Easy Rider

HE’S GOT THE HOTTEST SHOW ON NET­WORK TV (THIS IS US) AND IS MAK­ING HIS ROM-COM DE­BUT OP­PO­SITE ONE OF HOL­LY­WOOD’S HOTTEST LEAD­ING WOMEN (HELLO, J.LO). BUT MILO VENTIMIGLIA IS A PRO AT KEEP­ING THINGS VERY, VERY COOL.

Men's Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Mickey Rap­kin

He’s the hot guy on the hot show, but This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia is a pro at keep­ing things very, very cool.

THE STAR OF THE HOTTEST show on tele­vi­sion lives in the hottest house—circa 1983. Kid­ding aside, this can’t be Milo Ventimiglia’s place, right? We ex­pect our stars to live in sleek glass boxes with in­fin­ity pools and ocean views. Not in a three-bed­room ranch on a side street in—what is this neigh­bor­hood, ex­actly?—oh, right, Mar Vista. And not even the hip part of Mar Vista.

Ventimiglia bought the house 16 years ago when he was a young ac­tor fresh off a short­lived WB net­work se­ries you never saw and a Moun­tain Dew com­mer­cial you prob­a­bly did. (He wres­tled a chee­tah.) It’s a hot and lazy Sun­day af­ter­noon, and Ventimiglia, who just be­gan work on Sea­son 3 of NBC’S This Is Us, has re­turned from a nearby farm­ers mar­ket with a bounty of fresh pasta and heir­loom toma­toes. The house is cer­tainly nicer than mine, with a Vik­ing range and a pretty awe­some framed photo of the Clash in his of­fice. But still. This Is Us is huge, a prime­time net­work hit watched by 17 mil­lion view­ers a week, a mas­sive num­ber by 2018 stan­dards. And much of the suc­cess is due to Ventimiglia’s star power. Hasn’t he thought about mov­ing, maybe spend­ing some of that big net­work TV money on some­thing less mod­est?

“I don’t know if it’s big net­work TV money,” Ventimiglia says with a laugh. The dude is said to make $85,000 an episode, but now the cast is re­port­edly rene­go­ti­at­ing. And they’ve got se­ri­ous lev­er­age: This Is Us is the only net­work show nom­i­nated for a best drama Emmy Award this year, and Ventimiglia is the show’s moral cen­ter. This Is Us was an out-of-the-box hit in the truest sense: A three-minute trailer for the show did Star Wars traf­fic when it was posted on­line in 2016.

When asked why view­ers con­nect so strongly with the show, Ventimiglia talks about fam­ily dy­nam­ics and how we’re all alike de­spite our dif­fer­ences, blah blah blah. But the show’s cre­ator, Dan Fo­gel­man, has an­other the­ory: “Milo’s nu­dity.” No joke: In the trailer—and the pilot—ventimiglia’s bare ass is ba­si­cally the first thing you see.

“My ass ac­tu­ally pre­cedes my face,” he tells me. Still, he was nom­i­nated for lead ac­tor in a drama se­ries—twice—com­pet­ing against Ed Har­ris in West­world and Ja­son Bate­man in Ozark, among oth­ers. Says Ventimiglia, laugh­ing again: “I think my ass got nom­i­nated for the Emmy.” IT MUST BE SAID: The dude is built like a Ma­jor League prospect, as if his bi­ceps are ac­tively try­ing to es­cape from be­neath a snug black T-shirt. When he moved to Mar Vista in 2002, he fit right in. It was then a sleepy surf com­mu­nity for peo­ple who couldn’t af­ford Santa Mon­ica. Now it’s part of a boom­ing tech cor­ri­dor—sil­i­con Beach. He ac­tu­ally tried to buy the plot next door but got out­bid by a de­vel­oper pay­ing in cash. “Google, Yahoo, all the tech com­pa­nies from up north in Sil­i­con Val­ley are mov­ing down here. And all these kids—younger than us— have money to spend on what­ever they think is fuck­ing cool.”

He’s right. But that’s not why I’m laugh­ing. I’m laugh­ing be­cause he ba­si­cally sounds like Clint East­wood in Gran Torino, shout­ing “Get off my lawn!”

