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September 12, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

Milo Ventimiglia has earned his second straight Emmy nomination for his portrayal of beloved Pearson patriarch Jack in a sophomore season that had him confronting his drinking problem and the long-awaited reveal of Jack’s cause of death.

Filming the fire that burned down the Pearson family home and ultimately cost Jack his life due to smoke inhalation was a massive physical challenge for the cast. “We were working with real fire,” Ventimiglia explains to EW in our Awardist video series. “Our live effects crew that were in charge of it were so responsible, but still when you’re staring at a seven-foot wall of flames, it’s hard not to be completely intimidated by the brutal, fierce fear of what that represents.”

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Ventimiglia has always been bowled over by the emotional requirements of the role, and while talking to EW about his experiences on set, he still gets emotional about the pilot. “The scene where I really realized that I connected with Jack the most was the pilot,” he says. “It was the scene where Jack hears that his wife is okay, but he lost a baby…I remember just standing there and just nodding my head and then feeling the wind taken out of me and from that point on, every time it’s action, it’s not even me, it’s just Jack.”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The actor says he faced a similar experience in season 2 when Jack has to confess his struggles with alcoholism to teenage Kate. “When I stepped into that moment, again, Milo takes a back seat and it’s just Jack in this moment,” he says. “It was crushing. It was heartbreaking to feel what Jack felt and the fear he must’ve experienced knowing he’s taking himself out of that hero status for his little girl.”

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Ventimiglia could take home Emmy gold on Monday, Sept. 17 — the awards air live starting at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on NBC (check out the full list of nominees here).

Watch the clip above for more. This Is Us returns for its third season on Sept. 25.

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