‘This Is Us’: Milo Ventimiglia on Jack’s Tearjerking Breakdown and Approaching His ‘True End’ in Series Finale

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Don’t Let Me Keep You,” Tuesday’s episode of “This Is Us.”

While there are many loose ends that “This Is Us” still has left to tie up for fans almost halfway through its sixth and final season, the fate of Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack Pearson has been a firm knot for years now. However, this week’s episode of the NBC family drama revealed one heartbreaking still-untold story about the now-deceased family patriarch: How his own mother, whom he had moved to Ohio help her escape his abusive father, died before he ever ever got to really know her.

“Looking at Jack’s arc from Season 1 to 2 to 3, there’s a lot that we’re learning about him, good and bad,” Ventimiglia told Variety ahead of Tuesday’s episode of “This Is Us,” titled “Don’t Let Me Keep You.” “The things that he struggles with, the things that he’s really great at, the father he is, the husband he is, the individual. But then when we got into Seasons 4 and 5, Jack, by way of being dead, just kind of became very supporting in other people’s storylines. There wasn’t much that we could learn about Jack. So the fact that we kind of forgot that he had gotten his mom out of the house in Pittsburgh and moved her to Ohio to go live with her cousin Debby — the fact that we, the audience, had forgotten about all that, I think it’s wonderful to be reminded that there was still ongoing life for Jack.”

During the hour, Jack learns that his mother, Marilyn (Laura Niemi), has died suddenly of an aneurysm, and decides to go out to Ohio to handle the funeral arrangements with her cousin Debby (Camryn Manheim). He leaves behind Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the preschool-aged Big Three — Kevin (Kaz Womack), Randall (Ca’Ron Jaden Coleman), Kate (Isabella Rose Landau) — due to a crazy snowstorm hitting Philly, and the fact his young children barely knew their grandmother and have little reaction to her passing.

Over the course of the episode, Jack realizes how little he knew his mother himself, discovering how much more was going on in her life outside of their Sundays-at-6 phone calls. She had a boyfriend named Mike (Jim Cody Williams), a wicked sense of humor, a love of poetry, and was always forgiving of the fact Jack and Rebecca couldn’t make it out to Ohio with the kids to visit her, despite his promises and best intentions — though Becs manages to wrangle the kids over there in time to watch Jack give his mother’s eulogy.

“There were things that were happening in his life that maybe he wasn’t even paying attention to as well because of his kids, because of his immediate world of his wife and his family and all that,” Ventimiglia said. “So to have an episode that was focused on Jack coming to terms with the loss of his mother, while feeling like he didn’t really know her life beyond his boyhood, I think was a pretty interesting moment for Jack again. We haven’t really had any of those since Vietnam. So I think for the audience, I think it’s pretty wonderful to get back into the world of Jack for Jack about Jack. But then also, personally, it was nice to have a little bit of discovery about the man himself.”

In this interview, Ventimiglia shared what else we can expect to learn about Jack as the series finale approaches.

Walk me through shooting the scene towards the end, where Jack finally breaks down in tears in front of Rebecca, saying “I don’t have a mom anymore,” after he makes their children his mom’s hotdogs and tomato soup recipe once they all return from Marilyn’s funeral.

I have to give a lot of credit to our writer, Elan Mastai, who wrote the script. We had a lot of conversations about loss. He’d lost his mother. I have not, personally, so understanding that loss — he was telling me, that line specifically, “I don’t have a mom anymore,” just how lost a person can feel. And it doesn’t matter what age you’re at, you do go back to a place of childhood where it’s just as simple as saying, “I don’t have a mom anymore.” That scene we had shot in order, so coming off of the kids and Jack feeding his kids this meal that his mom said was his favorite when he was a kid, I remember when we were working on that pre-scene, I was looking at our littles, Kaz, Ca’Ron and Isabella, and they’re dug into the hotdogs and tomato soup and they’re dipping and they’re being what kids are, which is funny on set and enjoying themselves and they get to eat when it’s not a meal time, so they’re laughing and having fun. I remember Kaz just looked up at me and smiled, and it just broke my heart, thinking about a flip from a kid looking up to their parent. And that kind of catapulted me into that next scene with Mandy. And I remember Mandy saying, “Milo, what do you need? What do you need?” And I just said, “I’m probably going to have my back to you, because that’s very Jack. He doesn’t let his emotions show.” So I said, “Any way you want to let me know that you’re there.” And when the cameras were rolling, I walked in, she walked up, put her hand on my shoulder. And I turned around and that’s what you guys saw… We don’t see Jack cry, that’s not his lot in life. He’s a man of particular era. So I think when Jack breaks, those are big moments. He’s kind of on edge during the eulogy, a little bit toward the end. But when he finally does break, it’s a really, really tough moment. It’s tough to watch, tough to live, tough for me personally to have to believe when I was performing it.

Why is it so hard for Jack to see his mother had this second life and rebuilt after moving away from her home and abusive husband?

It’s a good thing, but I think Jack also just was disconnected from that life that she had. He wanted desperately to know about it, and he’s beating himself up over the fact he wasn’t a part of it. The conversation with Mike, Mike calls him a hero in that he got his mom out and changed the trajectory of her life. But to Jack, that wasn’t enough because she lived this whole life that he just wasn’t even a part of. I think it’s a good reflection that people need to hear about their parents, about their families, about maybe folks that they move on from. We all can get so involved in our own lives all the time that we think, “Oh, everybody’s just going to be there,” but they have their own lives that are happening as well.

I think for me, it just turns into, I gotta call my parents more, I gotta call my sisters more, that friend that maybe I haven’t talked to in a while, I got to reach out to them now, today, while I’m thinking about it and let them know that I’m thinking about them or wanting to connect with them, because we may not ever get the chance again.

This episode was a big one for fans who haven’t had many meaningful new things to learn about Jack for a few seasons. How much will Jack, and new things about Jack, be incorporated into the final episodes and the series finale ahead?

I think Jack is just consistently there no matter what. He’s there in the kids’ behavior, he’s there in the kids’ actions, whether they’re talking about him or not. There may not be much we’re going to learn about Jack, but I think the thing to know is that he’s always there. And going toward the end, we saw Jack’s end, we’ll get to understand where the true Jack’s end is when we get there in April.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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