When Tina Turner said we don’t need another hero, she obviously had never met Milo Ventimiglia, who plays power-absorbing Peter Petrelli on NBC’s hit sci-fi series Heroes. Also loved for his roles as Jess on Gilmore Girls and Rocky’s son in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the 31-year-old heartthrob reveals why gay fans have always been powerless to resist him, and how he’s saving the world — one shirtless scene at a time.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Welcome to your Big Gay Following interview.
Milo Ventimiglia: Thanks, man. I was excited to hear you guys wanted to do something with me. I was like, “OK, cool!” I’m completely flattered.
When did you first realize you had gay fans?
It was way before Heroes or Gilmore Girls. I was about 19 or 20 years old. I’d done a short film when I was 18 called Must Be the Music, where I played a gay teenager. I was shopping with my mom and dad one weekend, and these two gay guys came up and said they’d seen the film at a film festival and they just thought I was great. That was actually the very first time I’d ever been recognized for anything. I’m glad that it was my first meeting with a fan, because it wasn’t the standard 14-year-old girl chasing me down; it was men who were fans of the work. That was cool.
Did you get any teasing from friends for playing gay?
No, I never did. At the end of the day, I’m playing a part, and there are many parts to play. I would hope that if I’m playing a killer no one would frown upon or tease me for that.
How did you prepare for the role?
I didn’t do much preparation; I got the part and dove right in the next week, and we filmed in a club called Arena in Hollywood. I’d always had friends who were gay, straight — just a huge mix of friends — so I understood the story of what this kid was going through. It was less about him being gay and more about him meeting someone he’s interested in.
After Gilmore Girls made you a heartthrob, you played gay again in the 2005 horror film Cursed. Any hesitations?
No, I’m just into good characters. I just read a script for a cross-country travel movie about an interesting duo — a man on his way to being transgendered has a friendship with this woman who’s escaping a marriage. I had this meeting to play the man who becomes transgendered. It’s such an interesting role — the psychology behind a person who feels trapped in a body they don’t think they should’ve been born into. The producer said to me, “It’s very brave of you to consider something like this.” And I said, “Why? It’s a great role.” I tend to lean toward a good role despite any stigma that’s possibly attached to it. I mean, fuck, it’s 2008. The fact that people are still worried about stuff like that just baffles me.
Sounds like Oscar bait.
Yeah. Isn’t that odd, though? It seems odd that people think it warrants a character like that to get that kind of attention. Like with Jake and Heath in Brokeback Mountain — those are just great characters.
You’re the toast of the gay gossip blogs. Do you follow what those queens say about you?
I’m very aware of all the blog sites and the kind way that they’ve treated me. It’s very flattering and funny. I met Perez Hilton when I was at a Super Bowl party in Miami with a bunch of my agents. He walked past me, and I stopped him and said, “Excuse me. Hey, my name is Milo.” And he’s like, “Yeah. Hi.” I said, “Hey, man, I’ve checked out your site a handful of times, and you do some pretty cool stuff on there. You gotta do me a favor: Next time you post a picture of me, just put tons of come on my face. Tons. I mean, load it up.” And he started laughing, so it broke the ice. I was like, “Look, man, I’m so flattered that you even take an interest in my career or the happenings surrounding me, so I appreciate it.”
He once fantasized that you and John Krasinski might be a couple based on a photograph taken at a hockey game.
Yeah, that was funny. And to John’s left was Steve Carell, but he got cropped out of the picture. I was like, Why you cropping Steve Carell out, man? That guy’s the superhero!
OK, so maybe John doesn’t do it for you. So who does?
Two of notoriety right now are Seth Green and John Mayer. I think that a bromance, bro-crush, or however you want to tag it is really when you have an affinity or a respect for someone, a kind of symbiotic relationship where you’re learning as much as the other party is learning. There are definitely men who I admire, and hopefully there are guys who look to me for inspiration in their lives. I mean, my two closest friends and I are ridiculous for one another. I say about my best friend [Russ Cundiff] — he and I have a production company together — that we’re married three times over.
On this year’s AfterElton Hot 100 list you came in at 38 between Mario Lopez and Ryan Gosling. Is that a fair ranking?
[Laughs] I guess. I haven’t thought too much about my placement within the community. That reminds me of how Maxim does those hot 100 lists — it’s like, Who gives a shit, man? In fact, I think it’s kind of silly for me to be on there. I have a hard time thinking about myself in regard to things like that.
