Milo Ventimiglia on Starring in and Executive Producing ‘The Company You Keep’

Milo Ventimiglia portrays Charlie in The Company You Keep, for which he also serves as an executive producer. The drama series is based on the Korean Broadcasting System series, My Fellow Citizens. New episodes air Sundays at 10 PM ET on ABC.

A night of passion leads to love between con man Charlie and undercover CIA officer Emma, who are unknowingly on a collision course professionally. While Charlie ramps up the “family business” so he can get out for good, Emma’s closing in on the vengeful criminal who holds Charlie’s family debts in hand – forcing them to reckon with the lies they’ve told so they can save themselves and their families from disastrous consequences.

I spoke with the actor over Zoom and we discussed the final two episodes of the season, stepping into the editing room, working with his friends, the connection between an audience and a character, finding that perfect balance when it comes to a show, and much more. Keep reading for our full conversation!

ABC/Raymond Liu

You’ve had many people welcome you into their homes with This Is Us l as well as your other projects and luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long for you to return to our screens. What was it like not only to do that transition but then also to see the fan response travel with you to this new show?
Milo Ventimiglia:
I guess I’ll start at the end: seeing an audience, who really embraced Jack Pearson, now embrace Charlie Nicoletti, I feel like it gave me a lot of confidence in terms of dynamic stories and characters, and just this idea that people want different stories. They want to be shown something new and nobody was yelling at me that I wasn’t playing Jack Pearson anymore. They hadn’t forgotten about him either, but they were very clearly taken by Charlie, Charlie’s family, Charlie’s world, and all of that. It makes me humble.

I think if anything, it just makes me very humble that an audience would transition from a show like This Is Us over to The Company You Keep with as much excitement for the character, so that was pretty nice. But for me personally, I didn’t want to take my foot off the gas. I like to work and I was also trying to keep the crew together, so I brought the whole crew from This Is Us on board and this was just the right piece of development that made sense at the right time. And so, for me, I was happy to go straight, you know, two weeks off from This Is Us, get into the pilot, take about a month and a half down, two months again, and then dive into the series. I was happy to do that.

I love seeing you explore your range as an actor rather than sticking to one type of character and I think that’s why I love The Company You Keep. I imagine as an actor, it’s important to keep it refreshing when it comes to your roles.
Absolutely. If you’re playing the same thing all the time, it’s gonna run its course, and you wouldn’t believe how many fatherly-kind of roles popped up within the run of This Is Us, but also like immediately following. But for me, there was something really wonderful about Charlie because he, as a man himself, was just very simple. He owned a bar with his family, works with his sister, and just lived a very unremarkable life, I would like to call him. I wanted to present him as unmemorable just as a person because that will allow him in the criminal world to flow in and out of these cons that his family pulls.

ABC/Scott Everett White

If he’s too memorable, well then, people really gonna track onto his face, stuff like that, and just know who he is. So for me, I get to play those parts within the part and that’s been super fun. It’s been exciting to bounce around like Ernesto Ricci, the gun runner, or any of the other characters that Charlie plays in any of the other cons. It’s fun to dabble in that.

As you mentioned, you brought so much of the This Is Us crew over to this production, which I just think is remarkable and really nice that you were able to do that. Why was that important to you? And does it offer a sense of comfort while you’re filming that it’s basically like a family at this point?
Yeah, we had a good run. We had a great time on This Is Us, and this crew became my friends and I became their friend, so why not continue? And as a producer, it’s like, “Well, I’ve got an opening for camera, grips, electric, hair, makeup, art, transportation, office, postproduction, I need everything.” So it was kind of like, “Well, let me just ask my friends,” because you also get to a point in your career, like I’ve gotten to a point in my career, where I want to work with my friend.

I want to work for my friends. Like, if my buddies call me up, and they’re just like, “Hey, Mi, can you come do this one thing for a day?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure. I’ll be there.” “Hey, can come to this thing for like three or four months?” “Yeah, sure. I’ll be there.” That’s my operation these days is I just want to work with my friends. So it was a natural transition just to bring them on board and at the same time, they’re the most talented crew, the most supportive crew. They’re wonderful human beings and people, so I was getting a lot with the This Is Us crew transitioning over to become The Company You Keep crew.

ABC/Eric McCandless

What was it about Charlie that was interesting to you? What has been the most rewarding aspect of playing him?
It’s funny, Charlie just feels strangely comfortable. I don’t have to stretch outside myself too far to play Charlie. I think given the extra role of executive producer and all of that, it felt like I didn’t have to dig too deep, I could just be instinctual with him, which was nice. He is a character, he’s not me, but at the same time, I felt like he and I were just maybe an arm’s reach away from one another in how we present ourselves. I think, just always trying to dig deeper into why he’s doing something, why he’s feeling something, why he’s wanting something, that’s really what good character storytelling should be. So, constant exploration, I mean, we only did ten episodes and I’m still not to the end of it with him. Yeah, I don’t know what else to say other than I’ve enjoyed it. He’s a fun character to play.

You’re an executive producer for the series as well. Why was that role important for you to do for this project?
I mean, this one just fell into our development. So, my partner Russ Cundiff and I at DiVide Pictures, we’ve got our company, we’ve been under deal with Disney for about seven and change years, developing TV shows. They don’t always make it, but we developed several shows through the year and set them up with different networks and whatnot, so this was just in our development. Jon Chu had brought it to our company and we knew each other from way back in our early producing, directing days and we just wanted to partner up with him and his company and work on this, and so it felt like the right kind of project.