He may not be as griz­zled, but at 41, Ventimiglia’s al­ready a vet­eran: He got his first big break play­ing the bad boy on Gil­more Girls. The left side of his mouth is fa­mously pinched, the re­sult of dead nerves in his lip, but it’s the kind of per­fect im­per­fec­tion that makes him mem­o­rable. And for years he paid his bills play­ing teenage heart­throbs in leather jack­ets. He ac­tu­ally got his mo­tor­cy­cle li­cense while film­ing a TV show called Amer­i­can Dreams be­cause—for in­sur­ance pur­poses—he wasn’t al­lowed to put the lead ac­tress onto the back of a bike with­out a li­cense. Now he’s got three cus­tom Har­ley-david­sons in his garage, plus a clas­sic, mint-con­di­tion ’67 Chevy Chev­elle that he helped re­build him­self. The car looks like it just came from the show­room. He calls her Eve­lyn, maybe be­cause of the vroom her en­gine makes, he says, but re­ally be­cause she just felt like an Eve­lyn.

telling me this story while he’s do­ing laun­dry in his garage. In front of our eyes— or our screens any­way—he has seam­lessly tran­si­tioned from the rebel with­out a cause to Amer­ica’s Dad, or maybe Amer­ica’s DILF.

This Is Us tells the story of the Pear­sons and their three chil­dren, and it un­folds un­con­ven­tion­ally, with fre­quent time jumps from the 1970s to the present day. Ventimiglia plays Jack, a Viet­nam vet and du­ti­ful fa­ther who isn’t afraid to cry, a man strug­gling with al­co­hol ad­dic­tion and mar­i­tal woes as well as lin­ger­ing ghosts from an abu­sive child­hood. Jack makes mis­takes, but he’s also a ride-or-die No. 1 Dad mug car­rier, a pic­ture of hu­man de­cency at a time when Amer­i­cans are won­der­ing if there are any good men left at all. “I’m a huge fan,” says Jen­nifer Lopez, who stars with Ventimiglia in Sec­ond Act, a ro­man­tic com­edy out this fall. “I think it res­onates with so many peo­ple be­cause it’s re­ally a story about fam­ily, about love and the things that mat­ter.”

That’s led some to call This Is Us housewife porn. But Ventimiglia isn’t com­plain­ing. In ad­di­tion to his Har­leys, there’s an Audi SUV sit­ting in the drive­way be­cause, he ex­plains, Audi sent one over. “They were like, ‘We want to give you a car for a while. You OK with that?’ My friends were like, ‘Dude, no way.’ ”

Ventimiglia comes by his hum­ble, gen­er­ous

“THAT’S WHERE YOU’D GO TO GET IN TROU­BLE, MEET UP WITH GIRLS. YOU’D GO SURFING IN THE MORN­ING AND GO TO DIS­NEY­LAND AT NIGHT. IT WASN’T BAD, MAN.”

bona fides nat­u­rally. He grew up out­side Ana­heim, where his dad worked in the print­ing busi­ness and his mother toiled as a teacher. The fam­ily lived 20 min­utes from Dis­ney­land, which is where Ventimiglia spent most of his teenage week­ends. “Ev­ery­one would con­gre­gate around To­mor­row­land,” he says. “There was this dance floor; ev­ery hour, a live band would pop up and play cov­ers. That’s where you’d go to get in trou­ble, meet up with girls, things like that. You’d go surfing in the morn­ing and go to Dis­ney­land at night. It wasn’t bad, man.”

He started act­ing at a young age, spend­ing sum­mers in class at South Coast Reper­tory and later study­ing at the pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tory The­ater in San Fran­cisco. Af­ter high school, he nearly grad­u­ated from UCLA but dropped out once he started book­ing jobs. The work wasn’t flashy—a bit part in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-air, a com­merhe’s cial for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. If he wasn’t a star yet, he could pay his bills in Venice—you know, the old Venice.

“My neigh­bors were drug deal­ers and gang­bangers. Do you know the Brig?” he asks, re­fer­ring to the no­to­ri­ous old-school dive bar where he used to hang out—be­fore the “strollers and white­washed-wood cof­fee bars” came to town. “Back in the day, there were two pool ta­bles in the bar, and they had saw­dust on the ground to ba­si­cally mop up the blood at the end of the night from the fights and shit that would go down.”

