Sometimes I wonder how the world has any tears left now that This Is Us is on each week. The weepy family drama has been building up to the most heartbreaking scene of them all for two seasons now, and on Super Bowl Sunday it finally arrived at the conclusion we all knew was coming: Jack Pearson's untimely, tragic death. Although it didn't necessarily go exactly as we thought it would, the scenes just before he takes his last breath are what really hit us — and pretty much every other fan out there — square in the chest.
Loyal viewers weren't the only ones who were left emotionally scarred by the episode, though. Jack himself, aka Milo Ventimiglia, sat down with Esquire to discuss his character's impact, what brought him to tears, and how Jack's story will continue.
- On the day he was told about Jack's death: "I found out pretty early on, maybe in the middle of the first season. Mandy and I were on set and [series creator Dan] Fogelman came over to talk to us and explained that it was a house fire, but we didn't know how or when or why. We slowly learned about these other little things — Randall's girlfriend, Kevin's broken leg, Kate's dog — that were going to tip off the audience, and once we got into the second season, it was kind of a harrowing thing to just keep everything under wraps. It became Fort Knox secrecy: photocopy-proof scripts, code words, secret locations. And we really couldn't talk about it outside the company."
- On what about Jack's death leaves him teary-eyed: "I get emotional over Rebecca, and the kids. Crying for Jack would seem a bit ridiculous, because I exist as him and I wouldn't cry for myself. But understanding the impact that Jack had on his family, that's where I personally get the most emotional. Everyone loved the question of why Jack died, but I think the most interesting part of the episode is how it impacted these four individuals."
- On how he approached playing a dad, without having kids of his own: "I am truly one of the luckiest people in the world with the parents I got; my mom and dad are magical and I continue to learn from them, and that's helped me a lot in playing Jack. I'm playing almost directly the era of when my parents raised my sisters and I – there were three of us, we grew up in the eighties, I was a teenager in the nineties, so everything feels very close to how I was raised. The show hasn't inspired me to go have kids, I'll tell you that much, but I think the value of family, and not only the family you're born into but the family that you make and you create with your friends, that's a message I'm often reminded of."
- On the rough aftermath of the Crock-Pot: "In all seriousness, one thing that was important to me — Mandy and I talked about this a lot — was that it was nothing that anyone did wrong, and it was nothing that anyone could have stopped. In Episode 13, when Jack is cleaning up the house at the end of the night and he turns the slow cooker off, it was important to me personally that I threw the switch, that I turned it off, that it wasn't left on by one of the kids."
- On Jack's struggle with alcoholism: "I always saw Jack as a guy who would kind of — quote unquote — take the edge off, and he was functioning. He was fine. I've seen people who are drunk and you wouldn't even know it, until you stand close enough and you start to see it. If you 'take the edge off' all day, as we saw with Jack in our first episode of this season, it's going to accumulate, and everything's going to slow down at a certain point. For me, the key was being honest about what that disease is, how it grips an alcoholic, and how it completely shatters everything around them."
- On what we'll see next from Jack: "There are so many questions with Jack. His upbringing, what happened to him in Vietnam, what happened to him after Vietnam before he met Rebecca? And those early days of Jack and Rebecca, I know is an era that Dan is excited to explore. His brother, I think is something that's going to come up relatively quickly, and play out over the next season or so. There's still so much to know about this man, from all the eras, so I'm excited to focus on how Jack lived as opposed to worrying about how he died."
On getting award season recognition for This Is Us:
"Awards shows I have a hard time with in general, because I've never been part of the conversation. I just show up to work and do my job because I love the job and I love the people I get to make TV with, and when someone wants to applaud it more than just watching it, that makes me uncomfortable. But it was so nice to know that a community of actors was looking at our group and celebrating us as an ensemble, it was a very satisfying feeling, because everybody on the show pulls their weight."