Strip down the countless super powers from Peter Petrelli of NBC’s hit TV show Heroes, and you are left with a very similar character. Meet Milo Ventimiglia. He is a very handsome, charming, humble, kind, courageous, extremely private and yet remarkably easy going 32-year-old man. With all the stresses of being in the public eye, you wouldn’t expect him to be so relaxed, but there is a calmness about him that is obvious from the start.
From the moment you step into Ventimiglia’s beautiful home, you realize that it is truly a reflection of himself. It is private and simple, with all the comforts of home. You are immediately aware of the importance family plays in his life. With pictures old and new covering the walls, the majority of them are images of his favorite people and heroes, his mom and dad. One gets the sense of a man who takes pride in his roots and does not try to hide it. There is also an obvious sense of appreciation for the military. There are various items displayed that symbolize his passion for the military, right down to the watch on his wrist (his dad’s from the Vietnam War). Of all the items, the most prominent is a large frame holding a military utility jacket given to him by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
We sat down for a chat with Ventimiglia to learn more about who he is and what fuels his passions.
BHL: Who is Milo?
MILO: I’m just a working class kid from Southern California who happens to find himself with a crazy day job.
BHL: What defines you?
MILO: I don’t think one particular thing defines me. I don’t try to have a false persona. I try to be a guy who is the best representation of himself, a role model, a peer, someone who people can look up to and identify with.
BHL: Do you have a hero?
MILO: That is the easiest thing in the world – my parents.
BHL: As a public figure, do you feel a ceratin amount of responsibility to give back?
MILO: Absolutely, yes. When you are fortunate enough to have a platform where people will listen, and you have the means to give, how could you not? I want to be a guy who strives to create a better environment and sense of hope for the world. Identifying ways that you can give when having a platform is important because we have the ability to reach people. It doesn’t mean that you have to force your opinions down their throats, but if you find things that you are passionate about, then you want to spread the word about them.
BHL: What charities are you involved with and how did you become involved?
MILO: I am involved with USO (United Service Organizations) and IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America). I had always wanted to go on a USO tour and had various offers to do so, but my work schedule didn’t allow for it until about a year ago. The opportunity arose to go over to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I had to go.
BHL: Can you tell us about the experience?
MILO: It was such a surreal experience. Here you are in this topically beautiful country, yet you are surrounded by so much animosity. You’ve got the little kids who adore American presence, teenagers slashing their throats at you, and adults who are mostly complacent. I was only there for nine days and the soldiers are there for months on end, so I can’t even imagine how that affects them. Our men and women work hard, whether they want to be there or not. The thing that impacted me the most was that the soldiers are there to do their duty regardless of how they feel, and they do it well. I shook more than 6000 hands and simply said “thanks” to them all. I’ve always held a reverence for a soldier in uniform and my appreciation has only deepened through my experience over there.
When I came home I was pissed. I got off the plane and had this experience, and nobody cared where I just was. It’s not that it’s about me – it’s about the men and women and awareness. It was a punch in the gut, and from that I felt a call to action; I had to get involved.
Shortly after that I was introduced to Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of IAVA, who immediately got me involved. IAVA is an organization that is helping soldiers who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by giving them and their families the tools to bridge the gap from being a soldier in a war zone to returning to civilian life. From there it has just grown, and I have had amazing opportunities such as meeting world – renowned doctors with Operation Mend, who volunteer surgeries to severely wounded soldiers, to getting to travel to speak about awareness with IAVA. These experiences have impacted me as a human being, so much so that I want to embrace what these men and women are doing. I dream that when I am 60 years old I will still be shaking the hands of our service members and thanking them over and over for what they do. It will never grow old.
Ventimiglia is a list of many things impressive: actor, producer, philanthropist, giver … but he really identifies himself as a conduit, just a guy passing the message on. Perhaps Ventimiglia said it best, “The service members are the real heroes. I think what they do is beyond comprehension. They risk their necks day in and day out for us, and that is remarkable.” It is through Ventimiglia’s humble responses that you see through a little of his shell. But to really get to know him you really need more than just one interview. Ventimiglia’s genuine spirit permeates through, leaving you wanting more … more insight, more knowledge and more time with this extremely private man, Milo Ventimiglia. – by Nicole Cheri