia said he found himself in the midst of a third career crisis — but his backup plan that time would have taken him a lot further than under the hood of a car.
“The third time I was gonna quit I was like, ‘You know what, I gotta leave the country, because this is just killing me, this business,” he said. “I have dual citizenship with Italy. I was like, ‘I’m gonna sell everything, I’m going to fly to Rome, I’m gonna buy a motorcycle, I’m going to ride around until I can find a farm I can work on. I’m going to shave my head, I’m gonna grow a beard and I’m going to work on a farm… just lead a very different life very far away.”
Ventimiglia says that third career crisis occurred after Heroes was canceled and he worked on a film called The Divide, in which he lost 28 pounds and “looked like a shell of myself.”
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However, he says that despite pouring himself into the role “people only saw me as [Heroes character] Peter Petrelli.”
“It broke my spirit,” he said. “Because that show itself, toward the end, it felt like the world-ending engine was more important than the human experience of it, which is what the show started as. It kind of just broke me inside and I thought to myself ‘Do I really want to do this? Do I want to continue acting? Because it may just be disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.’ ”
But after his emotional depiction of Jack Pearson in This Is Us earned him tons of new and devoted fans, it’s safe to say it wasn’t.
This Is Us returns to NBC in the fall.
—With KATHY ERICH DOWD