Milo Ventimiglia Plays a Con Man in Romantic Drama

The 'This Is Us' alum stars as a charming con man who meets his match in an undercover CIA agent (Catherine Haena Kim)

The con is on

Shows often spend multiple seasons focusing on a will-they-won’t-they dynamic between two characters, stringing the audience along for a lengthy ride where boy and girl usually experience friction that translates to sizzling chemistry. Ultimately, fans almost always get what they wish for, only for the writers to then wonder, “Well, now what?”  The Company You KeepCTV

In ABC’s romantic drama The Company You Keep, that dynamic is scrapped for “Oh, they do—but should they?” from the beginning. Charlie Nicoletti (Milo Ventimiglia), a con man from Baltimore, meets Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), an undercover CIA officer, at a bar. Sparks fly and entanglements are formed, neither knowing that Emma is currently investigating the woman that holds Charlie’s family’s debts in her hands.  

Although the premise of the series is the love affair of two people lying about their real identities, executive producer and co-showrunner Julia Cohen thinks this story is ultimately about core truths. “I was compelled at first by the idea of two professional liars who see one another’s truths,” she says. “What is love if not seeing somebody’s truth?” And what is dating, if not putting your best foot forward, adds co-showrunner Phil Klemmer. “Not all lies are made equally,” he muses. “When it comes to dating somebody and presenting your best self, sometimes perhaps you’re lying, but maybe you’re presenting the version of yourself that you want to be.”  

The Company You KeepCTVWhile Charlie’s story is pure fantasy, Emma’s story is loosely based on Gary Locke’s, who became the first Asian-American governor. “We liked the idea of the Asian-American Kennedys and Emma as the black sheep of that family,” says Klemmer. “That was always at the heart of the show and getting those stories and that perspective right is really exciting.” For Kim, the onscreen representation of Asian-Americans has vital importance. “It’s a powerful thing to see people who look like you on screen—being relatable, being aspirational,” says the Korean-American actress, whose love of K-dramas extends to the original version of her new series. “[Our show] does veer and become its own unique, beautiful story. But I was very familiar with it. And it’s exciting to create something loosely around it.”  

After six years of playing a father-of-three on This Is Us, Ventimiglia felt more than ready to don the contemporary shoes of his single character. “I was just kind of being myself, understanding who this guy is and what he needs to do and truly what his wants are inside—not among his family, but what he really wants,” the actor explains. “I think there’s an honesty to Charlie, even in his lie. So, I just had to exist and just be myself and look at my scene partner, listen to my writers, work with our production team, and just be. It’s been wonderful.” 

As the executive producer on The Company You Keep, Ventimiglia also had an opportunity to staff his set with familiar faces. “I brought over about 90 per cent of the crew from This Is Us. So, the shorthand, the expertise, the level that This Is Us operated on, from a production standpoint, we carried it over to ours,” he says. “Production has been a lot of fun, and I believe it will show in the actual episodes and people will see what kind of show we’re enjoying making.”  

The Company You KeepCTVThe series is set in the city of Baltimore, though hardly reminiscent of David Simon’s gritty HBO crime dramas The Wire and We Own This City. Still, the creators were interested in the city’s unique culture. “The idea for us is that these two families occupied two very different spaces, and that D.C. and Baltimore are only 45 minutes apart from one another but, in so many ways, a world apart,” says Cohen. “Another thing we deal with is classism in Baltimore and D.C., respectively. There’s also a grittiness that some of us associate with Baltimore, but that’s also not to take away from its beauty. But [the location] ultimately spoke to the two very different worlds that these characters come from, that also define who they are.”  

It turns out that whether you hail from a family of politicians or grifters, you’re ultimately both in the same business. “Politics is selling a fiction, and a con artist sells a plausible version of reality,” says Klemmer. “But people want to be suckered. We want to believe. We want to fall in love.” And that relationship between trust, honesty and love, says Ventimiglia, is what his new show delves deep into. “There’s the physical—when you’ve got two people that are drawn together like magnets. But really what makes that stick is that emotional vulnerability. It’s the willingness to open a raw nerve and show it to somebody else and be like, ‘Hey, can I trust you?’ That’s definitely something we explore.”

The Company You Keep premieres Sunday, February 18 on CTV & ABC