This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia will star in ABC pilot of The Company You Keep as a con man who falls in love with a CIA agent. The actor has signed on to star in and exec produce The Company You Keep, an hourlong ABC drama pilot.
The series is based on the Korean format My Fellow Citizens. It is being written and EP’d by Julia Cohen (Legion, The Royals). Additional EPs include Jon M. Chu, Todd Harthan, Caitlin Foito, Russ Cundiff and Lindsay Goffman. According to Deadline, The Company You Keep juts got a series order by ABC for its mid-season schedule, premiering SUNDAY, FEB. 19
Official logline of The Company You Keep with Milo Ventimiglia
“A night of passion leads to love between con man Charlie (Ventimiglia) and undercover CIA officer Emma, who are unknowingly on a collision course professionally. While Charlie ramps up the ‘family business’ so he can get out for good, Emma’s closing in on the vengeful criminal who holds Charlie’s family debts in-hand — forcing them to reckon with the lies they’ve told so they can save themselves and their families from disastrous consequences.”
Catherine Haena Kim has been cast as Emma in ‘The Company You Keep,’ an ABC drama pilot starring Milo Ventimiglia.
Emma is described as the self-deprecating black sheep of an Asian American political dynasty who has never been afraid to carve her own path despite the objections of her impressive family. When she meets Charlie (Ventimiglia) by chance in a bar, sparks fly and the two wind up falling in love. But with Emma unaware that Charlie is a lifelong grifter, while he is unaware that she’s a CIA officer on the tail of the very mobster who’s blackmailing his family, they’re on a collision course that could not only ruin their relationship but the lives of their two polar opposite families.
William Fichtner is set as a lead opposite Milo Ventimiglia and Catherine Haena Kim
Fichtner will play Leo. A former steel worker turned grifter, Leo is a master of the sleight of hand. Cards, shell games, pick-pocketing, Leo learned the fine art of the misdirect a long time ago. A proud man who’d do anything for his family, Leo has a lifetime of regrets and soon he won’t remember any of them. In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, Leo is determined to pull off one last big score to make his family financially secure before he loses his faculties.
The pilot will be shot off-cycle to accomodate This Is Us star Ventimiglia’s commitment to the departing NBC family drama series.
Sarah Wayne Callies will be Charlie’s sister
Callies (Prison Break, Colony) has been cast as Birdie, Charlie’s bossy big-sister and co-owner of the bar they run together that also serves as a front to their illegitimate family business. The character is a single mother to a hearing-impaired daughter.
Also joining the drama from writer Julia Cohen (The Royals) are James Saito (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) as Joe, Emma’s father; Tim Chiou (Truth Be Told, Space Force) as David, Emma’s brother; Freda Foh Shen (911) as Grace, Emma’s mother; and Felisha Terrell (Queens, Dynasty) as Daphne, the new head of the Maguire crime family.
Cohen, Ventimiglia, Jon M. Chu, Todd Harthan, Caitlin Foito, Russ Cundiff and Lindsay Goffman exec produce the drama. The Company You Keep hails from 20th Television, the studio behind NBC’s This Is Us where Ventimigila is based with an overall deal.
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Promotional Photos of The Company You Keep with Milo Ventimiglia
When you were thinking about your next job after This Is Us, did you have any parameters or specific goals beyond choosing something that was decidedly un-Jack?
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: That was actually first and foremost: Let’s let Jack be who Jack was — and let’s give the man a break. If I can just kind of find something different, as an artist, it would be pretty satisfying to just dive into something different, something new. Those were the only two things in looking at characters was: Let’s make him not be a father, let’s make him not be a husband, just a guy on his own, however that comes at us.
I had known [Company executive producer] John Chu casually in business, and when he came up with this project, and his folks spoke with Russ [Cundiff, co-founder of Ventimiglia’s DiVide Pictures, which produces Company] and Deanna [Harris, DiVide’s VP of development], it was like, “Oh, that’s just interesting — a con man who gets involved with a CIA officer. Sure. I’m curious.” And then we’d heard the take from Julie Cohen, who wrote the pilot [and serves as executive producer/showrunner], and there was just something magical about what the show could be and what I could explore of the character.
Charlie Nicoletti in my mind is unremarkable.
He’s very plain, very simple. He tries to be unnoticed, yet when he steps into that con world, he has to put something on that is remarkable and forgettable. As an actor, it’s challenging to be able to be engaging, and at the same time, people are going to forget you in the same breath if they’re ever talking to law enforcement or anything like that. He’s got to be a chameleon that kind of just disappears.
