Milo Ventimiglia on exploring Jack and the 'magical' ending of This Is Us
The Pearson family will return later this month for a fifth season of time-jumping family dramas and traumas, and fans will be eager to see what — if any — resolution awaits Randall and Kevin after that vicious fight that wrapped up season 4 of This Is Us. The brothers vented their frustrations and jealousies through a series of escalating toxic taunts, and it was a moment in their up-and-down relationship that would have deeply disappointed their deceased dad.
For the actor who plays Jack, Milo Ventimiglia, it was rather painful to watch it unfold from the sidelines. “I personally was heartbroken,” he tells EW. “You understand both points of view, the desire to do best for mom, but on top of it, it kind of broke my heart, playing Jack and knowing that Jack isn't around for any of this stuff, to see his boys at odds. It's really soul-crushing. Very, very soul-crushing. That whole segment of the episode where it went from the boys fighting to Kevin finding out [that he was a father] to the boys fighting, it was just like, ‘My God, what a massive seven minutes of story, right?’”
While Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) deal with the fallout of their damaged bond in the present day, what may lie ahead (behind?) for Jack as this family saga edges closer to completion? Ventimiglia says that he’s most interested in examining younger-era Jack and his evolution from mistreated son to protective older brother to haunted Vietnam War vet to all-in dad. “We've seen Jack be a father, and we understand his impact and how people have really taken to his advice and his way of living as it relates to his wife, as it relates to his kids,” he says. “But I think the creation of who he became and first fell in love with — is to be explored. We saw some of that in season 3 with Vietnam. We saw some of that last season, with Jack and Rebecca [Mandy Moore] and the earlier days post-Vietnam; there was a period of time where the kids didn't exist. Jack had a rough upbringing, troubles with his dad, mom a little distant, but he did his best with his family, did the best that he could. But where did it come from inside of Jack to become this father, to have that caring nature? And I don't know if it's younger in his teen years or if it's just the moment before you actually had kids.”
To that end, Ventimiglia is rooting for more to explore with those other Pearson brothers. “I hope we can get back to a younger Jack and Nicky [Michael Angarano], because that's satisfying for me," he says "The roles of brothers, that relationship, the dynamic of that is something I always enjoy playing. So hopefully Angarano can come back and we can dance a little bit more.”
Ventimiglia also sees great value in his role on the show as a supportive figure, in more ways than one. “Season 4 for Jack, I really appreciated how much he was supporting storylines and these other characters,” shares the actor. “And even though he was the focus in some of them, I felt like Jack was there to move everything along in an emotional way for the other characters. Much like in a way, I don't look at Vietnam as Jack’s story; it's Nicky's story, and Jack is helping that along.”
This Is Us is not only entering the backstretch of its run, but it’s returning at a tumultuous time. How will the show reflect the pandemic as well as the racial reckoning that accompanies the Black Lives Matter movement? (Creator Dan Fogelman recently confirmed that the show will tackle these issues.) “It's on the minds of the writers," he says. "I'm sure we're going to be talking about COVID-19, I'm sure we're going to be talking about Black Lives Matter and racism that still exists in America — and the struggle for equality and the absolute dire need for real, true equality. It feels incumbent on us to do that because we have been a show that is entertaining, but it's also pretty educational. And a lot of that is the point of view that Fogelman and the writers have in these sometimes-uncomfortable conversations — it’s like we're just diving into it."
And well before the show resumed production in late September, he was looking forward to diving in once again. Responsibly, that is. “There is always a safety concern — always, always, always a safety concern — top to bottom with our crew, with our cast,” he says. “Corona wasn't around when Jack was alive. So we can't really tip our hat to filming it in a certain way, especially for those scenes in the past. It's going to be a challenge, but I think we're up for it… It's [about], how do you truly keep yourself healthy, keep your immune system up, and understand the importance of getting a crew back to work for their livelihoods, for meals on the table for roofs over their head? I know that I'm not going to put that in jeopardy or risk. You have to make sure you're there for your crew… I think we're all going to be very grateful for that and not squander it.”
He also aims to make the most of the decreasing number of days in which this Pearson story will be told; Fogelman has indicated that the show will end after season 6. Speaking of that ending… “You’re not going to get that out of me,” Ventimiglia warns playfully. That said, he ever-so-gently hints at the big finish, using these adjectives to describe the show's end game: “Magical and hopeful.”
And every time the creator lets slip another sliver of that ending, it's rewarding to Ventimiglia. “Fogelman will be on set or in some kind of social setting, and it's like a kid who was about to ask someone out on their first date," he says with a chuckle. "It's this genuine magical moment that's about to happen, and you're about to hear something unique for the first time. He gets excited about what he and the writers are coming out with and he usually can't contain it. So if you catch him in those moments where he’s a bit shuffle-ly and he's like, ‘Oh man, this is great! We had this idea,’ and he just goes on for a long time — I start imagining everything and I see it. You start to really see this magic that's coming in the future. And it's a lot of hope. It's a very hopeful thing to experience as an artist. So it keeps us going as we're moving through, especially the harder, harder moments for these characters. It's exciting.”
The two-hour season 5 premiere airs Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. on NBC, which released the first trailer with new footage on Wednesday.
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NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.