Milo Ventimiglia has been in show business most of his life, but is best-known these days for his leading role in NBC’s hit drama series “This is Us.” Chronicling the Vietnam War service of his character, Jack Pearson, Milo credits the experiences of his Vietnam veteran father to help bring the role to life.
Ventimiglia got his first big taste of show business in Will Smith’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in 1995, and most notably in a recurring role in “Gilmore Girls” from 2001-2006, where he received critical acclaim. Movie fans also know him playing Rocky Balboa Jr. opposite Sylvester Stallone in the movie “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. They also worked together in the movie “Creed II,” and briefly on “This is Us.”
He is also linked to Stallone by a common physical trait. Stallone and Ventimiglia are similar in appearance and both speak with a “crooked mouth,” Milo because he was born with dead nerves in his mouth and Stallone because of a forceps injury at birth.
Ventimiglia said he sees clear parallels between Jack and his own Army veteran father, Peter Ventimiglia, which he’s applied to his performance. “Jack is a man who has this heart of gold,” he tells Vulture Magazine. “He outshines a lot of adversity that he’s up against, and the one thing that I know my father said about his time in Vietnam was he was surprised that such a beautiful people and such a beautiful culture could be caught up in such a horrific war.”
“Jack feels the same. Jack is a very caring, loving, nurturing man, and he has the same sentiment my father shared with me about this horrible war that he was in,” the actor continued.
The storyline of Jack Pearson’s Vietnam War role plays out throughout the current third season of the show, particularly as it relates to his protective relationship with his little brother Nicky, who isin the show. As the show repeatedly goes back in time in the show’s signature fashion, the show flashes forward in last week’s episode in an emotional way as Jack gets word from the VA that his son is not dead.
"My dad and I have spoken quite a bit about his experience in war. I've got a lot of friends that are veterans of current conflicts as well as on active duty, so I get it from all sides," Ventimiglia told The Hollywood Reporter magazine. "The one thing that I always try and do is just bring in the emotional responsibility to represent what they've been through in what I do as an actor and playing a fictional character.”
"It's not only the family that you're born into, but the family you really make. What we are going to see over the course of the Vietnam stuff (in the show) is just how Jack is looking out for the guys he's in war with," Ventimiglia added.
To more accurately portray the experiences of war, the show’s creator Dan Fogelman and his team enlisted Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien as a consultant. O'Brien is known for his war-themed books "The Things They Carried" and "Going After Cacciato." He trained actor soldiers and shot landscape footage from Ho Chi Minh City to bolster the show’s war scenes.
“It was probably really exciting for Milo to get mud on his face and run around and activate that muscle a little bit, and he pulls it off so organically. There’s a moment right at the top of the episode where he’s walking out of a helicopter in slow motion, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, Milo’s built to do this,” said Fogelman, in an interview with Variety.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, a TV dad is suddenly walking in army boots and this is ridiculous.’ It’s like, “Oh, no. He completely owns this and it’s very cool,” he added.
Ventimiglia has also toured with the USO, going through Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan during the height of the U.S. military surge in 2008.
For his role in “This is Us,” Ventimiglia was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He also shared a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.