Milo Ventimiglia Almost Left Hollywood. Now He’s Doubling Down on Broadcast TV With ‘The Company You Keep’

Nearly three decades ago, Milo Ventimiglia stepped on a TV set for the first time. Since then, he’s barely ever taken a break — at least not an intentional one.

“After ‘Heroes,’ I had a hard time working, I couldn’t get a job,” Ventimiglia says. “It was one of the one or two times in my career where I thought about, what if I did something else? What if I got out of Hollywood? What if I left, and I moved out of the country? What if I did something like completely different than the path that I had been on? Because I couldn’t get work.”

Ventimiglia continues: “As an actor, you’re out there, you’re pounding the pavement, you’re taking meetings, you’re auditioning, you’re putting what you can into those auditions, and you’re not getting the work. So therefore it’s kind of like, ‘Well, if they’re not buying what I’m selling, what am I doing here still selling?'”

Having first drawn attention as the rebellious, but charming Jess on “Gilmore Girls” in 2001, Ventimiglia then starred as Peter Petrelli on all four seasons of “Heroes,” which aired on NBC from 2006 to 2010. When it wrapped, he took “a really hard look” at his career path. Then, just when he was about to throw in the towel, he landed an independent movie, followed by another — and the ball continued to roll.

“From there, the last almost 14 years, I just haven’t stopped.”

If he had decided to take another path, he’s not sure what it would be — maybe he’d be a farmer in Italy, or get into woodworking. “It doesn’t matter at this point,” he says. “I’m so rooted into being creative, and hopefully adding to the community of Hollywood — and adding to people’s break from real life.”

That’s exactly what he’s hoping his new show, “The Company You Keep,” will do when it premieres on ABC Sunday, Feb. 19. Produced by Ventimiglia’s DiVide Pictures, which he co-founded with his best friend Russ Cundiff in 2004, the series follows his character Charlie Nicoletti, a sweet but sneaky conman who, after getting blindsided by a heartbreak, begins a romance with Catherine Haena Kim’s Emma Hill, a CIA agent who is also recently single.

“The Company You Keep”

“There’s an honesty to how we’re portraying these characters, within the confines of that intimacy that you find in your romantic partner. I think that’s going to be the anchor for the show, and you’re going to be rooting for them — even though you know it’s nearly impossible for them to be together,” he says.

It’s interesting he uses the word “honesty.” When the show paneled at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in January, executive producer Julia Cohen stated that in life, “lies are necessary,” and the series will dissect just that. Ventimiglia doesn’t really agree.

“I kind of look at it as presentation. Who are you presenting for? What are you presenting as? I don’t really subscribe to the necessity of lying,” he tells Variety. “I think there’s being polite. I also feel like there’s a way to deliver news or sentiment or emotion or information responsibly and respectfully, but truthfully.”

Respect is important to Ventimiglia. As someone who’s been on set for decades, he understands the importance of creating a positive environment and sometimes, taking the time to regroup.

“Listen, the truth is everyone’s gonna have a bad day. Stress is high. I think if you can put into account that there are a lot of people in the process and everyone’s doing their best, you can work after it and hopefully inspire others,” he says. “I’ve had my moments behind closed doors, but also in groups and you just want to learn from them.”

Ventimiglia is running on four hours of sleep due to the show’s late filming schedule and early press commitments. If he weren’t doing what he loved, he might complain about that. Sure, it still feels like work, he admits, but the joy he gets in creating something entertaining helps; he’s not only in nearly every scene of “The Company You Keep,” he’s also watching every cut and fielding emails and calls from production at all all hours.

So he enjoys his free time when he can get it: “I get the weekends off sometimes. We shoot for almost five months a year. I’ve got time to jump in the ocean, time to go see my family and spend time with my loved ones.”

Milo Ventimiglia photographed for Variety in 2022 Dan Doperalski for Variety

One thing that’s changed over the last year about his free time is how he travels. For the last decade, motorcycles were a big part of Ventimiglia’s life — he previously partnered with Harley Davidson to judge a bike building competition. Like his character Charlie, it was his choice method of transportation. Now, those days are through.

“I’ve had my time on my bikes, and I’m grateful I can walk away from it,” he says, noting that he’s actually selling his bike after everything that’s happened in the last few years. “I was just looking at the heartbeat of the roads, I realized I think my time on my bike is pretty much done. I’m stopping it on my own rather than somebody stopping it for me.”

Other than that, Charlie is very similar to Ventimiglia.

“I think there’s a an earnestness and sincerity, a not-to-be-fucked-with perspective. He’s not a pushover, but he is kind. You don’t quite know exactly what you’re going to get from him,” he says. “It’s all part of how he presents himself, so stepping into that role, I felt like Charlie’s just an actor. So why don’t I not dress him up with anything, how about I just be as natural as I can and just play a version of myself in a way like I had with other characters. The characters become an extension of me.”

The conman is very different from the last character he played. Ventimiglia last starred on “This Is Us,” which aired for six seasons on NBC and came to its tearful conclusion on television in January 2022. Two weeks after finishing his role as TV’s dad, Jack Pearson, Ventimiglia was on set for “The Company You Keep,” with barely any break from the emotionally heavy drama of “This Is Us.” This was intentional.

“Oftentimes, in Hollywood, I believe that actors try to craft these careers. I’ve never looked at mine like that. I just like to work. I knew that coming off ‘This Is Us,’ I needed to jump onto something quick but without rushing it,” he says. “I was leaning heavier in the wind. I knew that I had a moment to get ahead while everybody else maybe sat back looking for that perfect role. I joined a group of people. We linked arms on something that an audience is going to enjoy. Let’s get ahead of it. Let’s just jump right in.”

“The Company You Keep” premieres on ABC Sunday, Feb. 19 at 10 p.m.