Milo Ventimiglia helped save the cheerleader and the world on NBC’s Heroes, but in his new movie Wild Card, the 37-year-old actor trades in his do-gooder card for the role of sadistic mobster Danny DeMarco.
A remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film Heat, the crime drama stars Jason Statham as Nick Wild, a Las Vegas bodyguard seeking revenge after Danny viciously assaults his ex-girlfriend. Directed by Simon West (The Mechanic, The Expendables 2) from a script by Heat author and screenwriter William Goldman, Wild Card opens Friday in select theaters and on VOD.
Ventimiglia spoke with SPINOFF about getting into his character's mindset, his upcoming television series The Whispers, and his thoughts about the upcoming revival of Heroes.
Spinoff: So many movies these days are being reimagined and reintroduced to a new generation. What are your thoughts on remakes?
Milo Ventimiglia: You're hard-pressed to find original stories. It feels like everything has been done. Sometimes there are films and characters that were great for what they were back in the day. Then you put that same character in a different struggle, in a modern day, and the story is entirely different and a little more exciting. That's the fun of doing remakes.
What were some of the first things that grabbed you about Wild Card?
I'm a fan of Jason Statham; I've always loved his work. I've followed his career for a long time. When the opportunity presented itself to play an adversary to him – to play this pretty sick, sadistic, son of a mob boss – I thought it would be a lot of fun in contrast to the character Jason was playing.
Obviously, doing research for this type of role isn't as simple as shadowing a doctor. What helped you get into character?
I was listening to a lot of Lil Wayne. There are a couple of Lil Wayne songs that I was like, "Wow, this really puts me in a fucked-up frame of mind." I say that with a lot of respect for him as an artist. Danny DeMarco is one of those characters that when I started breaking him down and digging into the depths of who he was, it actually frightened me. This guy honestly scared me. I didn't like sitting in his head any longer than I had to because of his violent nature, his arrogance and the disrespectful, dishonorable, demoralizing, inhumane way he acts towards people, life and women. It was disgusting. I told people close to me, "Hey, I may disappear for a little bit because I don't want to subject you to this guy."
You've called Danny a "scared little boy." Can you elaborate on that?
You look at somebody who has a life of privilege coming from a family that hasn't had the most moralistic code. Danny's imagination runs pretty far and wild. Ultimately, if you have this person that fears his father, he's scared. He operates out of fear. That's something that is pushed so far down his psyche. I love the idea of this perfect Adonis-like guy that is so into himself that he perfects himself and presents himself as this power-authority figure, but really he has no power.
During your career, you've played the good guy and the dick, but not somebody as cruel as Danny. What surprised you about going to those darker places?
I guess just how horrible human beings can be to one another. That's probably what surprised me the most. The only other time I played the monster was in a movie I did called The Divide. That character was pretty horrible. I was raised with hugs and kisses and love and kindness growing up. To see how people can act without a moral compass and without fear of retribution, and inflicting pain and inflicting hurt, is very scary.
Part of the fun of these movies is watching Jason kick some serious ass. Were you looking forward to that level of action or is Danny more of a gun man?
Look, Danny definitely hides behind the gun, but I knew I wasn't going to go out without some kind of physical altercation working with Jason. We had an amazing stunt coordinator and stunt team. Jason is so disciplined when it comes to all of that action, as well as the acting pieces. He was into just sitting around and talking. The whole process of making the movie was a blast. The physical aspect of getting your ass kicked and knowing you are going to end up a bloody pile by the end of it was a lot of fun with Jason.
Action sequences aren't new to you, but nothing to this extent. What did you learn about the process?
It was a lot of that Hong Kong choreography where it's big, long action sequences like you'd see in the original Oldboy. It's a dance. It's a ballet. The things that I took away from it were being disciplined, focused, and of course you always do it in front of a camera, so keeping safe. Except you are probably going to go home with a couple of bumps and bruises, and maybe stitches and staples. Who knows?
Can you talk more about working with Jason?
