Actor discusses playing Robert Balboa, working with Sylvester Stallone, and what to expect from his TV show Heroes.
Bursting on the scene in 1995, Milo Ventimiglia has accomplished a lot during that time. Starring in films like Dirty Deeds and Stay Alive, Milo is currently getting raves on the super popular TV show Heroes. He seems about to ascend to another level as the co-star, and Rocky's son Robert in Rocky Balboa. We recently had a chance to talk with Milo about being a part of this historic film franchise.
Did you grow up watching these films?
Milo Ventimiglia: I did. I was negative one when the first one came out... I pretty much grew up in the Clubber Lang/Ivan Drago era. That was more my time. I've always been a fan of the films, even the fifth, that I know some people didn't care for, I've always enjoyed them. I thought they were great. It really just got into the underdog story and how if you have your mind in the right direction, and your heart is full of the right kind of stuff, you'll succeed and you'll triumph over adversity, over really anything.
What was it like working with Sylvester Stallone?
Milo Ventimiglia: There's kind of like that fright and excitement all at the same time when you first see someone of his stature. Where its literally, "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm in the room with Sylvester Stallone." He disarms you. He lets you know when he talks to you, he speaks clearly, he'll make you laugh and he's very kind and warm hearted. Being on the set with him... he created a world of comfort so that I could play the part.
What was it like to follow in the footsteps of Sage Stallone?
Milo Ventimiglia: Sage Stallone and the three others. If you're gonna talk about Sage you've gotta talk about the two other actors that played Robert Jr.. If you look at the previous films where Robert Jr. is around, the conflicts, the struggles that he had to deal with, I think there was only positive things for me to learn and to grow from and to build on top of what those previous actors had created.
What kind of relationship did you and Sylvester have?
Milo Ventimiglia: I think I had the good fortune to watch Sly the Artist; to watch him in all arenas. As an actor, not many people get to see him turn that character on, they don't understand that he's playing a role. When he turns that role on he gets a very slow look in his eyes, and a sweet smile on his face in the way that he approaches the world. To read the script that he wrote and to see him composing those shots, I took it as an opportunity to quietly watch, to quietly observe someone that had created this world... who was comfortable enough that if I had ideas I could go up and talk to him. He was accessible and that's what these films are they're accessible to people.
He and I still touch base. I found out he was a fan of Heroes. That's kind of an amazing thing, when you look up to someone for so many years and they're actually following what you're doing. That's really a nice thing to know.
Any anecdotes from the shoot?
Milo Ventimiglia: Both of us, we have this problem when we talk; crooked mouths. I remember him telling me, "Make sure you're mouth is warmed up because it's cold out." You should see the two of us when we're filming in Philly standing in front of heat lamps just moving our mouths. Which was nice because we got to bond on that. If it's below 32 degrees we're f*cked! Our face freezes up. He had a lot of great advice.
Could you talk about the emotions you had during the scene with Robert and Rocky outside the restaurant?
Milo Ventimiglia: We were sitting and talking in his office in L.A. before we started the film... that scene came up and we started discussing Robert's problems and the way he was viewing his life. Sly said to me, "It's not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep going forward." It's funny to see that line as the top of the trailer. It relates so much to what the kid needs to hear. That emotion, because of what's going on in that scene, I know that Sly and I were both welling up when we were rehearsing it because there's so much coming to a head at that moment. It serves as a starting point about where this father/son relationship goes. Looking in Sly's eyes when we were doing that scene, man, he was right there and I'll be damned if I wasn't going to give it right back to him.
What's it like to have Heroes happening right when Rocky Balboa is coming out?
Milo Ventimiglia: It's not perfect timing so much as an odd coincidence. Honestly, every day I just try and show up and do the best work that I can do. For me, I was just fortunate enough to be in some great company and be a part of some projects that people are enjoying.
Were you surprised at how well Heroes has done?
Milo Ventimiglia: If I was to say I was surprised at how well the show was doing I'd probably look like an idiot. From day one of reading the script Heroes blew me away. The twists and turns, the characters, the drama that they build, I was really blown away by it. Add everything else, the writers and the production team... it really has grown into this wonderful world. It does stretch across an American influence and an American appreciation. I hear about people in Europe, Australia and Asia looking forward to the show, having seen bits and pieces of it...
As for what's coming up? If you were blown away by what you saw in the first half of the season you're really gonna be blown away by the second half. It's going to be even more hold your breath television.
What was it like when you found out you got the part of Robert Balboa?
Milo Ventimiglia: I did my audition, later on I met Sly. I had just moved back from New York, got to LA, got in a car accident the night before and I remember driving away, in my fully dented up car back to my house thinking, "I think that went well. I don't really know. Hopefully... we'll see." I started unpacking some boxes and I put my mind off it. About two hours go by I got a phone call from my agent and he's singing the Rocky theme. I'm like, "Oh, did I get it?" I gotta tell you as an actor you're constantly chasing the jobs, you're constantly chasing work that when you finally get the job, it's a very gratifying feeling. Typically, when I get a job I'm like, "I've got so much work to do," but it was an an exciting thing.
Did you run up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia?
Milo Ventimiglia: I didn't run, I walked. It was my last day of filming and it was right before it was about to snow. As I'm walking up the steps to the museum I see almost 100 people running up and down the steps, jumping up and down. I'm like, "You've gotta be kidding me." As I got closer I realized it was our film crew with all the locals from Philadelphia. Anybody that day could come out and run up the steps and they put all these people at the end of the movie which is great.
Are there any of the actors on Heroes that you'd like to work with that you haven't got a chance to yet?
Milo Ventimiglia: You know what... Leonard Roberts, Ali Larter, I've pretty much worked with everybody else. That was the nice thing about my character. I haven't worked with Ali, Leonard or Noah, yet.
Rocky Balboa opens in theaters nationwide on December 20 from MGM Pictures.