Quaint sto­ries about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion aside, what res­onates as Ventimiglia speaks—train­ing his pa­tient, em­pa­thetic eyes on you—is his sin­cer­ity. In a way, it’s what made his quest­ing heart­throbs so dis­arm­ing (in shows like NBC’S He­roes) and may ex­plain how This Is Us man­ages to walk an emo­tional tightrope that’s been doused in slip­pery tears. Fo­gel­man

tells me that he’d ini­tially con­ceived of Jack Pear­son as more of an out-of-shape Every­man, but af­ter meet­ing Ventimiglia, he was con­vinced he had to re­draw the pic­ture. “Milo showed up wear­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle jacket, car­ry­ing a hel­met un­der his arm, and I im­me­di­ately knew this was a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of Jack—this blue-col­lar, work­ing-class, quiet stud,” Fo­gel­man says. “He speaks to an old-school kind of guy who doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily wear his emo­tions on his sleeve. He loves deeply, he loves his fam­ily, he lives by a cer­tain code—i think that in­forms a lit­tle bit of Milo and a lit­tle bit of the char­ac­ter.”

When the show re­turns this fall, we’ll learn more about Jack’s past, about his courtship of his wife, Re­becca, played by Mandy Moore, and—more no­tably—about his time in Viet­nam. Ventimiglia pulls a pho­to­graph down from the wall and slides it across the ta­ble. It’s a black-and-white shot of his own fa­ther in Viet­nam, dressed in uni­form, sit­ting atop his jeep, taken when he was maybe 19. Milo did a deep dive on ebay to find a pair of boots just like his fa­ther wore. And when he went to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to film at the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Memo­rial, the first thing he did was find the names in his fa­ther’s unit—to honor the men who perished so his dad could come home.

“My dad avoided the draft by en­list­ing in the Army,” Ventimiglia says. “He was like, ‘I’m prob­a­bly gonna go any­how.’ He was in Chicago. He went into the Army Corps of En­gi­neers. He was build­ing bridges and bases and

“HE GOT WHIS­TLES FROM A LOT OF THE WOMEN, AND EVEN A FEW OF THE MEN, BUT HE HAN­DLED IT LIKE A CHAMP. THERE’S SOME­THING ABOUT HIM AS AN AC­TOR THAT FEELS AU­THEN­TIC.”

roads and help­ing out in vil­lages. But, you know, all his friends died.”

As he tells the story, I’m prac­ti­cally tear­ing up at his Dan­ish mod­ern kitchen ta­ble. I can only imag­ine what’ll hap­pen on­screen.

THIS IS WHAT spend­ing time with Milo Ventimiglia is like: The guy is so sin­cere, so Zen, that it feels like it must be an act. I mean, when this guy calls an Uber, he sits in the front seat! “I don’t know why,” he says, at­tempt­ing to ex­plain him­self. “I feel weird sit­ting in the back seat. I feel like, I’m in some­one else’s car, I should have a con­ver­sa­tion with them, thank them for the ride.” It’s not sur­pris­ing that he was raised by veg­e­tar­i­ans, whom he calls “in­cred­i­bly de­cent peo­ple,” who med­i­tate for more than two hours a day.

Ventimiglia rel­ishes his Every­man sta­tus, and if it’s some­times hokey, it’s also charm­ing. He re­mem­bers how scorch­ing hot his TV show He­roes was in 2006—and how quickly the view­ers fled. In a two-hour con­ver­sa­tion about a ca­reer that in­cludes work­ing with Nicole Kid­man and Sylvester Stal­lone, he seems proud­est of the fact that his friend’s kids call him Un­cle Donut be­cause he al­ways brings dough­nuts when he comes to visit. The tykes once turned on the TV and screamed for their fa­ther to come into the room be­cause Un­cle Donut was some­how on Ellen.

Fo­gel­man isn’t sur­prised to hear about my Tues­days With Milo ex­pe­ri­ence. Fans are con­stantly ask­ing him if Ventimiglia is as nice as the char­ac­ter he plays on TV. “Milo is a bit of a su­per­hero guy in real life,” Fo­gel­man says. “He rides his mo­tor­cy­cle, and he fixes up cars, and he’s an ex­pert on cam­eras.” Fo­gel­man ex­plains that Ventimiglia, who is a se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­pher, re­cently loaned his wife a $10,000 Le­ica. “We’re on va­ca­tion,” Fo­gel­man says. “I’m brush­ing my teeth in the bath­room, and I’m hear­ing Milo from the next room. I’m try­ing to think, ‘What episode is my wife watch­ing?’ I come into the room. Milo has made her a se­ries of text videos ex­plain­ing how to load the film and prop­erly change the ex­po­sure lev­els. This guy is one of the big­gest stars on the planet right now and he’s sit­ting there mak­ing the equiv­a­lent of a Youtube tu­to­rial for my wife.”

