'This Is Us' Star Milo Ventimiglia Discusses Jack's Downfall, "Heartbreaking" Finale

This is Us Episode 117 Mandy Moore Milo Ventimiglia - Publicity - H 2017
Justin Lubin/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of This Is Us, "What Now?"]

Viewers who have been counting down the episodes until finding out Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) cause of death on This Is Us just got one step closer to the big reveal.

Tuesday's penultimate episode of the freshman NBC drama spent most of the time in the present-day timeframe as Randall (Sterling K. Brown) said goodbye to William (Ron Cephas Jones) via a memorial that his daughters planned and Kevin (Justin Hartley) made preparations for his play’s second opening night.

It was Kate (Chrissy Metz), however, who brought the past and present storylines together when William’s memorial hit a little too close to home and brought back memories of her own father’s death.

Meanwhile in the past storyline, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) left on tour with Ben (Sam Trammell), but not before an awkward goodbye with Jack that prompted a teenage Kate to give her dad a little pep talk about “fixing things” with Mom and not sitting at home feeling sorry for himself.

Jack took his daughter’s advice to heart, but not before heading to the bar for a co-worker’s going-away party and drowning his feelings in the bottle. He then made a last phone call to Kate to tell her he was taking her advice and heading out on the two-hour drive to fix things with Rebecca, and then he hopped in the car drunk. Before the screen could fade to black, present-day Kate finally opened up to Toby (Chris Sullivan) about her father’s death, claiming it was all her fault as a flashback showed Jack’s car veering dangerously.

To delve a little deeper into Jack’s unwise choices in the episode and what viewers can expect heading into the season one finale, THR caught up with Ventimiglia. Here, he talks about Jack's "imperfections," filming that dream sequence and the "rocky ride at the end" of season one.

Where does Jack’s jealousy stem from? Is that part of his father’s influence?

To me, Jack isn’t a man who measures himself against other men so much as anything that threatens time with his family, time with his wife. That’s where his jealousy, if you want to call it that, lies. I know that in his heart he probably believes that his wife is better than him, that he landed a girl that exceeded his reach. He wants to protect the sanctity of his relationship and his family, so anything that threatens that can be perceived as a jealousy as opposed to him just standing up for his family.

Is that how you see it, that he’s standing up for his family?

That’s how I see it. Jack is a pretty simple guy; he loves his wife, he loves his kids. There’s not a lot of complication to that. But in the simplest way of loving his wife and loving his kids, there are other things that come into play that potentially threaten time with his wife and time with his kids. The older he’s gotten, the more he’s loosened that idea of constantly being around his family. He’s trying to be supportive of Rebecca in her singing and the kids in letting them be teenagers. But it’s also that the world is getting away from Jack.

Is that what drives him to drink again then, as opposed to his arguments with Rebecca?

It’s a combination of things. I’m sure it’s an argument in a marriage that isn’t used to arguing. I’m sure it’s probably feeling the pressure of financial responsibility to the family and an emotional responsibility to the family. And then even just understanding that he’s going to have to pick up the slack because his wife is going away to travel.

At the end of the episode, Kate reveals that Jack’s death is her fault. Does he have any inkling of how his drinking could affect his children?

It doesn’t feel like Jack would choose the path that he goes down given the words of his kids. But if Jack is drinking, it’s impairing his judgment. It impairs anyone’s judgment; it’s not a good thing for Jack.

Does the fact that this is taking place in a time period where drinking and driving wasn’t necessarily the social stigma that it is today make it a little more forgivable, or at least understandable?

Possibly. But there’s still a severity to it; there’s still an understanding that he could hurt himself or someone else. Even Rebecca alludes to that in the second episode with Jack coming home drunk and a little bit off. She says when he’s there, he’s present and a 10, but when he’s not he’s like a six. So I’m sure the very real threat of an accident factors in for Rebecca. I’ve got to imagine that it does.

If Jack had the kids with him at that moment in time, do you think he would have actually gotten in the car?

No, probably not. Jack loves his family, he’s not going to make the best decisions at times; he’s not perfect. But I don’t think he’d be so clouded that if his kids or wife were around, he would make a bad decision like that.

A lot of viewers seem to think Jack is perfect; how will this episode and the finale alter that perception?

If you really boil it down, we’ve only spent 17 hours with the man; there’s a lot more to learn and there’s a lot more to understand about a human being to know that they’re not perfect. Once you accept they’re not perfect but see them acting honorably toward their family or towards themselves, you’re going to have a better feeling of the being a perfect guy or gal. But we’ve only spent 17 hours with the man; there’s still a lot of time to figure out his imperfections and accept them because no one is perfect.

Could this potentially be the beginning of fans accepting Miguel (Jon Huertas) more?

Fans aren’t going to accept Miguel and hate Jack or find flaws in Jack and decide that Miguel is possibly a better guy. Miguel is Jack’s best friend. They’re close, they’re bonded, they look out for one another and always have. It doesn’t feel to me that finding out a few of Jack’s imperfections is going to create more acceptance of Miguel. People should just accept Miguel because he’s a great guy.

What was it like to film that dream sequence scene with Ron Cephas Jones?

That was a blast. I crave to work with everyone on the cast and when I got that opportunity with Sterling, it was amazing. And then when Dan told me there was this scene with Jack and William, I mean I had smiles. The laughter and smiles with Ron and I? That was 100 percent real emotion. We were very, very happy to be there on set together.

Do you and Chrissy or Justin ever talk about hypothetical scenes that you could play in together?

We do, from a purely selfish place of actors wanting to act with other great actors. But then at the same time if creatively it works out? Awesome. If creatively it doesn’t work out, that’s OK. We still get to spend some time together, passing through set and at the various functions that we’re at.

Have you had conversations with showrunner Dan Fogelman about where the character is headed in the second and third seasons?

Yeah, before we wrapped up and throughout the course of the year we had several conversations. So there’s nothing that I’m looking to learn because I feel like I already know a lot. I have an understanding of where Jack is going, where the family is going and where the individual characters are going, but at the same time, I don’t know enough of the specifics to know how the episodes will shape up.

You said at the beginning of the season that you’ve crafted Jack in the vein of your own father. How has that changed and what has your dad had to say about the character?

My father’s a great man. He taught me how to be a man and how to be kind and how to be giving as well as how to stand up for myself. Saying that I crafted Jack after my father is kind of taking the sentiment of who my dad is and the kind of reverence that I know other friends of mine or family members look at my dad. He’s very kind with his time and always there for anyone that he cares about or cares about him. It was things like that that I tried to plug into Jack … This sense of strength but also this great big heart. It’s not like I was playing my father, but there was a version that felt like I was embodying my father. My dad doesn’t ask me where he got his chinos from 1996 or anything like that, but my father has told me that he’s proud of me and proud of the work that I’ve been doing.

Dan has alluded to a scene in the finale between Jack and Rebecca that’s never been shown on television before. Are you able to speak to what it was like filming that?

It was pretty painful. Heartbreaking … some place that we’d never been with This Is Us, and it was just one of those moments that you were grateful for the work and grateful for the words you get to say and the partner you get to be in a scene with. It was one of those scenes. We’ve had several of those throughout the season; there’s not one scene that goes by that I don’t put my whole heart into, but there has been so much that still echoes in me and I think about and consider. But at the end, I would say there are two, maybe three truly impactful scenes that kind of flow well and lead the season out. It’s hard to talk about being on the inside of them. It’s much easier for me to talk about other people’s work.

How should viewers brace themselves for this finale?

I hope everyone has recovered from William’s passing is all I’m going to say. Get ready. It’s a rocky ride at the end.

This Is Us concludes its first season next Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling