Milo Ventimiglia's gut is telling him a lot these days.
It told him last year to walk away from the popular role of troubled teen Jess Mariano on the comedy-drama The Gilmore Girls. Now, that same instinct is telling him to refocus.
He's listening, but admits that it's not easy.
"It's very scary, very scary. It is frightening," he says. "I look at my savings account to see what I have to pay my mortgage."
His return to Girls for three episodes this season has less to do with his gut and more to do with his heart. "It was strange jumping back into the shoes of the character again," he says, "but was something I felt OK doing because of the people I was around."
He dates series star Alexis Bledel, who plays his on-screen love interest, Rory, but he gingerly rebuffs questions about their relationship.
After two seasons on the WB comedy-drama, he was supposed to carry his character into a highly anticipated spin-off for this season.
When the spin-off failed to come together, Ventimiglia, who had the option to return to Girls, decided to walk away.
Jess appeared briefly Feb. 3 and is featured prominently in tonight's installment. A third appearance is being scheduled for the end of the season this spring. Gilmore Girls airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
Often labeled as a "bad boy," Jess has had a bumpy history with Rory, the good girl next door.
Sparks between them intrigued, frustrated and illuminated fans of the show. Would good girl Rory go over to the dark side? Could she reform her man?
"He's an angry kid who grew up with parents who didn't love him," Ventimiglia says.
He bases part of Jess on a childhood friend who he says was "very, very smart but always up to no good."
Unlike Jess, he says he fights the temptation to go off the handle.
"When I talk to people about Milo, I refer to him as the most un-Hollywood person I've ever met," says buddy Dino DeMilio, a radio producer. "If you speak to him at length, you'd never know what he does.... You have to find out he's an actor from someone else. I'd guess he was a CPA or something like that because he is so quiet and laid-back that he seems more like a numbers guy."
Ventimiglia, 26, says he was a child who was "shy with two big cheeks. I was skinny, but as I grew up my face elongated."
His father worked in the printing industry, and his mother is now a schoolteacher in the public school system.
He details his childhood growing up with two older sisters in Orange County, Calif., as being "normal," filled with days of riding skateboards, going to school and playing sports.
At 8, he wanted to act. His parents enrolled him in classes and theater groups. He was 12 when he auditioned for a local play.
His first paying gig was a role on the NBC comedy Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Despite finding steady work, Ventimiglia enrolled at the University of California-Los Angeles to study theater. While in school, he landed Girls and never graduated.
"I'm not the type of personality who likes to follow," he says. "It's an instinctual thing. I also talk to my father a lot. He's a very smart man."
Walking away from a steady job without anything else to fall back upon can be an actor's worst nightmare, but Ventimiglia sees it as a chance to refocus his life.
After the planned spin-off fell through, Ventimiglia met with WB executives and Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino about the future.
Sherman-Palladino says that "the door is always open for his return," but adds that she doesn't know how long he'll want to walk through it.
"Milo has a whole other career and life going," she says. "Believe me. I have no doubt he's going to be a huge star. A month from now he won't even take my call."
She compares him to Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal, versatile young actors known as much for their acting chops as their off-screen personalities. Ventimiglia's goal is to follow their career paths into movies or edgier TV projects.
Leaving Girls, though it is one of network TV's most acclaimed dramas, was for the best, he says.
"It was the right move. Actors are enticed with big-money contracts because the money is right there," he says. "What you have to think about is whether it will help your career."
Cursed, a thriller from director Wes Craven, is his next major role. It will be out in the fall.
"The next year will be very interesting for me," he says. "I am very excited about where I have put my focus."
Credit: Scripps Howard News Service
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