A version of this article appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s Fall Movie Preview issue. To read more on Second Act and other highly anticipated fall movies, pick it up on stands now or buy it here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Milo Ventimiglia has a way with women who are, shall we say, lyrically inclined.
You’ve surely seen him acting opposite former teen idol Mandy Moore on NBC’s wildly popular drama series This Is Us, and you might remember he played the stud courting Priyanka Chopra in her 2014 “I Can’t Make You Love Me” music video. Back in the day, Ventimiglia also played a very tattooed-and-shirtless love interest to Fergie in the accompanying visual for her “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Keeping with tradition, Ventimiglia’s next big screen venture sees him making music of the heart with Jennifer Lopez, a bona fide pop icon who’s as well-versed in slaying the mainstream charts as she is in tune with making memorable romantic comedies like Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner, and Monster-in-Law. And it didn’t take long to synch with her passionate devotion to the material: an underdog rom-com, Second Act, about a street-smart woman named Maya (Lopez) who lands a fancy gig at a Manhattan corporation with the help of a falsified résumé and the support of her significant other, Trey (Ventimiglia).
“There actually wasn’t at all,” Ventimiglia says of any pre-existing intimidation that might have existed on his part. “And it was only because [Jennifer] is so welcoming, warm, and she’s right there with you playing this relationship that, on screen, is very real, and off screen is just camaraderie amongst artists. So I didn’t feel pressured because of these other great romances she’s had on camera. But what I did feel was a duty and a responsibility because she’s my friend to make these two people very real.”
Also a reality? Producer-star Lopez’s personal desire to cast Ventimiglia as her leading man after becoming a fan of his work on This Is Us.
“I got a phone call that said, ‘Hey, Jen’s doing this movie and she really wants you. And she doesn’t want anybody else. She wants you.’ So I was like, okay!” Ventimiglia recalls. “I was literally fighting my schedule on the show to find a handful of days that I could fly back to the East Coast, because we filmed in New York…. Once I finally landed on set, she was the coolest, most hard-working, most naturally gifted partner out there. We enjoyed ourselves. It was really fun.”
But finding a harmonious tone was a bit of a challenge, especially when he had to split time between both coasts, filming tragic scenes for This Is Us one day before linking up with Lopez on the lighthearted set of Second Act the next: “I filmed over the course of a month and I kind of went back and forth from L.A. to New York when I could between the show,” Ventimiglia explains with a laugh. “While I was burning down the Pearson house, I was also arm-in-arm with Jennifer.”
Ahead of Second Act‘s Dec. 21 theatrical bow, read on for EW’s full chat with Ventimiglia.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just love this cast and the trailer is so sweet, it looks like you guys had a real blast making this movie.
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: We did. I had met Jennifer a couple times by way of NBC; her TV show, my TV show. I got a phone call that said, ‘Hey, Jen’s doing this movie and she really wants you. And she doesn’t want anybody else. She wants you.’ So I was like, okay! I was literally fighting my schedule on the show to find a handful of days that I could fly back to the East Coast, because we filmed in New York…. Once I finally landed on set, she’s the coolest, most hard-working, most naturally gifted partner out there. We enjoyed ourselves. It was really fun. I filmed over the course of a month and I kind of went back and forth from L.A. to New York when I could between the show. While I was burning down the Pearson house, I was also arm-in-arm with Jennifer.
Such different tones, switching between those two. Was that a challenge in itself?
One-hundred percent! But also I understood the character, I knew who this guy was, I knew what Jen and [director Peter Segal] were looking for. It was an easy transfer to jump out of Jack Pearson’s shoes — which I knew incredibly well, almost as if it’s instinct — into a new dynamic and a new character who, frankly, he was an everyman. He’s a guy who’s easy for men to understand, especially an actor jumping into his shoes.
It still must have been intimidating knowing you were going to play the love interest of Jennifer Lopez, who’s known for really great romantic comedies. Is there a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to that legacy?
There actually wasn’t at all. And it was only because [Jennifer] is so welcoming, warm, and she’s right there with you playing this relationship that, on screen, is very real, and off screen is just camaraderie amongst artists. So I didn’t feel pressured because of these other great romances she’s had on camera. But what I did feel was a duty and a responsibility because she’s my friend to make these two people very real.
Did Jennifer have a specific energy to her as a romantic partner on screen?
She’s incredibly engaged in the role, but she’s also engaged with the people she’s working with. Jen is one of those rare talents that, of her own natural ability…. you can’t take your eyes off her. Knowing that, I was like, ‘How can I make this guy so real that she kind of can’t take her eyes off of me?’
How would you characterize Trey and Maya’s relationship?
It felt like it was one of these relationships we’ve all been in and known before. Something that’s past its honeymoon stage, it’s well into the maturity of the relationship and you’re deciding what’s next. For Trey and Maya, who’ve been together for several years, it’s family and taking that next leap into starting that family, and I think for Maya it was that real, ‘Hey, this is where my life is going’ and it’s a crossroads; it’s an intersection, and you kind of need two people that are of the same mind and desire and want, and that’s the conflict between Trey and Maya. But for her character, she’s trying to prove herself to all these people and be impressionable to folks who never would have thought twice of her for a job, and she is impressionable, but you can’t ever lose where you come from, and Trey represents where she comes from. There’s this idea where you need to step away from your immediate world or your immediate life to succeed in a greater business sense.
If we look at older romantic comedies, it’s usually the man who’s in Maya’s shoes in scenarios like this and then he has the supportive girlfriend at home. Is there significance to you in playing a part where those gender roles are reversed?
Maybe, but at the same time I started to look less at the gender roles. If you love your partner and support your partner, it doesn’t matter who’s the breadwinner or who’s trying to hang on to the home life. All paths are equal. They all go towards a common goal, which hopefully is a happy relationship. But, a woman pursuing her dream job I think is as valid and as important as a man. It’s looking at this from a human aspect of fulfillment, and when I read the script there was definitely something that was missing in Maya’s world. She had to go after it. She almost had to take that leap of faith going into this new company and business to find what she had, what she’d already had, and she could have it all. She really doesn’t have to sacrifice one or the other.
They’re a portrait of a working-class couple in working-class New York. I think it’s especially significant seeing a portrait of a woman of color working her way up the corporate ladder, as opposed to the types of leads we’ve seen in romantic comedies in the past.
I come from a working-class family. Again, it goes back to a human story. This is something we can all relate to, looking through that glass ceiling and bumping our head on it and asking what do we do with those opportunities? What do we do with that extra chance to prove that we’re worthy of a boardroom, a stage, or the corner office? I think we all have it in us to succeed where others say we can’t… it’s an aspirational thing we need right now in the community as human beings. We need those hopeful stories that tell us we can accomplish what others thought we couldn’t do, and if we put a little belief in ourselves and surround ourselves with the right people as we would surround others that we care about, we can accomplish anything.