What did you make of Nicky’s decision to not cross the Canadian border and instead go to war — presumably to make his dad proud, versus feeling that this was a war that he ideologically believed in? As Dan said, that’s sad.
It is, because when his father says to him, “Make me proud, son,” I think that might be one of the most meaningful things his father ever said to him. The emotional strain that Nicky’s been through as a child has influenced his decision. I think it goes further and deeper than just trying to make his father proud. I think it’s his dynamic with Jack.… It’s disavowing himself from this life that he’s led, which has built him up on broken knees, so to speak. I think he feels like the only way to see this circumstance through is to do it on his own, and I think that’s something he needs to prove to himself more than he does Jack or his father. But those are both heavy influences on why he goes.
In this episode, we see the patterns of Jack’s grandfather that Jack’s dad fell victim to. And in the show, we’ve seen Jack battle alcoholism — but also successfully not to become his father — although he did clearly hold on to that line about a big brother’s only job is to look out for his little brother. What sins of the father have been passed on to Nicky, and the patterns that he may repeat?
[Exhales.] Heavy. Put it this way: There’s a lot about Nicky that he himself doesn’t know about yet. But he’s at that bar, he’s chain-smoking, he’s downing drinks. You can tell he’s got the crumb. Granted, it’s the lottery, so you could have a couple of cigarettes; it’s nervous energy that he’s needing to expend. But you could see a little bit of how his mind works, and how his mind is clearly predisposed to coping. A huge part of this storyline is when Jack gets there, it’s the understanding of while these two are brothers, this dynamic is so complicated — just minus the war, but then throw it into this s—storm of a war and how does Nicky deal with it, and how does Jack deal with it. We already know that Jack’s a great soldier and Nicky’s not a great soldier. He’s actually a terrible solider. So much so that he’s been Article 15’d, which is shame. It’s essentially a step above being dishonorably discharged. So, you have a huge spectrum between the two of them, and they’re both kind of anchors on either side.
You’re going to be filming in Vietnam as this storyline continues.
It’s really exciting. Again, when I thought, “How do you do this on a network television show?” one of the answers they had was, “Well, we’re going to Vietnam.” That says a lot about Dan and the writers and the producers and this show’s desire to be accurate and do this storyline justice.
To that end, how much did it help knowing you have Tim O’Brien consulting on this storyline and co-writing this first episode?
I can’t tell you how beautiful the script was, and how much Tim’s writing helped me understand, only as much as a book could. Tim’s book is so powerful, encompassing in a way. It helped me so much. There’s a chapter in his book dedicated to a guy who’s considering crossing over to Canada. First of all, I read the book before I read the script, fell in love with the book, read multiple chapters multiple times. And then I read the script and it felt like almost an adaptation of the book. So much of Tim’s writing, and especially in The Things They Carried, is about storytelling and about how the stories of the book, while they’re not true, all are true because they’re all coming from something real. So many people asked him why he didn’t write a non-fiction book, and his point is because it’s all happened. And this episode felt exactly like that.
Nicky expressed interest in becoming a medic, which Jack warns him is still a very traumatic part of war. Being exposed to those horrors through that job — is that what breaks him?
Nicky is a medic when he’s Article 15’d — that means he’s been stripped of his duties — but yeah, I think it is part of it. As Tim said, seeing soldiers die on your watch over and over and over again, I think that does something to your brain. It also is perfect for Nicky in a way because he’s trying to fix people, as opposed to fighting. I don’t think Nicky’s a fighter. I think that definitely has taken a big toll on him.
Dan said that we return to Vietnam in episode 7. What should we be bracing for? How do you describe this journey of these brothers?
You’ll start to understand pretty immediately how differently Jack and Nicky have handled the war, and the effect it’s had on Nicky. He’s been there for about a year; Jack has been there only for three to six months. You will see a lot of the dynamic that is already in this episode, of their sibling dynamic and the way they grew up and a little bit of Nicky’s resentment towards Jack. That scene at the mechanic shop, which is Nicky’s first scene — I thought it said so much because we’re so used to seeing Jack say, “I have a plan. I’m going to take care of this.” And Nicky’s calling him out on it, saying, “My own personal Superman, and I’m your Lois Lane.” He’s building Jack up but also seeing through him a little bit. Nicky has this way of seeing through situations. Jack is very earnest, very direct, simple in a lot of ways. And Nicky is hyper-intellectual and very analytical and observant. I think his brain and his heart are his own worst enemy.
For more on “Vietnam,” read what Milo Ventimiglia had to say about the episode.