Beverly Hills, Calif. • Milo Ventimiglia starred as bad-boy boyfriends in “The Gilmore Girls” and “American Dreams”; a guy with superpowers in “Heroes”; an Air Force pilot kidnapped by aliens in “The Whispers.”
But it’s his role as good guy/husband/father Jack Pearson in “This Is Us” that has made him a somewhat difficult-to-pronounce household name — and given him the most pleasure.
“It’s nice to play a good man who loves his family, loves his wife,” Ventimiglia said in a recent interview with TV critics. “I sound like a broken record, but it’s a very simple, uncomplicated thing for a guy like Jack. … I don’t even know what more to say other than it’s good to be part of a positive role model that is also flawed and is now going to be forced to admit and recognize his faults.”
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In its first season, “This Is Us” became a breakout hit, filled with heartfelt stories about the Pearson family — with a twist. The narrative operates in the present day and at multiple points in the past.
Ventimiglia’s storylines are all in the past, because Jack is long dead in the present. Exactly how he died remains a mystery and a bit of an obsession for many of the show’s fans.
“The Jack death is something that it was always going to be a big part of this family and a big part of the show,” said creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman. “The premise of the show is that you’re watching how the past informs the present.”
Being dead in the present didn’t prevent Jack from being a big part of Season 1; it won’t prevent him from being a big part of Season 2.
“I always talk about Jack’s death as this hinge upon which the family swings,” Fogelman said — it would be a “very different family” in the present if Jack had lived … and that’s very much what this season is about.”
“We’ve painted the picture of the world’s perfect dad, man, husband, everything. And now we’re going to show, not the dark side of that, but what the struggle is of being that guy.”
Not surprisingly, Fogelman wasn’t giving anything away. He wouldn’t specify when the details of Jack’s death will be revealed, but he did promise that “in the course of the second season,” viewers will get “all the answers about that that they need and more.”
“The first episode has a big, giant piece of the puzzle that will potentially set the Internet just abuzz,” he teased.
In the Season 2 premiere, which airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5, the present-day storyline picks up “a month or two” after it left off in the Season 1 finale. The first season opened with the 36th birthdays of Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown); the second season opens with their 37th birthday.
Randall and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) are looking into adoption; Kate is tying to launch a singing career; Kevin is working on a movie “and kind of working on his romantic relationship with his ex-wife,” Fogelman said.
The past storyline “basically picks up the day after the finale, so it’s basically the morning after the big fight that has led to an early separation between … Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore).”
While a certain segment of the fandom is almost frantic to know how Jack died, Ventimiglia is content. He and the rest of the cast have “shared how fortunate we all feel about the work [and] the company we get to keep.
“I gotta be honest,” he said. “If you’re an actor and you have a job, consider yourself lucky. … When you’re a working actor and you get an opportunity to be a part of a show that has meaning and magnitude and grace, then you just want it to go on for a long time and just soak up every moment you can of it. We’re very fortunate and grateful and a happy crew together.”