That’s what we’re working on now is understanding what the Nicoletti family’s gotten into, what they’ve been doing in the world of grifting, how their choices are affecting Charlie personally. He’s pretty unlucky in love, and all of a sudden he has this wonderful thing, all predicated on lies with a woman who works in law enforcement, and that puts his family and their livelihood and their world completely in danger. So it’s complicated. I like that complexity.
What kind of different skins will Charlie be slipping into? And what type of con skills will you be showcasing, whether it’s coin or card tricks?
The fundamentals of conning is reflecting who you’re going after, reflecting their emotional state. If you’re happy, I’m happy. You’re sad, I’m sad. If you’re anxious, I’m anxious. It’s more that skill set to read people and understand how to get them into where you want them to be in order to take advantage of what it is you’re wanting from them — that’s probably the best skill to have in the world of cons. Yeah, we’ve got some slight of hand.
We’ve got card tricks, magic kind of things, but it’s less about the mechanics and more about the psychology behind it. So as we’re pulling these cons and shifting through this world and paying back our debt from the Irish mob catching us conning them out of 10 million dollars crypto, we have to find targets that, one, fit within our moral code, because we don’t take from people that aren’t deserving of it. And two, we’ve got to make sure that we are clean in the act, whether it’s popping in as caterers and then going a little further to con an ambassador, posing as a photo crew, to a little later on being a gunrunner who’s very, very, very, very, very flashy in all his Gucci drippings and designer gold and all of that.
It’s creating these characters that are believable, they’re grounded, we could see who they are, but also making them very distinctly different from everyman Charlie.
Identity will clearly be a theme in a show like this, and Charlie seems to be bound by family — and hemmed in by it. He has made sacrifices for his family in this line of work, and he’s tortured to be hiding this secret that has impacted his personal life.
It makes him a good bad guy. That’s a play on the words two-fold. He’s good morally; his heart’s in the right place. But he is also a bad guy, in terms of profession. But he’s also talented at what he does. He’s a good bad guy. He can excel in that world where he doesn’t excel in his personal life. Historically for years that had happened to me, where my personal life always took second seat to my professional life. My professional life was always firing on all cylinders and doing really well, and I never really understood the need for success in personal life. But I can definitely relate to Charlie’s struggles or desires to have that and want that, and understand that there’s got to be shifts in his professional space.
How would you describe the dynamic between Charlie and Emma? Exploring intimacy and honesty while holding fast to their secrets must be an exhausting highwire act for each of them.
He’s hiding it from her out of judgment. “She’s not going to accept this side of my life. Who I am and how she feels about me is not big enough for her to accept that I’m also a criminal.” And that’s Charlie’s torture. Emma’s is very different. She’s hiding something, but she’s hiding it for good reason. National security. The good and the just.
And it’s also operational security. She can’t let people know what she does because of the sensitive nature of what it is that she does. And that’s one of those unfortunate positions. If you pick that line of work, or that line of work picks you, you make a choice, and your life is not exactly your life anymore. So, the complications that happen with just simply two people who find love for one another. Everything is going to get in their way, including themselves.
What immediately struck you about your chemistry with Catherine?
She was in the first round of tapes that we saw for Emma. And I remember sitting with Russ and watching tapes, and sitting with Julia and watching tapes, and thinking to myself, “Let us keep her in the mix.” There was something that was vulnerable and strong and honest about her portrayal of Emma that always rose to the top of however many tapes we saw, however many auditions there were. And then once we got in front of one another, it just made sense.
She understood Emma, and she also understood the level of growth that she needed to make this fully formed character real. Also, there was a very strong willingness and want from Catherine to portray this strong Asian American woman on camera and represent. And it’s wonderful. You want to work with people that want to be there. She very much wants to be there, and her talent matches her want, which is comforting for me, not only as a scene partner, but also as a producer.
The pilot introduces viewers to several criminals involved in the largest drug trafficking ring in Europe, and it involves that 10-million dollar debt hanging over Charlie and his family. Will that story continue throughout the entire season, with each episode also containing a con of the week?
That’s exactly what it is. What ABC was wanting was to have a con procedural with a lot of serialization story happening for the growth of the characters. I would love the show to be all about character. But if there are neatly packed, neatly wrapped stories about cons that are happening with this through line of how the Nicolettis are now in debt to the Irish mob, that’s the way it’s going to be. And that’s the kind of structure and the shape that it takes.
Felicia Terrell, who plays Daphne Finch, is too fierce of an actor to just be the one-off, like, “Oh, that’s the opening con?” No, no, no, no, no.