Then as we were looking at all of our other development and shows were landing at Hulu, NBC, or ABC, this one actually just made the most sense for me and for us as a company. It seemed to be the fastest road to get to an actual series, so we just focused on this show and we made it.

ABC/Eric McCandless

What can you tease about the final two episodes?
I mean, I think for a lot of the questions that have been asked and the desire for people to see the Nicolettis get out from underneath the Maguires, resolution between Charlie and Emma and understanding just kind of what’s gonna happen there emotionally. There’s a lot still coming and a lot of excitement, fun, laughter, and a lot of heart. I think the last two episodes have a lot of heart.

Do you have a favorite filming memory that stands out to you?
I mean, there’s so many and it’s not just with the crew that I’ve known for years, but a cast that was new to me. I mean, all the fun that the Nicolettis have; Billy, Sarah, and Polly and just kind of these goofy antics and whatnot that we had to put ourselves through, and discovering and finding that dynamic of family was really wonderful. Then all the stuff with Catherine, I mean, there’s a lot of laughter. Sure, we’re playing a romantic couple, but I think those are kind of strange moments when you know it’s pretending and you know you’re acting, this is your co-star and your friend, and you’re like, “Okay.” So, you kinda have to goof off and laugh about it.

So there was always a lot of fun on set with Catherine too. Yeah, everything, it’s hard to pinpoint one exact moment because the entire experience of it has been enjoyable. It’s been fun to make. It’s been fun to be a part of, and it’s also fun to hear people’s reactions. People are enjoying it. It’s a fun show and it translates on screen.

ABC/Scott Everett White

I feel like for that amount of time you kind of get to escape whatever’s going on in your life and just enjoy what’s on the screen, which is really important.
I mean, Hollywood has a trend of lecturing, you know? And I think it’s great, I think it’s really wonderful to send messages that need to hit a bigger audience than just our immediate world. I think it’s really wonderful. We need to see a variety of stories, and we need to understand when bad shit is going on and not a massive amount of people are aware of it, but there is something heavy-handed about how Hollywood can lecture and I think a lot of times they forget, it’s like, “Hey, it’s entertainment.” We can have a message in our story, we can have that learning lesson in a story, but also like, let’s entertain.

I was literally talking about that this morning because sometimes, I want to turn my brain off and just need shows that are actually entertaining. I want to get sucked into the story and enjoy it.
Yeah, it absolutely serves a purpose. Again, I think it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in the world so that any of us could be a part of changing it where it’s not right, responding to something that’s not right, but I totally agree. We need to turn our brains off and I hear that so many times from friends, from people on the street, they’re like, “Yeah, that show’s too heavy. This show has too much depth. God, there’s too many zombies.” And as much as I enjoy those shows too, it’s got to have a balance, absolutely has to have a balance.

I love Emma and Charlie’s relationship. What is your personal favorite element of their dynamic and getting to explore it?
It’s interesting, so much of a romantic pairing is built on trust and it’s built on a willingness to be vulnerable, and also, I think, a lot of honesty. So for Charlie and Emma to start in the way that they have, and then discover who each of them individually was, and then accept that, get through the hurt, still understand there’s feelings there, I think just that whole process has been interesting to play. Catherine is wonderful. I mean, this was her first real big opportunity to lead a show and explore a lot more of a character than just maybe a handful of episodes or a couple of scenes in some films. So I thought she did wonderful, really did wonderfully exploring this character, and balancing everything and being vulnerable. I think what it came down to for she and I was just a lot of communication.

ABC/Eric McCandless

You know, you’re talking through a lot of these things and trying to understand what each of us is going through as a character, but also, what each of us is looking for. It’s funny, too, because I also have that element of being a producer who sits in the edit room and I’m like, “Hey, that one thing that you just did, it was really wonderful. I know it’s not on the page, but I think you should lean into that.” She would even kind of poke fun at me. She’s like, “I would see moments where Milo the actor would kind of glaze over for like, a millisecond and I see the producer right there, noticing something and having to kind of like put that away and get back to the acting.” It was interesting balancing all of that, but ultimately, at the end of the day, it was a lot of fun.

I love what you just said about noticing the small details during editing. I feel like it’s one thing to be acting, it’s one thing to read a script, but then to see it all come together at the end must be such a cool process.
It’s fun. I mean, I know a lot of friends who are actors, who produce, who don’t step into the editing room. I love the editing room, I do. There was a big discovery that would happen because I mean, I was there five days a week, nearly every scene so I’m seeing every moment and when choices, pre-edits of mine from an editor’s cut to a director’s cut to a producer’s cut, when finally I’m getting into it myself, I’m like, “Oh, you guys missed this whole moment. There was this wonderful, beautiful thing that happened that — here, let me just plug it in.” So, work with the editors, plug it in, and then the next cut comes up, they’re like, “Where did you find that?” I’m like, “It was always there.” So I think there’s something wonderful when in editing, you’re able to get away from the page, get away from the story, and then find yourself in a moment with an actor and understanding if it’s real or not, if it’s honest or not, or if it’s true or not and just kind of really finding those moments because also, it helps the actors.

I think sometimes there is a push of story in television and as an audience, we’re kind of getting banged over the head with being told what something is versus allowing an actor to experience something that they interpret from the page, letting that play on their face, letting that play in the moment, letting that play without words, without explanation. Then, I think, there’s a real connection between an audience and a character, where the audience is feeling from their point of view and connecting on something that is intimate to them, what they’re seeing on television, and that’s kind of what it’s all about as an actor, I think, is that bridge between the screen that sits in front of us, the moment that happened months ago, and when an audience is watching it. I mean, I still tear up when I see things that are honest and real, and it’s small, micro-details, you pick up on the things like that.