Kiss of the Damned – SXSW 2013: Milo Ventimiglia Interview

It’s not your typical vampire movie, and don’t worry guys, Milo is far from Mr. Pattison. In Xan Cassavetes directorial feature debut, Milo plays Paolo, a human screenwriter, who’s enraptured by the beautiful vampire Djuna (Josephine de la Baume). Soon their relationship blossoms into a feverous love that, as expected, quickly turns fatal. 

Milo and I had some time during the SXSW festival to talk about Xan’s script, the unrest that drives his character Paolo and how he and Josephine tapped into their carnal nature. Yup, there’s plenty of love scenes.  Juicy.

ATW: First off, I always like to go back the beginning. How did you get into the biz?

V: When I was a kid, we had this natural stage at my house. We had these two little walls on the side of it that were my wings. I could go off and change characters or change clothes or get a prop. I wanted to perform and I saw what other people were doing, and I was drawn to the idea of making people laugh or cry. Making people feel some sort of outside emotion.

ATW: Tell me about one of the performances you put on for your family.

V: There’s too many! But also I don’t know what kind of silly creative mind I had. A lot of it revolved around what I was watching at the time: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ninja Turtles. Goofy stuff.  But I didn’t get into the business till I was 18.

ATW: What was your the first job?

V: Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I had one line. It was pretty awesome, ‘Relax Ash, I’m just taking a little tour.’

ATW: You still remember it!

V: Oh yea, because it’s your first job. I did a lot of theatre, stage work. Doing Shakespeare when I was a twelve and community theatre, going to repertories and conservatories; studied school at UCLA.

ATW: You started with theater and have worked across the board doing tons of film and TV. How are these both mentally and physically different for you as an actor?

V: To me, performance is performance. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a 3,000-seat house, which I don’t know if I’ve ever done or have done since I was 18, or if you’re playing to a camera with a red iris staring you down. It’s all the same. I try to be honest, I try to be real and open to the experiences the characters are going through. That’s pretty much my goal, to make a character believable. To have the audience pulled into the situation that he’s in. Tapping into screenwriting, nothing is better than connecting with the words that are on the page. Looking into someone’s eye and the director talking in your ear about what they’re wanting. You get to share that moment and experience together. It’s one of the most satisfying things as an actor, finding things that you weren’t planning, they just happen. We just did that? That was amazing!

ATW: When you first read Kiss of the Damned, what drew you to the script?

V: I read it once and just initially liked it. I thought, ‘This is interesting; it’s a different take on a vampire genre type movie.’ It had more of a European feel to it; it wasn’t horror, it was romance. It was a love story…with fangs, with blood. Once I spoke with Xan, she talked about influencing films that she looked up to, that she wanted it to feel like. That just strengthened my want to do the movie.

ATW: How did you go about building your character Paolo?

V: I think it was about understanding who he was at his core in the first moment you meet him. For me, Paolo was the kind of person who wasn’t seeking destruction or death like a lot of people that end up becoming vampires in movies are. He was a guy who was waiting for his next chapter in his life. He was open to it, and when he was confronted by it, he embraced it fully.

ATW: What do you think he’s driven by?

V: That’s a really hard question… I think he’s driven by inspiration by something that probably shifts emotionally and physically inside himself. There was a lot of talk with Xan and I about how this guy’s not moody; he just has a deep-seated unrest inside. It’s not about not being content about where you are in your life, but there’s something that’s keeping you completely still. The contrast to see when he does become a vampire, he’s almost washed over with peace. In my mind, he becomes almost a different person. He finally finds his peace.

ATW: Once he finds that peace, does Paolo have something new that compels him?

V: Well, he’s still human in instinct but not human in body anymore now that he’s dead. Now he’s driven by something more carnal. He’s an animal now and going off instinct. There’s an intellectual, romantic side to vampires but also survival. There’s an immediate physical response to things. Human beings, we have a higher conscience to say this is right or wrong, where animals operate off instinct.

ATW: While we’re on the subject of being animalistic, you had a lot of love scenes in the film. You have to be very close with someone, which you’ve had to do a lot in your roles.

V: I know! I was actually watching myself on screen and I was like, ‘Oh shit! I’ve had a lot of sex scenes!’

ATW: That’s definitely not a problem! How did you go about working with Josephine, coming from the fact that both of you are operating from a very carnal place?

V: A lot of it was driven by knowing what Xan wanted to shoot. And then it’s just a lot of conversation and communication. Its “Hey Josephine, this is the way that I look at it, tell me how you look at it. How can we mesh the world of your views and my views.’ We only had a week and a half of rehearsal if that, and then it’s just fall in love on camera.

ATW: No pressure, just fall in love on camera!

V: I don’t know, I mean I think we’re all capable of it. As a performer and actor maybe you’re a little closer to that edge of it because that’s what you have to do for a living. I once worked with this guy who talked about that sushi, when you’re walking in China town, in the windows of the sushi restaurant. It brings you in, but it’s not real. That’s what you’ve got to do with your acting. You’ve got to make it look so real it’s enticing.

ATW: You’ve worked with so many different amazing filmmakers and actors. Walking away from Kiss of the Damned, what made this project impacting to you?

V: This film definitely reaffirmed the collaborative process. When you get on a film set, there’s a lot of different personalities, a lot of different wants and egos too. You have some people that are stronger willed than others, just with films in general. With this one, it was reaffirming that you’ve got to work as a team and a group and hopefully the camera is there to pick up the story you’re trying to tell.