We have an opportunity with her talent, an opportunity with her character. We have an opportunity to tell this larger, higher-stakes game that’s happening for Charlie, for the Nicoletti family, for the Irish mob, for Emma Hill at the CIA, as well as how it potentially can tie into her political dynasty family.
It’s such an ambitious show creatively, but it is truly five different shows. You have Charlie and Emma, you have Charlie as a con man, you have Emma as CIA officer. And then you have Charlie’s family and everything going on with that — his sister, the wonderful Sarah Wayne Callies, being a single mom of a deaf girl [Shaylee Mansfield], his father’s [William Fichtner] memory loss and how that impacts his mom [Polly Draper]. Then on the other side, everything that Emma is dealing with her family, with her brother [Tim Chiou] running for the Senate and her father [who was a former governor and is played by James Saito]. And the duality between those two worlds. They’re all kind of criminals, just wearing different hats.
The dynamics of an entire family of con artists are inherently fraught. When your parents are con artists, do you choose this life or are you just drawn into the fold? How much agency did Charlie have in that arena? Can you ever fully trust a family member who lies for a living?
We do have an episode coming up that gets into the history of the Nicoletti family, where we’re starting to understand where it comes from, the world of grifting, how it started with Leo and Fran, and Fran’s involvement, and then how it blended into their kids upbringing, running scams at horse racing tracks and whatnot when they were young, and then just finding a natural proclivity for it. Like, Charlie’s really f—ing good at it. To his detriment. He knows that’s the sword he’s got to fall on. He can succeed and he can look out for his family. And short of the blind side of love that happens to him in the pilot, hopefully that doesn’t happen to him again.
What appealed to you about bringing the show to a broadcast network? Some called This Is Us the last big network TV hit, but obviously you see more potential there.
I’m a product of broadcast. I really, truly am. I mean, everything that I’ve done is broadcast from Heroes to Gilmore Girls. The only thing that I think I did on the other side was Mob City. That was basic cable. It wasn’t even cable-cable. There’s a trend for actors thinking they can push the envelope in cable. And that’s true. You can toy with storylines and characters, language and subject matter.
You can push the limit a lot more, but I find that there’s still a lot of room for good storytelling and elevated storytelling that can happen in broadcast. And as long as broadcast is embracing me, I’m going to embrace it. Even down to standards and practices. [Laughs.] Just the other day, I’m like, “Wait a minute. We’re Sundays at 10 p.m. What kind of language can we get away with? How far can we actually push things to give an audience a closer-to-cable experience?”
And also what’s nice about staying within the Disney ecosystem, we’ve got ABC and then we’re on Hulu. We’ve got two bites at the apple. There’s two different audiences to hit; it’s a much larger net that you’re casting than just a paid programmer like HBO or a subscription-based [service] like Netflix. There’s something exciting about that. And I still love the idea that anybody can turn on ABC, wherever you happen to be, and you can watch our show for free. That’s truly priceless.
What’s one thing about this show that you can guarantee?
Fun. Just fun. There’s action, there’s excitement, there’s romance, there’s deep emotional notes. It’s enjoyable. We’re not going to bang someone over the head with a message — we’re going to just tell a story and show you these characters that are experiencing things. Hopefully people don’t find themselves too similar to Charlie professionally, but maybe personally they can understand what he’s going through. Or they can look at Emma and not understand what level of national security it takes to hang on to being a CIA officer, but they can identify with a woman who just wants to be in love and find someone to trust. I think there’s just a lot of fun to be had.
How do I know you’re not conning me right now?
That’s the trouble, man. You have no idea.
“I just wanted to go faster on the gas. I didn’t want to stop at all,” he says, laughing.
“Charlie is very different from Jack Pearson, but there are some similarities in who they are as men looking out for their families,” Ventimiglia says. “[Charlie] is a criminal, but he’s a good bad guy. You’re rooting for him.”
The Nicolettis are definitely not the Pearsons, given the family crime business. What was Charlie’s entry in?
Milo Ventimiglia: His father, Leo [William Fichtner], was doing cons when Charlie was a kid. He just figured out how to be good at it. His mother, Fran [Polly Draper], and Leo ended up having his sister, Birdie [Sarah Wayne Callies], and Charlie be a part of the cons.
Charlie eventually decides to reform. How big a challenge will that be?
He’s a professional liar! Telling the truth is a massive challenge — and a consequence — for Charlie. His blind spot has always been romance. He wants to find love and live a normal life, but he’s not built for it. That’s an incredible complication.
