Milo Ventimiglia doesn’t sleep in.
“How you doing, brother?” he says on a recent morning. “I’ve been up since seven”—there are construction workers over at his house in Los Angeles, and Ventimiglia spent the first half of the day reading in his office. He was so absorbed, he forgot to pick up the phone when his publicist called for this interview. “For some reason, I didn’t have a cup of coffee. I think my brain is like, ‘Hey buddy, wake me up!’”
Ventimiglia, 35, the star of Gilmore Girls, Rocky VI, and Heroes, the 2006 hit TV series that made fan boys swoon, isn’t as omnipresent as he used to be. A few years ago, at the peak of his celebrity, he was a gossip-tabloid fixture—Perez Hilton would obsess about where he would sit at NBA games. After Heroes ended in 2010, his co-stars migrated to other TV series like American Horror Story: Asylum (Zachary Quinto), Hawaii Five-0 (Masi Oka), and Nashville (starring his ex-girlfriend Hayden Panettiere).
Ventimiglia says he’s been working regularly too, although he’s taken a somewhat different route. He’s been multi-tasking at his production company, thinking about directing and dabbling in supporting film roles. “Since I left Heroes,” he says, “I’ve done eight movies and two TV shows in the past 2 1/2 years, maybe even more! Chosen”—a new Web series—“came out. And then in May I have Kiss of the Damned, an independent film”—about vampires. “This summer, I have Grown Ups 2, with Sandler. Then in the fall I have Killing Season with De Niro and Travolta.” He ends the year with Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman, where he plays Grace Kelly’s celebrity publicist Rupert Allan. He’ll also appear as a mob lawyer in Los Angeles, a TNT series slated for 2014.
Since he’s not committed full time to TV anymore, “I’m free to jump around, bounce around, go anywhere I can,” he says. “It’s led to a lot of different roles.” Some actors with his level of notoriety would scoff at doing an Internet series, but Ventimiglia signed up for Chosen because he liked the script. He spent about a month filming six episodes of the drama about a dad turned brutal assassin. (It’s actually great: like a male version of Alias, without the spy costumes.) Ben Ketai, the director of the series, says Ventimiglia “takes every part of his job seriously. I like to be the first person who shows up at the beginning of the day. Literally, every day, I’d pull up and he’s standing there with a coffee.”
Even though he’s Internet-savvy enough to watch ESPN on his computer, Ventimiglia isn’t a social-media junkie. “I’m a product of the ’70s and ’80s,” he says. “We didn’t have email addresses, we didn’t have cellphones. We didn’t have all that stuff.” He occasionally tweets to his 92,000 followers and dodges the stray marriage proposal. “You live in Bulgaria! How is that going to work?” he thinks. But “if I get a tweet from some guy in the middle of Africa talking about Heroes, that just blows my mind.”
Kiss of the Damned, his new vampire movie, makes its debut at South by Southwest next month. Ventimiglia, who gets bitten in the first bondage scene, says he was drawn to the project because it reminded him of a grown-up version of The Lost Boys. (When asked if he’s seen any of the Twilight films, he responds: “What’s that? No, I didn’t see those, man. I’m not the audience for those movies.”)
Director Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassavetes, cast him because she was looking for “a beautiful man, as beautiful as the woman” (played by the French actress Josephine de La Baume). “I always thought Milo was extraordinarily good-looking.” He has other talents too. When she asked him not to shave for the role, she learned that “he can grow a hell of a beard,” Cassavetes says. “It was very impressive.”
On the set of that movie, Ventimiglia wiped the fake blood from his chin and put himself on tape for That’s My Boy, the Sandler/Adam Samberg 2012 comedy that's a leading contender for the Razzie Award. Ventimiglia was gunning for the role of idiotic military brother-in-law. “You know the scene where I’m stripping down in my underwear and hitting my manhood?” he asks. (If you’ve seen the movie, it’s not the kind of scene one forgets.) “I had to audition with that scene. I grabbed a PA. ‘You you mind helping me? Meet me at my hotel room at 2 a.m., and forgive me, I’m going to be stripping down to my underwear and hitting my junk.’” By 2 p.m. the next day, he had a phone call from Sander: “Hey, buddy,” said the voice on the line, “it’s going to be a great summer.”
As strange as the cinematic pairing sounds, the two became close. “Standing naked in front of Adam Sandler. How awesome is that?” Ventimiglia says of his nude scene in the film. In the middle of the shoot, Sandler made the bromance official when he told Ventimiglia “You’re family now.” Sandler had a part written for Ventimiglia in his next film Grown Ups 2, as a college frat guy who brawls with Taylor Lautner.
How would this doofus look? “Do you want to wear a wig?” Sandler asked.
Ventimiglia fully committed by dying his hair. “It was pretty intense, man,” he says. “For three months, I had a blond Mohawk. It was aggressive. I had to apologize when I’d go out and meet people in real life.”
“I’m sorry,” he’d say. “I don’t usually look like a dipshit.”