One of our favorite love triangles ever to hit TV is undoubtedly the Rory-Jess-Dean saga from the early seasons of Gilmore Girls. Really, we all felt the pain of high-school era Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) as she struggled to choose between good guy Dean Forester (Jared Padalecki) and bad boy Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia). But whether you were Team Dean or Team Jess, there’s no denying that each guy was lovable in his own way.
While Dean was doting and respectable, Jess’s sarcastic remarks and sulky nature certainly reeled us in—and, ultimately, caught Rory’s attention. While he wasn’t exactly Prince Charming for the duration of the pair’s relationship, it was clear that Rory held a special place in Jess’s dark heart from the moment they met in his Uncle Luke’s diner.
With the beloved characters finally returning to our lives when Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life hits Netflix in November, we’ve had all things Stars Hollow on the brain. So when Ventimiglia stopped by InStyle’s New York City HQ earlier this month to chat about his new NBC series, This Is Us, it was only fitting that we took a break from watching Gilmore Girls reruns to reminisce about Ventimiglia’s time on the show. And much to our excitement, the 39-year-old star looks back on his time portraying Jess as fondly as we do.
“Jess got to play around and experience a whole lot,” Ventimiglia explained. “From battling with his Uncle Luke to finding love with Rory, he was working out his own demons that sent him on his way to be this young son of a gun.” While Jess undeniably had his issues, there was a decent person under all of the insults and hostile behavior—and that was precisely Ventimiglia’s favorite thing about the character.
“For me, I think it’s the depth of who he truly was as a young man,” said the actor. “And as he kind of stripped away all this anger in his life from the hard times he was put through—with being estranged from his father, his mom driving him nuts, being put into a new environment, and just wanting to be on his own—he turned out to be a very, very great young man.”
Through all of his highs and lows, Jess kept viewers on their toes—and Ventimiglia was happy to be along for the ride. “I think the journey from being angry to being content and smiling through life was something that was always fun for me to discover and play and get into,” he said.
But there was another key factor to portraying Jess—and working on the show in general—that Ventimiglia remembers fondly. “Talking fast was just fun,” he said of the Gilmore gang’s signature fast-paced lingo. “It was challenging, but it kind of felt like you were cutting your teeth the right way. It was great to learn a certain pace and quip, and get to put some heart and soul into it—especially on an early job when I was young.”
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premieres on Netflix later this fall on Nov. 25.