Who do you think won?
Um… Brad Pitt? Zac Efron?
Good guesses, but it was Jake Gyllenhaal.
It was? I’d put him up there too. Well, let me ask you: What is it that a gay guy looks for or first notices in another guy?
The absence of a shirt.
[Laughs] There you go. And now you can flip that one back on me because I did quite a bit of that last year.
When you read a new Heroes script and see how much you’re going to be going shirtless, do you ever think, Are you kidding me?
A couple of times, yeah. Being on TV and in the business I’m in, I have to keep myself looking a certain way. But when I read those scenes, the first question I have is, OK, does it fit, or is it completely gratuitous? When I read the first script of the second season that said, “Shirtless, greased up, dirty, in a tank, doesn’t know who he is,” it was interesting. It lent itself to so many more questions for my character than just “Stand there with a shirt on.” But then I did several scenes following that where I’m tied up to a chair, having buckets of water thrown on me, and the shit beat out of me, and I’m like, I still have my shirt off? OK. Then I escape, so there was the question of, Well, does Peter grab a shirt when he runs out the door or not? And once he has the shirt, does he leave it open or closed? You do start to wonder, but if it works, it works.
Is Heroes ready for a gay hero?
Absolutely. The group of heroes on the show — gay, straight, black, white, whatever — we’re all outsiders. We’re all treated differently and oppressed in one way or another, and there’s a balance between that and standing tall in our difference. That’s what we’d try to focus on as opposed to a character being gay.
If Heroes had a gay superhero, what power would best suit him?
[Laughs] I don’t know, man. I mean, shit, maybe just a gay dude that can fly would be cool.
You recently visited our troops overseas on a USO tour. What’s your take on “don’t ask, don’t tell”?
When it comes down to it, gay or straight, you’re holding a weapon and fighting for our country, so sexuality seems irrelevant. It bothers me that in this day and age people are still looked at differently for having a sexual orientation that isn’t in agreement with an old institution such as the military. That being said, I can understand why a gay person in the military would just not want to say anything about it, because it would probably attract unnecessary attention. At the same time, it makes me sad to think that people can’t live their life openly, thinking that they won’t be accepted.
A lot of articles portray you as a goody-two-shoes. You don’t drink, don’t smoke… What do you do that’s badass?
I have no idea. You’d probably have to walk around with me for a day to discover the most badass thing about me. But not drinking, not smoking, and not doing drugs is a way to keep focused and not let things I don’t want in my life run rampant. It doesn’t make me a wimpy pushover.
Well, you looked like a total badass playing Fergie’s boyfriend in her “Big Girls Don’t Cry” video. Were you eager to scrub off those fake tattoos?
No, I kind of liked the feeling. Actually, had I not become an actor I’d probably be pretty covered in tattoos; a lot of the guys I grew up with had tattoos, and it just seemed like the thing to do. It was interesting the way people viewed me after the fact. I kept them all on for a day or two and just went about my normal life and didn’t hide them. The thing that made the most impact was seeing people look at me in a bank with the tattoo on my neck, just wondering what kind of life I had. People think that if you have tattoos you’re a badass, but I don’t entirely think that’s true.
It looked like you could’ve kicked Fergie’s boyfriend Josh Duhamel’s ass.
Thanks, man, but I met him after the fact, and I would not want to go toe-to-toe with that guy. He’s a big dude.
I read that your older sisters dressed you up like Madonna when you were a little kid. Which look did you work?
“Lucky Star,” I think. It was classic older sister, younger brother — you don’t know what’s going on, your sisters dress you up, take photographs, you don’t think about it, you rip the heads off their Barbie dolls, and kick holes in their doors. Then when you’re 13, you come across these photos and rip them up, because you’re like, I play football and baseball; I can’t be wearing makeup! — which is funny, because now it’s my job to wear makeup.
Have you done drag since?
I have. I did a TV show called Opposite Sex about three guys who go to a formerly all-girls high school just recently made co-ed. At the very end of the pilot I was in full drag singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” It was an experience. Putting on a halter-top, a Farrah Fawcett wig, and dancing in platforms was tough. I have a lot of respect for the women — and men — who dress up and do that.
Was that your gayest moment ever?
Absolutely not. I’ve definitely had gayer moments than that!
The Advocate, September 2008; extended online version.