‘This Is Us’ Star Milo Ventimiglia on [SPOILER]: ‘Jack Was Just Born as a Protector’

This Is Us
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Brothers,” the Oct. 24 episode of “This Is Us.”

“This Is Us” may have revealed how Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) dies in its second season premiere, but by introducing the audience to his brother Nicky at the end of the fifth episode, the show is proving there are still quite a few more surprises to come about the loving husband and father.

“I think it’s just the complexity of this man,” Ventimiglia tells Variety about the extra layer to Jack’s past. “He appears in the beginning – at least through the first season – with a very simple direction: to love his wife and to love his kids. The complications come, of course, from his past, but this reveal of him having a younger brother and specifically having a younger brother that we haven’t met in the present day, adds a lot of new questions.”

The episode, entitled “Brothers,” not only introduced young Nicky as another member of the Pearson clan but prepared Jack – and the audience – to say good-bye to a family member. Jack’s father (Peter Onorati), who was living in a hospice, was on his last days. Jack was off with his sons camping, leaving Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to visit the man who never got to know her, let alone their kids.

Here, Ventimiglia tells Variety what these moments in Jack’s life mean for the future of his story.

Jack keeps a lot of his past close to his chest, so his brother was a great surprise to the audience, but was it one for you?

[Executive producer Dan] Fogelman shared with me the idea of Jack having a brother probably about the second or third episode of this season. So I knew that going in, and especially relating to Kevin and Randall and the dynamic of the brothers having to come together. I knew it was important, and it was informed by Jack’s past. The specifics on Jack’s relationship with his brother is still to be determined.

Jack has never mentioned his brother, and given that we learned they served in Vietnam together, is it safe to assume Nicky didn’t survive?

Or the relationship didn’t survive. We haven’t met his brother, he doesn’t talk about his brother. Did he die in the war? Did he die after? I think there’s still a lot of questions to be answered. War is a horrible, horrible thing, and I think knowing that Jack had a brother who was in Vietnam begs the question as to what was his involvement, and why was Jack cautious to say he was just a mechanic? Was he just that or was he more? I think regardless war is a horrible place to be for anyone. The things you’re exposed to – the horrible atrocities of man you’re exposed to – maybe his brother saw some of that.

Is the audience in on a secret now, or does Jack’s family know about Nicky?

You’re going to have to ask Fogelman about that one!

That sounds like he’s not mentioned in future family scenes you’ve already shot.

No, no, no. The reveal of Jack’s death still hasn’t exactly happened, so I’m thinking this may be a slow burn with Jack’s brother.

How important do you feel exploring that time for Jack, now with his brother, is to his story?

I think it’s as important as any decade of this man we’re getting to know. That had to be a large piece of the puzzle. I know friends of mine, family of mine that have served in wartime. It’s part of their narrative, it’s part of their story. Understanding the things Jack experienced or was around or that he was just exposed to in war, it has to impact and affect you.

Especially because it seems like Jack was a paternal figure to his brother.

It’s probably part of it. Jack was looking out for his brother and looking out for his mother when maybe his father had his eye in a different direction. Sometimes people are just born a certain way, and I truly believe Jack was just born as a protector and is someone who is looking out for the people he loves, always. It’s in his DNA and in his makeup and is just who he is.

Jack claimed his father had been dead to him for years and he didn’t need to say good-bye. How true is that, or will there be repercussions?

Yeah, that’s also a part of Jack as a younger man that I’d like to explore and understand more — his history, his relationship with his father. I don’t think Stanley Pearson thought himself a bad father. He was just very much a father of that generation and that era. There are things we haven’t seen, that I might not even know about, that Jack’s perception of how his father did certain things and lived his life as a man are the cornerstones in Jack choosing a different direction from what he was raised to be or raised to see. But I don’t know that. My father – me, Milo – is a great man, the best, the kind of father you’d ever hope to have. So I don’t know what it’s like to have a father you don’t have a good relationship with or who favored drink a little bit more than family time. I can only work up the emotion based on what’s on the page. And what’s on the page is enough, but I still have so many questions. Where’s his mom? His mom is probably passed away, and he cared about his mom.

There’s also a great moment in this episode where Rebecca flat-out tells Jack he’s perfect. Does that add extra pressure to a guy like him?

I feel like it’s the same as her saying she loves him with her entire being. It’s less of he has a role to live up to and more in a commentary of how he’s been to her and the family. Her calling him perfect, he’s not saying, “Oh wow, I’ve got to make every right choice now.” It’s the same as saying, “You’re a good man.”

“This Is Us” airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.