The new original series Chosen, available on Sony’s multi-platform online entertainment network Crackle, is a heart-pounding thriller that follows Ian Mitchell (Milo Ventimiglia, who is also an executive producer on the project), a husband, father and lawyer who discovers a mysterious box on his doorstep that contains a loaded gun and a photo of a stranger he is instructed to kill within the next three days. Transformed into an unwilling assassin, Ian must risk everything to protect his family while looking for a way out of his predicament.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor/producer Milo Ventimiglia talked about why this web series appealed to him, how he first got involved with Crackle, when he started to see the viability of online programming, how much fun he had exploring such a full arc for his character in only six episodes, and how much he appreciates being in a position where he can contribute more, both creatively and on the business side of things. He also talked about how excited he is to get back to work on Frank Darabont’s crime drama L.A. Noir, picked up by TNT for six episodes. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When you read this script, was your immediate reaction that it was something that sounded original and you wanted to do it, or was there any hesitation about pulling it off for a web series?
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: No, there was zero hesitation. When I first read it, I was like, “Wow, how scary is this?,” because it could happen. It’s like this secret Illuminati group that could pull the strings enough to have a normal upstanding member of society be forced to kill and have to look over their shoulder, or they’ll be killed themself, and it’s all a sick game. So for me, it was never a question of, “Can we pull this off?” We had the resources. We had a really supportive partner with Crackle. We had a great director, with Ben Ketai. We had an amazing story. The story and script itself attracted the right talent. To get a veteran like Diedrich Bader, and to get Nicky Whelan, and to get actors with faces that you know you’ve seen for the smaller characters that add so much, all came because we had an awesome script. So, there was never a question of whether or not we could pull it off. Being on set, it was like, “This is going to be awesome!”
How were you able to make this look so great, on a web series budget?
VENTIMIGLIA: We actually had a decent budget to get the right camera package, to hire the right D.P., and all that. What it came down to was, we wanted to make something that looked good. Of course, the story is the story. I was a fan of the story, which is why I signed on to work with Ben Ketai. But, so many people are just dumbfounded by how good it looks. It’s a little sad to think that people expect it to look bad because it’s on the web. You can actually shoot something good, make something great, and make it look like a million bucks. It’s such a cool time. Technology is now accessible enough that you can do those green screen shots and make it look awesome. You’re not trying to fool the audience, but you’re just working with what you’ve got. That’s why, with a show like Chosen, you’ve got to make it look really sharp and really cinematic and make it look like it belongs in good company.
How did you first get involved with Crackle?
VENTIMIGLIA: A couple years ago, my partner Russ [Cundiff] and I were developing a show with them. In a year’s time of working together on that process, we got to know the guys over there. So, when Ben sent me the script, and one of the execs over there also sent me the script, I knew what they had been trying to do and wanting to do, as an online network. It was a win-win. It was a good place to release a show, just like this, that Ben and company were making.
Was there a point when you really started to see the viability of online programming?
VENTIMIGLIA: I knew it a long time ago, back in the It’s a Mall World days, when I was doing the small stuff that ran on MTV and had a heavy presence on line. There was also Ultradome, or any of the stuff I’ve done for friends online. For me, digital is just another avenue. It doesn’t mean that it has to be poor quality or poor content. But, you still run into the same struggles. You can’t have full-on language, violence or sexual situations. You can’t run rampant with the fact that it’s digital. You can’t do anything you want. You still have a responsibility to tell a story first, and show what the character is going through first, and then maybe you have a little bit of lee-way to show a more real side of life. That’s the thing that I like about digital, particularly. You don’t have to jump through as many hoops as you would with a network broadcaster. It’s different with cable and basic cable because they’re pretty free with what they want to do. With some places of distribution, you have to be careful with what you’re showing and depicting because there are standards and practices. There is a sense of freedom with digital, but it can’t run rampant.
VENTIMIGLIA: Totally! I don’t have any kids, but I had a 7-year-old daughter in Chosen, which was great. I always just feel very fortunate whenever somebody says, “Hey, we want to work with you. We want to do this with you.” But, at the same time, there is more of an opportunity to do things that you wouldn’t get to do because a network sees you one way or a film audience sees you another way. You get to showcase a little differently. I started doing comedy when I was in my early 20’s, but I did more comedies online, for my friends and for myself, way before I started doing comedy, two summers in a row with Adam Sandler (in That’s My Boy and Grown Ups 2). The inception of that came in a digital online form.
You went completely full-on with the comedy for That’s My Boy. If you were going to do comedy, did you just want to go all-out?
