Less than impressive, as Ventimiglia himself will admit, was his not-so-heroic physique when production on the show first got under way. “I was very slightly built. I didn’t have a lot of man weight on me,” says Ventimiglia. “I wasn’t really grown up.” Ironically, that may have actually helped him land his role. Show creator Kring was specifically looking for an actor who could play someone on the cusp of manhood. “When we first meet Milo’s character, Peter,” says Kring, “he’s a bit lost and unsure of what his role in life is. Then, through the course of the season, he had to go from that to becoming a leading man. So he had to grow into that.”
It was a development challenge that Ventimiglia embraced and, in fact, had already been plotting: “Right after I got back from shooting Rocky [in December 2005], I looked in the mirror and said, ‘OK, I’m not a teenager anymore.’ I still looked young but I didn’t have a baby face. It was kind of a critical point, careerwise, where I needed to start going for the roles that were older. So I tried to get my physique to match and become more of a man.”
Though Ventimiglia, a Southern California native, had always led an active lifestyle (“I grew up skateboarding and snowboarding, and I surfed a little bit”), he had never had a formal fitness regimen. A recent breakup with his long-term girlfriend, Gilmore actress Alexis Bledel, had taken its toll as well. “There’s an emotion that goes with that, and it’s reflected in you physically,” Ventimiglia recalls. “I didn’t really keep myself together as I should have. Once I got through that hardship and emotional hurt, I started wanting to take care of my body more and present myself as a better person.”
At the time, the 5'9" Ventimiglia barely tipped the scales at 137 pounds. So he headed for the gym and began performing a self-designed lifting routine four times a week. For cardio work, he ran and jumped rope four to five times a week. He also quit smoking and focused on improving his nutritional habits. Even as a lifelong vegetarian (no meat, no fish, no eggs), he discovered that eating healthy had to be- come a conscious decision. “You can be a vegetarian and still eat pizza every day,” he says. “For the first time, I started to really pay attention to what I was putting into my body.”
Those results started to become apparent midway through the first season of Heroes. Even though he deliberately avoided trying to add size, he still put on close to 20 pounds of muscle mass. Currently his body weight hovers around 155 pounds. “People started to look at me and say, ‘Wow, you’ve grown up. Did you get taller?’” Ventimiglia laughs.
Getting fit also paid off for the show, which, as a fast-paced, sci-fi action series, is one of the more physically demanding productions around. “I get beat up, I’m bloodied, I’m in a flying harness, I’m knocked down. I’ve definitely had a lot of bumps and bruises,” says Ventimiglia, who does the lion’s share of his own stunt work. “I’ve got to keep myself strong and flexible and in the right state of body to do a lot of those things.” Says Kring: “I don’t think we would have written a lot of the stuff that we did in the second half of the season had we not seen what Milo could do physically.”