“I LOOK LIKE A BUMBLEBEE FUCKED A BLACK WIDOW,” says Milo Ventimiglia, while crunching on a tortilla chip. It’s a Saturday afternoon and Ventimiglia is ruminating over bean and cheese burritos in a no-frills Mexican restaurant in Culver City, California. He’s describing his character in Game, a thriller about a future dystopia where humans control the actions of other humans through a mass-scale online game called “Slayers.” Ventimiglia plays Rick Rape, and in the film, dons a rubber suit, giant moon boots, and has a Moonraker, silver grill. “I’ve got this really tight rubber polo shirt in black and yellow – that’s where the bumblebee comes in. Everything else is tight and skinny – that’s the black widow part,” he says. “And whoever is controlling [my character] is just a perverted, disgusting, sick individual. He’s driven by what is primal, and he’s just…off.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Ventimiglia has embodied the dark and enigmatic. On the hit NBC series Heroes, he plays the tortured Peter Petrelli, a character that Ventimiglia says is still, “not quite himself.” Before that, there was Jess Mariano, his breakthrough role as the pompadoured rebel who broke the younger Gilmore’s heart on the award-winning series Gilmore Girls. Blink, and he’s cast as Sylvester Stallone’s spawn in Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment of the billion-dollar boxing franchise. Blink again, and he’s Dr. Ted Grey in Marc Schoelermann’s Pathology (playing a psychopath, basically).
But on this day, the person picking at his plate of Mexican food bears almost no resemblance to the mysterious, brooding characters he’s known for playing. In fact, there’s something almost startling about Ventimiglia’s earnestness, how he’d rather muse about his high-school drama teacher than his most famous character’s superhuman powers. When his avocado and two scoops of sour cream arrive, dressed on the plate to faintly resemble a face, his first instinct is to further accessorize the “eyes,” using black pepper to add pupils. This is not exactly the behavior one would expect from someone who, on the small and big screens, seems perennially pissed off at the world.
Truth is, Ventimiglia, who doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs, reflects the new – or forgotten – young Hollywood star: a polite, down-to-earth artist who adores his family, says “please” and “thank you,” and insists on paying for lunch with a wad of bills pinned together with a clip. He talks easily, swears and shrugs, yet chooses his words carefully. Unlike other celebrities his age, who seem to exploit a miserable past to advance their careers, Ventimiglia has no bad habits or painful confessions to speak of, and he makes a point of it. “I had a completely normal upbringing,” he says, “which I’m very happy about. It’s a nice example that you don’t have to be a —–up, you don’t have to come from a broken family, or be high on drugs, or have lived on the streets to be able to succeed in the industry. When I was younger, my peers would always talk about the hard times and the down times, and how that helped them to get to that better place as an actor. It’s like, no man, that put you in rehab.”
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