VENTIMIGLIA: After busting up my body doing stunt work, I was like, “Man, a romantic comedy sounds so fun.” But, you have to go where you’re picked still. I go just as full-on with any character that I play. It’s just such a drastic difference to see me bulked up, half-naked and really naked, with a shaved head, playing a United States Marine, or pretending to be a United States Marine. People aren’t used to that. But, when I’m playing Ian Mitchell, father of one and an attorney, I’m going just as hard and full-on. There’s just not as big a stretch between that and how people view me. Even The Divide, which I did two years ago, I played such a despicable, horrible, awful human being that I told my mother not to see it, but after she saw it anyway, she was like, “Did something happen to you that we don’t know about? How did you get so evil?” I was like, “Mom, I’m an actor. I have to find sympathy for the character, so that’s what I do.” I go full-on in anything I do. You have to. You get on screen and let it go.
The journey that your character takes in Chosen is really a full-season character arc, compressed into a pretty limited time frame. Was it fun to have so much to explore, as an actor?
VENTIMIGLIA: Yeah. I’m a big fan of the smaller order of episodes. From doing 25 episodes on Heroes, where you’re basically recapping every episode, in case something happens five episodes later, it’s nice. It almost feels like a film arc, where you know that for five weeks, you’re going to be in this struggle with this guy and you need to get from point A to point Z, and you’ve gotta through it. For L.A. Noir, we got just a six-episode pick-up, which is awesome. I’m super passionate about that show, and I’m super excited to get to work and get back on set with Frank [Darabont] and Jon [Bernthal] and Neal [McDonough], and everybody. And I have time to do a ton of other things, as do all of us. It feels like the perfect balance. It’s so exciting because you have this condensed story where you can have a believable arc that doesn’t have a filler episode. With smaller episode orders, you have the chance to have action, have drama, have the story move forward, have character development and have a character arc, for not just my character, but a bunch of different characters. If we can get TV viewers to embrace that, and I think they have, and then get networks to understand that, it would be better, in my opinion. But, that’s just me.
VENTIMIGLIA: During editing, I was in Europe working, so Ben and I were Skyping and sending notes back and forth. I wanted to stay out of his way because he is such a talented guy behind the camera, and he knows story and character arcs. So, when I would see cuts fo the show, I was like, “Dude, this is great!” And then, looking at what our D.P. and our camera operators did, it was just the coolest-looking show. It was great! I was really, really happy with it.
Do you enjoy doing all of the physical stunt work and fighting, and are you comfortable with using a prop gun?
VENTIMIGLIA: I’ve been doing this long enough to have handled a bunch of weapons, taken a punch, taking a fall, doing wire work and pretending I’m flying. I almost had to un-learn my natural response, which was a challenge, and a good challenge. I didn’t want Ian Mitchell to look like a guy who was reactionary and knew what to do in a situation. His body didn’t instinctually kick in. He had to struggle through it, at first. There are things that, as an actor, I’m exposed to that a lot of people aren’t exposed to because I’ve played a lot of different characters and had the good fortunate to see a lot of different sides of life. But, Ian Mitchell is holding a fountain pen and talking to a judge. I had to turn off Milo for a minute and understand what Ian was doing, in his daily life, and how he would react to everything.
VENTIMIGLIA: I feel like, as I’ve gotten older, even as a man toward my late 20’s, I just started to speak up a little bit more confidently. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in the business for so long, but I also started to realize that maybe I’ve got some good ideas, too. It’s not an overpowering thing. It’s about contributing. I love being around people that contribute. It doesn’t matter where the good idea comes from. A good idea is a good idea. So, I appreciate being in a position where I can collaborate a little bit more, creatively, but I also love the business side of it. It’s an all-inclusive package, when you get to be creative and run a little country while you’re on a set and doing it with people that you enjoy working with and you all have a say in it.
What’s next for you?
VENTIMIGLIA: It’s been a busy year. I’ve got Kiss of the Damned coming out on May 2nd. I’ve got Grown Ups 2 coming out this summer. I’ve got Killing Season with [Robert] DeNiro and [John] Travolta coming out in the fall. And then, hopefully, Grace of Monaco, the one I just shot with Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth in Europe, comes out in December. And I’m so excited to get back to L.A. Noir. That’s going to be a blast to shoot. That’s going to be so much fun. The pilot was awesome! The pilot was the best. But, to actually strap that suit on and play a little bit more is going to be so much fun. I’ve just had my head down and I’ve been working, like everybody else, and I’m going to keep doing that.
Chosen can be viewed on Crackle.