The Commercial Appeal

Ventimigli­a is in on the long con in ‘Company’

- Erin Jensen

Spoiler alert: This story contains details from the premiere of “The Company You Keep.”

From The Big Three to the big con. Milo Ventimigli­a returned to TV Sunday as a swindler, after a brief break following the conclusion of NBC’S “This Is Us” in May after six-season run. Sans Jack Pearson’s mustache, he leads ABC’S “The Company You Keep” (10 EST/PST), created by Julia Cohen and Phil Klemmer and adapted from a Korean drama.

Ventimigli­a, 45, portrays Charlie Nicoletti, a man devoted to his family business of conning. But the premiere episode reveals the suave Charlie is the one being hustled. His fiancée, who robs the Nicolettis of $10 million from a highstakes heist, putting his family, which owns a Baltimore bar, in debt to a major criminal organizati­on.

The role of Charlie appealed to Ventimigli­a, who appreciate­d how different the character was compared to Jack, an adoring father of three and doting husband.

“He’s got a lot of layers,” Ventimigli­a says of Charlie. With “the complexiti­es of these cons the family pulls off, he’s got to be a chameleon, and he’s got to be charming, and he’s got to be engaging. He’s also got to be dangerous.”

In addition to “This Is Us,” Ventimigli­a also acted in hit series “Heroes,” on NBC, and WB’S “Gilmore Girls.”

When contemplat­ing a role, he looks for the opportunit­y to have fun. “You’ve got to know that it has legs,” he says. “So when ... I was looking at this as an actor, it was, ‘Hey, is this a character that is going to be challengin­g and satisfying? Is it someone that is going to go the distance? Do we have enough story within who all of these characters in the show are?’ And I think we do.”

Charlie nurses his heartbreak at a hotel bar, where he meets Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), a CIA agent who has discovered earlier that day her boyfriend was having an affair. While knocking back drinks, the two playfully lie to each other about their jobs and upbringing­s.

“OK, now tell me something true,”

Emma demands.

“I’m a criminal,” Charlie says, in a brief moment of honesty, to which Emma responds, “I’m CIA.” They both laugh off the truth and end up spending 36 hours in a hotel suite getting to know each other and having passionate sex.

“What we’re looking at in the beginning, (is) two trains on a collision course,” says Ventimigli­a. “How do lives and heart and emotions unravel beyond that?”

Charlie is torn between pursuing his new love interest and focusing on his family’s hustles.

“Charlie’s going through a bit of a transition where he’s existing in a way that he has for so long with his family,” says Ventimigli­a. “They’ve been pulling grifts and whatnot since he and (Charlie’s sister) Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies) were kids. It’s all very second nature to him. So identifyin­g that maybe you want something different and you want something more and the inspiratio­n behind that is a new romantic partner, I can definitely identify with that.”

Ventimigli­a and Kim’s chemistry is off the charts. While the scenes appear steamy onscreen, Kim describes them as funny, silly and a tinge awkward.

“It’s like we’re in this bathtub and being all sexy and in between, I’m like, ‘If I see one extra bubble, I’m going to kill you,’ ” she says laughing. Or in a scene where the couple is having sex in bed, “There’s our wonderful hair and makeup team and wardrobe team and they come in and somebody will offer me water and powder my nose and brush out my hair. I’m just like, ‘This should be a service you get in real life.’ ”

Though Charlie and Emma have an intense connection, their jobs naturally put them at odds.

“Emma has been chasing the woman that’s holding Charlie’s family’s debts in hand,” says Kim, 38. Despite “a fun fling for the weekend,” which “turns into something more substantia­l, they have no idea, of course, that things are going to get complicate­d profession­ally for both of them.”

But Ventimigli­a says it won’t be too long before the characters discover who their love interest really is. He promises, “It happens pretty quick.”

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