You’ve known Jack was going to die since the beginning of the series. What was your reaction, though, when Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] told you Jack didn’t perish in the fire that was going to be teased, but he would die suddenly at the hospital?
I mean, it was nothing but applause for Dan Fogelman. He is never one to give us an obvious answer, but he’s also never one to make it so complicated that we can’t understand it or process it or accept it. His creation of these moments is so beautiful — they’re perfect. They really are perfect. It’s hard to say someone had a perfect death, but it really felt like a moment that was real, that you don’t see, that doesn’t carry this, “Yeah, okay, but…” I mean, his wife was eating a candy bar when she heard. [Laughs.] Who does that as a writer? Dan Fogelman does —and it’s heartbreaking and beautiful and it’s unique.
You mentioned that you don’t want to say it was relief when Jack died, but is there a sense of relief now that this episode is in the rear-view mirror? Does it feel like in some ways that a burden has been lifted?
Yes, it does — and no, it doesn’t. All of us have gotten very accustomed to not speaking about family secrets. But I’ll tell you what — it’s a question that I’m happy not to field anymore: “How does Jack die?” “Yeah, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you. Just wait for another month, another week, another day, a few hours — when you get there, you’ll know.” I am happy to have that in the rear-view. But it’s not the end of Jack. There is still so much to know about this guy.
It’s hardly goodbye for you. What does telling this chapter of the story now allow the show to do moving forward?
This is episode 14, so that’s only the 32nd hour we’ve ever known this family. So now, if Jack died in 1998, when the kids are 17, there’s still a lot to know — 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…. That we’ve invested as much as we have as an audience in 32 hours is pretty remarkable. There’s a lot of life left in him — even in death, there’s a lot of life left in Jack.
The cast recently had a viewing party to watch the episode together. What stands out to you about that? Who lost it the most?
It was heavy. But there was no one that wasn’t crying. Everyone was. At Dan Fogelman’s house, he has two TVs playing, and where I was sitting, I had Sully [Chris Sullivan] and Chrissy [Metz] next to me, and behind me was Sterling [K. Brown] and Mandy, and then in the other room was Justin. And the second it was over — and they both ended at the same time — Justin walks in, and we all just started hugging one another. I know this was the episode of Jack’s death, but I thought the episode itself was so very much carried on the shoulders of Mandy and Sterling and Justin and Chrissy and everyone else. I mean, that beautiful scene with Eris Baker, who plays Tess, I mean, my god! Knocked out of the park! And then at the very end when we see the older version and Dan just expanded the world even more! We’re going into the future! And you see an older Randall, who’s probably the same age as his mother in the present day! Like, how cool is that?
How much guilt, if any — or what emotions — should Kate feel? You can understand why she would feel that way after crying out that the dog was still in the house, and her knowledge that Jack always did anything he could to make her happy.
Kate shouldn’t feel any guilt at all. There’s no guilt associated with that. It wasn’t her crying out for her dog that ultimately is responsible for Jack. Jack made a decision. I mean, it’s not that Jack just went in and grabbed the dog and ran out. Look at all those other treasures — those family memories that Jack pulled out. The moon necklace! I mean, how? How, Jack? Even Rebecca said that at the hospital: “How, Jack?” It’s just Jack, it’s who he is. Kate needs to forgive herself, and what a beautiful moment she had with Toby, where she talks about how much her dad would have loved him, but how Toby is the one who saved her. Literally, saved her. Such a beautiful moment played by Chrissy and Chris Sullivan.
Now we can write the epitaph on Jack’s gravestone — or urn. How should that read now that we know maybe not the full story, but more of the story?
Jack died as he lived — in service of his family.
To read more from Ventimiglia about Jack’s “f—ing painful” death, click here.
To find out why This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman wanted to Jack to die THAT way, click here.
For more This Is Us scoop, follow @dansnierson on Twitter.