'This Is Us' Star Milo Ventimiglia Explains His New Look (and the Emotional Premiere)

THIS IS US - Pilot -Milo Ventimiglia as Jack - Publicity - H 2016
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of NBC’s This Is Us.]

For months, Milo Ventimiglia has been walking around with a very different look than Heroes, Gilmore Girls and, more recently, Gotham viewers have been used to seeing: a mustache. The look has confused the actor's loyal fans — as well as his friends and family — and now that the series premiere of Ventimiglia's new NBC Dan Fogelman drama, This Is Us, has aired, he can finally explain the new look.

In Tuesday’s episode-ending twist, it was revealed that the hospital scenes between Ventimiglia's Jack and Mandy Moore's Rebecca actually took place in 1979, when one of their triplets died during childbirth. The onscreen couple then adopted a third baby after he was left at a fire station by his drug-addled father. Those three kids grew up to be the other characters audiences were introduced to during Tuesday's series debut: Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown). Ventimiglia’s mustache, as it turns out, was not only necessary to relay that time period, but also to play around with as the show jumps around in time in future episodes.

THR caught up with Ventimiglia to find out just how big of a time jump the show will take, how three new babies impacts a marriage and how signing on to a project like this affected his view of parenthood.

What was your initial reaction to the twist at the end of the pilot?

When I read it, I was on an airplane and stopped and sat back and had to think about [and make sure] that I understood what Dan had written. Then I flipped back to the beginning of the scene and read everything again. Once I saw it, I accepted it and knew it. I was blown away. I got to the end of the script and immediately turned back to page one. Now I was reading it not for the first time of understanding how these individuals were playing out, but then knowing how this family was built and the impact. It was a beautiful script, but when I got to the end and knew how everybody was connected, it was a “I have to be a part of this show” moment. I read the script and had a meeting on the books. I'd had a friend that I produced a lot with who was buddies with Dan, and my attorney also represents This Is Us directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. I love the connecting tissue. I just wanted to hang out with them.

Have you had a similar reaction to something on the page in the episodes you've shot since the pilot?

Fogelman and the writers have done an amazing job of taking very simple-to-digest issues — very simple concepts — but then making them so deep and so rich in a universe of life. Every moment that we have, from, like, his first day as a father on the show and dealing with three very different children to trying to keep his wife and marriage happy and on track. The team of writers has just done an amazing job continuing that first-episode feeling throughout the six that I’ve read.

How does Jack change in those six episodes?

We see Jack at different stages in his life and see him, of course, with three babies and then later out with three 8-year-olds. He’s a man that loves family, loves his wife and would do anything for them. And he’s an optimistic hopeful. He’s a man that tries to see the best in the situation and makes sure that his family is provided for and he’s doing the best he can for them.

How far ahead will the show jump — could you ever have scenes with Justin, Chrissy or Sterling?

That’s to be determined. The nice thing about the show is, it takes these real topics, real-life moments, and we’re hopefully going to see the way these characters all handle them and have to work through the trials and tribulations of life.

Is one time period easier to play than another?

I wouldn’t say one is easier, but I’m enjoying all of them. Every moment of my life that I get older, my circle of perception gets greater, and I understand, hopefully, a little bit more about the world, about people and life in general. Bouncing around with Jack in time and knowing that he’s going from his mid-30s to a little further along in life and then, even, at one point I know we’re jumping back to, I believe, before kids. It’s kind of keeping the family timeline straight in my head and with Mandy. Keeping the family understanding and that dynamic straight is probably the hardest part.

What was it like physically crafting those varying looks?

When I was cast in the role, Fogelman and Requa said, “We want you to grow your hair out, grow your beard out, stop working out.” I was like, “OK. I can figure out doing all that stuff.” But it basically gives us an opportunity to have touchstones through different decades, as well as showing change or difference. I know people have seen me walking around with a mustache and wonder what’s happening, but there’s a versatility that comes with facial hair and wearing different versions of facial hair. It helps us out a lot.

Did you actually stop working out? You don’t exactly have a dad bod in this pilot.

No. That was one request that I said, "No, I can’t do it." I have to keep healthy. But the idea was that, with the show opening on my bare bottom and bare body, they wanted to make sure I didn’t look too modern. And I agreed. It was a different time for men’s fitness.

What can you say about working with Mandy? Did you have to create backstories with her for this marriage?

It’s all pretty much there. Mandy is amazing. If people aren’t already in love with her, they will be. The character that she’s created beyond the words that Fogelman has written is just … when I’m in scenes with her, she gives little speeches at times, and I’ll often forget I’m in a scene because I’m just watching her give this beautiful performance. But we have every bit of information that we need. Dan pretty much read us through, top to bottom, because it helps; we are jumping around, we have more decades to play in. He wanted to make sure we had our family history, and then it’s just down to us to plug it in when we needed it in any given decade.

How will their marriage be tested?

In any way that marriages are. You’ve got two people that are different from one another but love each other as much as two humans can. You’re going to go through all the trials and tribulations. And then you throw three kids of the same age that are three different personalities on top of that, and it’s just … it’s stress and strain. It comes out in a lot of different ways.

Does playing this character make you look at fatherhood any differently?

I’ve got nieces and nephews, so I definitely understand within my own family how they have managed being great parents and having good marriages. Plus seeing my own mom and dad … this job has impacted and influenced me, but also it gives me confidence. I get to play pretend for a few minutes, but I’m sure by the time I get around to having kids myself, then I’ll be like: Ah, well, I went through grade school and junior high and high school, and now I’m ready for college. Or not. Who knows? I may not ever be completely prepared for it.

What was filming the emotional pilot scene with Gerald McRaney in the hallway like?

I tried to make the moment as honest and real as I could, something that was genuine to the moment Jack was having. It’s something that wasn’t forced; it just kind of naturally happened. There’s this confusion that would happen in a moment like that, where you have to be happy about the birth of two babies, but you have to be able to mourn the loss of a third. And thank God for McRaney; he delivered these words that Fogelman wrote so beautifully. There was no real preparation that either of us needed in that moment but to sit there in that moment and have a conversation with one another. I could only imagine the pain and the confusion and elation that Jack was feeling.

Given the crazy reaction to the trailer and the fact that there is this huge twist, are you almost relieved for people to have finally seen the show?

Very much so. I know that for several months, since the show was picked up, it has been the want of all of us on the creative side to not spoil the experience of discovery that first time you watch the show. So once people see that first episode and get the lay of the land and understand exactly who these characters are with relation to one another’s lives, then oh, man — I’ll stop explaining my mustache to people.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC. What did you think of the pilot? Check out our postmortem with Fogelman about that twist and the future of the series here.

Twitter: @amber_dowling