Charlie doesn’t know that Emma (Catherine Haena Kim), whom he falls for in the pilot, is in the CIA. And she’s unaware that he’s a con artist. What draws them together?
Maybe it’s instinctual. Two people fresh off heartbreak find themselves playing a friendly, fun game in a hotel bar. Both crave companionship. But to fall in love and get involved with a CIA officer? That’s a whole lot of trouble!
Do you miss Jack’s mustache?
Not at all. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Charlie Nicoletti at some point in a mustache or two.
Milo Ventimiglia on the big This Is Us connection you won’t see on The Company You Keep
When Milo Ventimiglia walked off the set at the end of filming This Is Us, he didn’t take one of the director’s chairs that he and the cast would sit in. Instead, he grabbed one of the plastic-and-metal blue folding chairs that the crew members used. “I wanted to remember the crew,” he summed up at the time.
Turns out, he’d wind up with a few more reminders of them. As in: their presence every day on set.
Indeed, Ventimiglia was so enamored with the extended family of This Is Us that when he began working on his new ABC drama The Company You Keep — in which he plays a con artist named Charlie who falls for undercover CIA agent Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) — he began recruiting as many crew members as he could to join him on his new adventure.
“As this show was taking shape when we were developing a pilot episode, I was walking around the This is Us set [on the Paramount Studios lot in Los Angeles], quietly having conversations with department heads: ‘Hey, you think you’d want to come on board and do this?'” he tells EW. “And people are like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ I talked to [the] hair-and-makeup [department], I talked to camera [operators], I talked to the grips and the electrics. Seeing the same familiar faces that are loading lights and loading gear and keeping the set safe is really important to me.”
In the end, a large chunk of the TIU crew stayed with him on the Paramount lot — where Company films — including director of photography Yasu Tanida, composer Siddhartha Khosla, costume designer Hala Bahmet, hair department head Michael Reitz, and makeup department head Zoe Hay.
(“There were three departments I could not get because they were still finishing up This Is Us and we were already prepping,” notes Ventimiglia.) The prevalence of familiar faces on the Company set was appreciated by the crew.
“I remember day one of the pilot, our key grip, Chris Stadler, and another Chris [Conahan], our rigging grip, were talking about setting something up for a shot. I walked in just to say, ‘Good morning,’ and Chris Stadler said to me, ‘Wow, man, you actually brought the whole crew back!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I did!'”
The benefits went beyond feel-good familiarity; it helped to create a shorthand during the pilot shoot.
“One, it sets up a positive environment,” shares Ventimiglia. “Two, it sets up a reliable environment. I don’t have to think about any of my departments that I worked six years with on This Is Us, because I know their level of quality. I know their level of creative. I know their level of respect to those that they’re working with. It gave us such an advantage to know the machine already worked…. And now, we’re hitting a stride where my crew is becoming everybody else’s crew. Catherine was like, ‘Milo, it’s so great you brought your crew from This Is Us.’ I said, “This is your crew. You will look at them as your crew, and they look at you as your crew. Just give it the time.’ And everybody’s feeling that.”
After wrapping up This Is Us, Ventimiglia endeavored to take on a new role that felt wholly different from Jack.
(In other words, no fantastic fathers, no devoted husbands.) But given all of the TIU alums behind the camera, one can’t help but wonder: Will viewers see some of that show’s actors appear on camera at one point? Might a former Pearson family member pop up as a grifter or target?
“It’s funny, Justin Hartley’s name already came up for something, but of course, he’s cutting together his pilot [The Never Game] over at CBS,” says Ventimiglia. “I just traded messages with Mandy [Moore], she’s in New York on [Dr. Death]. I read stories of [how] everybody else [is] busy, you know? I’m sure at some point people will pop up.”
One cast member already has — but behind the camera. Jon Huertas, who directed two episodes of TIU, will helm the show’s fifth episode.
“I can’t tell you how comforting it was to see [Jon] pop up in the prep schedule on emails, talking about character, talking about story, talking about shot lists,” says Ventimiglia. “It goes back to knowing that we have a crew at such a high level, I don’t have to worry about it.”
Ventimiglia’s character will have plenty to worry about in this 10-episode first season. Charlie is running cons with his mother, father, and sister (this is a family business of grifting) and he’s trying to shield his identity from Emma. (And with her job being a national security-level secret, she’s doing the same with him.) “Everything is going to get in their way, including themselves,” the actor sums up of this unlikely couple
Are you excited to see Milo Ventimiglia in The Company You Keep?
Source: TVLine / SPOILER TV