On Milo Ventimiglia’s first day as a paid actor, he shared a 5-minute conversation with Will Smith. That was 17 years ago on the set of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Since then, Ventimiglia has worked his way up from “Party Guest 1″ to memorable roles in Gilmore Girls, Heroes, and Rocky Balboa. Now, in Chosen, a Crackle-produced action series, Ventimiglia plays Ian Mitchell, a suit-and-tie dad pulled into a deranged game of blackmail and murder after his daughter is kidnapped. Then comes Kiss of the Damned, Xan Cassevetes’ erotic vampire flick, followed by roles in the Nicole Kidman-starring Grace of Monaco, the Frank Darabont-created series L.A. Noir, and, because why not, Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups 2. We caught up with Ventimiglia’s to discuss looking like a “1995 fraternity dipshit,” why being in a vampire movie isn’t a bad thing, and hanging with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
What was the appeal of Chosen?
Good story, good character, fan of the director, fan of Crackle, so kind of an easy decision.
What kind of preparation did the role require?
I don’t think there was any preparation other than to dye my hair back from blonde to brunette.
Why was it blonde?
I did Grown Ups 2 this past summer. Sandler asked me, Hey, how do you feel about going blonde? Do you wanna wear a wig? Do you wanna dye it? You’ve got this beautiful head of black hair.
How blonde are we talking?
Oh, it’s blonde. It’s actually a blonde mohawk and the sides are kind of shaved, but I let it hang down on my face, and I kind of look like this 1995 fraternity dipshit, which is awesome, and exactly what I was going for. So for Chosen I had to dye my hair back to black, but that was all the preparation I did. Otherwise it was just, How do you relate to a character who’s in this situation of kill or be killed and how to find your kidnapped daughter outside of law enforcement? I think for me, it’s just understanding what that natural human reaction would be and let it go wide open when the cameras are rolling.
Do you prefer a specific technique when approaching your roles?
I don’t think there’s a technique to it other than, believe it while it’s happening. I went to theater school, and there’s Meisner and Strasberg and all these exciting teachers and techniques and all that. I think when it comes down to it, if you’re sitting around relying on something you learned in college 15 years ago, as opposed to experiencing what the characters going through, I think you might miss a moment.
Tell me about Kiss of the Damned. Were you apprehensive about doing another vampire movie in the era of Vampire movies?
Hell no, because I don’t think her vampire movies fit the mold of what today’s vampire movies are. And by the way, there are a million different vampire movies. It’s not just Twilight and all that. There’s Fright Night. Go back to like Lost Boys—that was one of my favorite movies. And the way that Xan was shooting it, was this kind of European feel, romantic, more adult than I’d say the current trend of vampire movie. And for me, it was Xan. I’d had a few conversations with her and told her my thoughts on my character, and my thoughts on where this guy could go, and she told me hers, and luckily they were just the same, so we just kind of fed off of that energy. I’m excited for people to see that movie, which I think comes out May 2.
Your roles have been a good mix of fantastical and reality-based projects. Do you prefer one to the other, realism to fantasy or the reverse?
I like it all. I mean, it’s funny to me thinking about this year, going from LA Noir, 1940’s mob and LAPD world, to blonde hair dumbass in an Adam Sandler movie, to a guy who’s daughter was kidnapped, because he’s part of this now sick, not fun game in Chosen, to what I just wrapped at the end of the year called Grace of Monaco, a historical piece about Grace Kelly replete with beautiful sets and beautiful words and a true, hopefully accurate description of what was going on in Grace Kelly’s life. For me, I like it all. I really, really enjoy it all and I think, as an actor, I try to be a bit of a chameleon where I’m changing and molding into whatever character I’m playing whatever it dictates, whatever it needs, whatever it requires, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do that.
You’ve come a long way since Party Guest 1 in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. How does it feel to be on the other side of fame now?
[Laughs] My very first paying gig, yes. That’s an interesting question, because I don’t feel any different from the kid who was super stoked that Will Smith walked over and had a 5 minute conversation with him on a set of a TV show.
What did he say?
To be truthful, that was 17 years ago, so I can’t remember exact words, but what I do remember is a major movie and TV star taking the time to talk to little, one-line me on his set, and I was like, “Wow. I’m a fan of this guy for life.” But for me it’s, again, some great good fortune to be able to be in the business 17 years, and have people keep saying, “No no no. We want to keep seeing you play this. We want to grow as you’re growing.” I mean, I was 18 when I started. I’m 35 now, and I feel like I’m at the very beginning of my career 17 years in.
What was the initial impetus for you getting into acting? Was it something you always knew you would do?
I had a few other options and acting just kind of panned out.
What else were you considering?
Going into the Navy or becoming a doctor, and acting was just something I had a stronger pull towards. When I was going to school, I was majoring in theater, but I wasn’t acting on the stage. I was hanging lights and building sets, and sewing costumes in college, and auditioning at the same time. For me, it was just this sense of wanting to entertain. I’m not a guy who seeks out attention. I’m not a guy who wants to be the center of attention, or look for the spotlight to shine on me, but there is something that draws me to the idea of pulling emotion out of people based on what I can do as an actor or what I’m a part of as a project. It’s just really satisfying to me when people say, “Wow. You were so fucked up in that movie.” Like my girlfriend or somebody else saying, “Oh my god. I was crying,” or you even talking about Djuna and Paolo and how beautiful and difficult it was to watch—that’s why I do what I do—to elicit some kind of emotional, intellectual response out of the people who are watching whatever I do.
Your movie Killing Season is coming up . Who do you prefer as a movie dad: Sylvester Stallone or Robert De Niro?
[Laughs] I think they’re both great. I can’t.
No. In My Two Dads, she didn’t have to choose. She had relationships with both of them, different relationships, and that’s ok.
What’s next for you?
Well I go back to work on LA Noir. I just signed onto a little independent that I don’t even know if I can talk about, and then just always looking at different jobs.
Chosen is currently available for streaming on Crackle. See it here.