Milo Ventimiglia can't help but give off a dad vibe these days.
And it's not just the mustache.
"To be honest, it was a fight to get the mustache," the actorwho plays Jack Pearson, the Sorkin president of fathers, on the beloved-upon-arrival family drama This Is Us, told E! News in an interview this week. Ventimiglia had to insist to executive producer Dan Fogelman that going from the long hair and beard he sported when the Pearson babies were born in the 1970s to a clean-shaven 9-to-5 guy in the future would make him look eight years younger, not older. "But I think if we do a mustache," he told Fogelman, "that's period-correct, it's in keeping with the '80s, and it'll show a passage of time with the character...There was some hesitation after I shaved half my face, but we committed to it."
Ventimiglia was on hand Monday to talk about his partnership with the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards—an involvement with the almost century-old automotive guide actually being exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from the guy playing everyone's favorite TV dad.
"I always try and go where things feel genuine," Ventimiglia said. "I can be a fan, too, I can be a consumer, too." His first car was a hand-me-down 1987 Toyota Tercel hatchback with a stick shift that his own father taught him to drive, starting in the family driveway. But when he convinced his dad that he just had to have a Toyota Xtra Cab truck like the one Michael J. Fox drove in Back to the Future, they turned to Kelley Blue Book to research their options.
A few new trucks and Cadillacs down the road, at 22 he was in the market for his first vintage muscle car—in fact, Jack's 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle on the show is actually his car. And he's still learning about all the info KBB has to offer to this day.
His voice a little husky from a long morning of doing press, which came after a shooting session that lasted well into the night (the scenes were set in the '90s, hence the goatee accompanying the 'stache), Ventimiglia sounded every bit the conscientious gentleman that Jack is. We certainly felt that everything was going to be OK when we talked to him, anyway.
But while he's perfectly believable as the attentive husband and invested father of three on This Is Us (as his 2017 Emmy nomination will attest to), the 40-year-old actor admits, "It's hard to live up to Jack."
"Everyone assumes that I am Jack," he said, only half-joking. "I thought Mr. Cunningham [of Happy Days] was America's dad, and I'm not even a father, you know. I guess the words that I'm so fortunate to speak and the character that I get to embody, I'm very grateful."
With a demanding shooting schedule that often includes weekends, his unwinding process has become "really, really simplified."
"Sleep," he said. "When you work as much as we do...sleeping and eating are probably the best things you can actually find time to do." Earlier this year he was also jetting back and forth between L.A. and New York, where he was filming the romantic dramedy Second Act, playing none other than Jennifer Lopez's longtime boyfriend. ("She is a force," he said, further confirming all of our J.Lo suspicions.)
But the rewards have made the overtime more than worth it. "Everybody worries about the sophomore slump," Ventimiglia said, acknowledging a very common problem that befalls shows that had a particularly successful debut season, as This Is Us did. "When something comes out of the gate so strong and they think they need to go bigger and wider...the thing is not to change the formula."
The show has maintained the same overall structural conceit—the interweaving of thematically related plot points taking place in different stages of the Pearson family's life within the same episode—that threw audiences for a delighted loop starting with the series premiere, but the show's second season has allowed for a more leisurely examination of what makes each member of the family tick.
Ironically, the mass love for Milo's character—and his relationship with wife Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore—makes it all the weirder that part of the obsession surrounding This Is Us, considering it's not a murder mystery, revolves around learning the particulars of how Jack dies. He's indicated in the past that the morbid fascination was wearing on him a bit, but now...he just sagely chalks it up to the overall investment in the character and his family.
"I found that people want stories that are not too dissimilar from theirs," Ventimiglia told E! News. "People want to be reminded that, let's say, struggle in your family is being felt by other people, that you're not alone. So it doesn't surprise me that the show has touched as many people and helped as many people as it has."
Case in point: People are having real-life conversations about addiction inspired by the depiction of Jack's alcoholism and, now, son Kevin Pearson's (Justin Hartley) increasingly destructive dependence on painkillers. Ventimiglia said that a friend of his, who had battled substance abuse and is now sober, told him after getting into season two that the show's (and Milo's) handling of Jack's struggle was "heartbreaking and just spot-on."
"And then he thanked me," Ventimiglia added, recalling his surprise. "I'm like, 'trust me, it's a lot of the words [that make it believable].'"
Hats off to the writers, too, but Ventimiglia—who as a part of Gilmore Girls and Heroes learned all about shows with cult followings and rabid fan bases—seems to really be snug in the acting pocket with Jack.
"Again, I go back to just being grateful to be a part of it, being a part of something that promotes good and kindness, and inclusion, amongst our differences," he told us. "So it's something that," he smiles, "I don't miss the stunt work on other shows I've done. I don't miss the wire flying, or the wry jokes of adolescence."
Asked if he had any particular favorite "Jack moment," Ventimiglia said it's impossible to pick one over another.
Rather, "I find myself trying to slow down time, to just be appreciative," he said. "Every interaction he has with his kids, knowing he has a ticking clock, is much more significant. Every moment he has with his wife, even the bad moments, is much more significant because of that ticking clock."
He's also "blown away," he said, seeing what Mandy Moore has been able to do with the older Rebecca, who has dealt with the loss of her first husband and is the mother of grown kids. "The weight she has to play, deep in her soul, of losing a husband, losing a baby years ago, trying to keep her family together—the Jack that is inside of me, his heart breaks for, you know, seeing his bride go through everything so heavy."
(No, we're not crying—you're crying.)
And for all the talk of Jack Pearson being the perfect man, of course there's no such thing.
"Who would want somebody who was completely flawless?" Ventimiglia said. "Not any of us, if we're being honest with ourselves. There is no such definition as perfect. I think there's something amazing about the flaws that happen in between the goodness."
New episodes of This Is Us return to NBC on Jan. 2, 2018, at 9 p.m. Plus, check out all the winners of the 2018 Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards right here.
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)