This fall, Ventimiglia brings that same good-guy en­ergy to Sec­ond Act. It’s ba­si­cally an up­date on Work­ing Girl in which Lopez plays a tough girl from the Bronx who fakes her ré­sumé to land a big cor­po­rate job. Ventimiglia is the love in­ter­est—an as­sis­tant col­lege-base­ball coach who just wants to set­tle down and start a fam­ily. In a way, Ventimiglia is the film’s in­genue—he ex­ists to look pretty and drive Lopez’s story. When I ask if he felt ob­jec­ti­fied on-set, he laughs and says, “Maybe the first day of work when I showed up and they’re like, ‘So, Milo, you’re en­ter­ing this scene from the shower, your shirt is off…’ I went, ‘I didn’t re­al­ize.’ ”

Lopez re­mem­bers that day well. “That’s al­ways a stress­ful thing for ac­tors,” she says. “He got whis­tles from a lot of the women, and even a few of the men, but he han­dled it like a champ. There is some­thing about him as an ac­tor that feels au­then­tic and grounded.”

VENTIMIGLIA AND I wrap up our in­ter­view—he’s look­ing for­ward to a rare day of do­ing noth­ing at all—and as I take my leave, he of­fers me some lemons from a tree in his back­yard, a tree his fa­ther planted shortly af­ter Ventimiglia moved here. It strikes me as a metaphor for his ap­proach to life, a bounty of fruit ap­pear­ing where so many seeds had been planted years ago. Look­ing at his neigh­bor’s Mc­man­sion, which stares di­rectly down into his back­yard, Ventimiglia fi­nally ad­mits he’s ready to leave this house. It’s not be­cause he’s a star, he in­sists. It’s be­cause he wants more space for his bikes. “I bought this house when I was 25,” he says. He may have got­ten rid of the pool ta­ble that once dec­o­rated the liv­ing room, “but when I walk in,” he says, “I’m 25 years old, al­ways.”

Time stands still for no one, no mat­ter how deeply you breathe. Ventimiglia is 41, and from the sound of it, his friends have mostly set­tled down. He’s fa­mously dated co-stars be­fore (Alexis Bledel from Gil­more Girls, Hay­den Panet­tiere from He­roes), which is prob­a­bly why he won’t com­ment on his per­sonal life to­day. At the Em­mys in 2017, he cel­e­brated with a very beau­ti­ful mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive for Stella Mccart­ney. When pressed, he will ad­mit that like his char­ac­ter on This Is Us, many peo­ple have tried to set him up. “Peo­ple try,” he says, “but I’m OK for now.”

He’s fo­cused on work, seiz­ing a mo­ment that he knows may even­tu­ally cool off. He’s got an­other film in the can—the race car drama The Art of Rac­ing in the Rain—but if he can find a long enough break in his sched­ule, what he’d re­ally like to do is take one of his mo­tor­cy­cles on an epic road trip. He’s al­ready biked from Port­land, Ore­gon, down to L.A. with some bud­dies. Now he has his sights set on Ja­pan, start­ing in Hokkaido and mak­ing his way 900 miles south to Osaka.

What does he love about rid­ing, I won­der. What does he feel like when he’s out on the road? His re­ply is ba­si­cally “Zen and the Art of Movie Star Main­te­nance.” “I feel like I’m on the Ital­ian Riviera in one of those old wooden boats, cut­ting through the wa­ter. You don’t feel wind, you don’t feel any­thing. It’s nice to sit in my hel­met, quiet, you know?”

“MILO IS A BIT OF A SU­PER­HERO GUY IN REAL LIFE. HE RIDES HIS MO­TOR­CY­CLE, HE FIXES UP CARS, AND HE’S AN EX­PERT ON CAM­ERAS.”

Ventimiglia’s first star turn, as the brood­ing bad boy Jess Marino, op­po­site Alexis Bledel’s Rory, on Gil­more Girls, circa 2001.

Ventimiglia (up­per left) chan­nels his in­ner Sonny Bono as Jack Pear­son on This Is Us, co-star­ring (clock­wise from up­per right) Mandy Moore, Macken­zie Hanc­sic­sak, Parker Bates, and Lon­nie Chavis.

Get­ting up close and per­sonal with Jen­nifer Lopez in the new ro­man­tic com­edy Sec­ond Act.

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