This Is Us added a new chapter to the already complicated saga of the Pearson family when they revealed exactly what happened with Uncle Nicky (younger version played by Michael Angarano) in Vietnam, then when the Big Three found him very much alive years later (played by Griffin Dunne). Now, Dunne is telling all about playing the mythological Pearson family member.
“I was quite familiar [with the show]. I wasn’t totally caught up, but I was quite familiar and a fan. When I got the part, I just binge-watched every episode up until mine and carried that theme song in my head for months…[the chords] followed me everywhere I went. [Laughs.] I was certainly a fan. I know that they talked about Nicky, Jack having a brother who had died,” Dunne told E! News.
“It’s just funny to think: I’m watching something and they’re talking about a character a year ago and I had no idea I would be playing this guy a year later,” he continued.
Viewers learned Nicky never died in Vietnam, rather he died in Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) eyes after accidentally causing the death of a young boy. Nicky never got to tell Jack it was an accident before Jack’s untimely death, nor did he know Jack died before Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) showed up at his door. To get into the headspace of the troubled character, Dunne leaned on his family’s own battle with mental health, writing by Tim O’Brien, Michael Herr and other Vietnam chronicles, and his own experience.
“I was almost—I got a draft card and they ended the draft a couple of months of me getting the draft card…As a teenager, that war had a real fascination with—well, more of a terror for me. I’ve often thought what my life would’ve been like had I been drafted. I think about that still,” he said.
Part one of “Songbird Road” ended with the Big Three finding Nicky, alone, drunk and contemplating suicide. Had they not shown up for another conversation, Dunne said he thinks Nicky would’ve pulled the trigger.
“He was alone in his environment where he felt safe and I think when the Big Three descended on him, all of that was disrupted. And he relived what happened. He found out his brother had died, and he never had a chance to tell him. I think their visit was just completely overwhelming,” Dunne said. “He was left far worse by their visit.”
But he didn’t kill himself. And he lived to meet Jack’s wife, Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore . The two characters have an intense conversation about Jack, and Rebecca had a lot of pain regarding Nicky and why Jack kept this secret from her. Dunne said working with Moore was “like music.”
“We didn’t really plan anything. We both sort of understood the circumstance. She’s like an open-faced sandwich of just emotion and clarity. You look in those eyes, and there’s a moment where I kind of turn on her and make a disparaging comment about her son and the look on her face—I mean, I felt, personally as Griffin, like, ‘Oh god, did I go too far?’ She’s just so present that the scene, despite all the emotions, it came to both of us quite easily. We were able to calibrate just how far in which direction to go without having too much discussion about it. It was a delight,” he said.
As for where Nicky goes from here, Dunne isn’t sure. He’d like to return, and the producers want him back too.
“Well, for now, I think you take Nicky at face value. He’s sort of reached his limit and given the family all he can at this time, but who’s to say, you know, life is long, and an our show is going to be around for a while. So maybe he circles back,” executive producer Isaac Aptaker said at the 2019 Television Critic’s Association Press Tour.
“We hope it’ll be around for a while. That’s our plan,” executive producer Elizabeth Berger added.
“I think he was left kind of wanting something that he didn’t know he wanted, which was a connection to his family. I think that’s also what the intrusion was, if they never visited him, he could’ve just gone on with his life and die alone in his trailer…but now he’s been approached with something he can’t ignore: a family that had never been part of his life and showing him a life, his own life, that had never been lived,” Dunne told us. “I just think he was left twice as lonely than before their visit.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays, 9 p.m. on NBC.
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