Jason was great. First of all, just a lovely, lovely man. Then, also, he deeply cared about the work, the rehearsal process, the action and everything. He's a talent.
Shifting gears, your series The Whispers will premiere later this year. What separates it from other high-concept, serialized shows?
The thing I noticed when I sat down and actually watched the pilot and several episodes was just how Amblin-esque it felt. You look at those older Steven Spielberg films and there was something about the struggle within a small community, within a family, or with a husband and wife, but yet the stakes were so large outside of that. That was what I thought felt very different than other shows that are out there, was this style of filmmaking, even though we're in television, that is akin to the movies I grew up on, that were made by the great Steven Spielberg.
There's that and you've got mythology. You've got this unknown entity that is influencing our children and how terrifying that is when the stakes are so high. It gets to that national-threat level. But you also have these very real people dealing with these unknown, to-be-discovered adversaries and foes. They have real problems in front of them, like someone influencing their child, or marital problems, or a missing husband. There's a larger and smaller picture, but through it all, you are with these characters because you want to know their struggle. You want to know what they are fighting for and about their personal lives.
You are almost unrecognizable with the long hair and beard.
Thanks, man. I guess a lot of people associate me with a few other jobs that I've done where I'm looking very cleaned-up, baby-faced and maybe slimmer. Somewhere in the last two years, after Heroes went off the air and I did a handful of movies and then jumped to Mob City, where I was covered up in a three-piece suit, I kind of grew up a bit. Going into this last pilot season before I got The Whispers, I didn't know if I'd be swinging a sword in ancient Egypt or if I was going to play a New York City detective. I didn't know what kind of character I was going to play. I kept up with my training with a trainer. I grew as a man. I grew my beard and hair out. When I walked into the room for my first meeting for Whispers, nobody recognized me. I like to be a chameleon. I like to shift and change and do something different. Hopefully, in that unknown "Who is this guy?," people lose Milo Ventimiglia a little bit and just live with the character.
Heroes is coming back with a maxiseries. Do you have fond memories from that period of your career?
Absolutely. One hundred percent. We had an amazing story to tell. We had great writers. They had an incredible production team. All the actors were veterans without being so high up on the radar that we couldn't operate. It was one of those perfect scenarios where we were allowed to go and make a show. There were other shows coming out that season that were higher-profile and we were able to just go make a show. "Don't worry what critics are saying yet. Don't worry what viewers are saying yet. Just go make a good show." We did that. Nobody expected the explosion it became across the globe. It was surprising.
What I always take away from any job – Heroes, Wild Card, The Whispers – is, did I have fun? Did I enjoy myself? On Whispers, we talked all the time about as long as we're enjoying ourselves while we're making it, once the show goes out into the ether, that's for the fans. That's out of our hands at that point. I have very fond memories of working on Heroes.
What was your reaction when they announced Zachary Levi from Chuck would be joining the project?
Zach is a good guy. I've known him for years. He's a great addition given his world at NBC, as well as the Comic Con realm. I'm very excited for Jack Coleman to have a fun scene partner. I wish them all the best and I'm very excited for them.
The original cast has moved on, but can you ever truly go back home? Is there room for more Peter Petrelli?
There's always room for more. Whether it happens or not, it goes beyond creative storytelling. You get into business and contracts. When my face is on a poster at a different network, it's a little difficult to revisit something from the past. For me, personally, Heroes is like a girlfriend you loved so much. Ultimately, things don't work out. You go your separate ways. Just when you are about to fall in love again, or you have, there's that knock at the door and it's that old girlfriend. She kind of wants to come back in your life. You're like, "I've moved on. I still care about you. I hope you're happy, but I'm in love over here." That's how I feel about it a little bit.
Everyone keeps asking, "Are you going to be Peter Petrelli?" First of all, nobody has asked. Second of all, I haven't been on that set in six years. I left the show behind five years ago when I was 32. Again, I wish all those guys the best. Hopefully, it will be fun for audiences to revisit that universe.