Season 3 of This Is Us has focused on the other Pearson man whose death was surrounded in mystery.
Seen last season only in a photo, Jack’s little brother, Nicky — played by Michael Angarano (Will & Grace, I’m Dying Up Here) — was officially introduced to viewers early in season 3, and they watched him fearfully (and accurately) predict that he would be drafted, and subsequently saw him be destroyed by the Vietnam War as he experienced a disturbing breakdown and fell victim to addiction while serving as a medic. The fall finale ended with an enormous twist: Nicky was revealed to be alive after all, living in a trailer in Bradford, Pennsylvania. In the brief glimpse at current-day Nicky, though, the character was played by Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London, Dallas Buyers Club). Last week’s episode of the NBC family drama featured two visits to Nicky’s sad trailer, one in the early 90s, and one in present day, with Angarano as fortysomething Nicky in the earlier period, and Dunne as Nicky in present day.
How did the producers arrive at the decision to have two actors — the 31-year-old Angarano and 63-year-old Dunne — assume the role of adult Nicky? After all, this is a show that hops decades and its actors play different ages of their characters (minus the child versions). Mandy Moore, 34, stars as young Rebecca as well as present-day Rebecca, who is in her late 60s, and she will play an eightysomething Rebecca in those flash-forwards set two decades into the future. (Yes, two actors play adult William, but it would have strained credibility to have 62-year-old Ron Cephas Jones play twentysomething William, so Jermel Nakia was brought in to tackle that era.) Which leads us back to the question: Was it simply too much of a stretch to have the youthful-looking Angarano play Nicky at age 70? “Exactly,” This Is Us executive producer Issac Aptaker tells EW. “Mandy is such a chameleon. We’re always amazed with what our hair and makeup department are able to do with her. Michael is an incredible actor, and I thought he gave an amazing performance when he’s playing Nicky in his 40s. But at a certain point, he has such a baby face, it just breaks, and hair and makeup can only do so much. We didn’t want it to feel like kids playing old characters in a high school play.”
The show’s producers believed that the only solution was to cast an older actor for those scenes, and TIU‘s casting department suggested Dunne, who, by the way, had even played Angarano’s father in the 2007 film Snow Angels.) “We were looking for someone who (a) had the chops and (b) felt like they could play an older Michael,” says Aptaker. “Once they said the name [Griffin Dunne], we were like, ‘Let’s look at them side by side, because that’s the only way you can know.’ We saw it, and we were like, ‘Oh my god! Yeah! Amazing!’ And we all love him. He’s had such an amazing career, we’ve all loved him in so many things that we were just excited he was willing to come out to California and do it.”
“There was no one way to go with this,” seconds TIU executive producer Elizabeth Berger, “but as we were talking about it, we did come up with Griffin Dunne as a match for Michael and we all got really excited, because they have these similar mannerisms and there’s this kind of uncanny resemblance. It just seemed to make sense to us.”
How much more of both Angarano and Dunne can you expect to see in the role in the near future? TIU‘s next episode resumes the story where it left off, in the present day, with Kevin (Justin Hartley) and his siblings try to help Dunne’s Nicky, and Rebecca seeks more answers about her late husband. But don’t hold your breath for another Angarano appearance in the final batch of episodes this season. “Michael is done with Nicky for the season,” says Aptaker. “We’re not going back to young Nicky. We’re going to play out this present-day Nicky story, and I don’t want to give away exactly how much. There’s more to Nicky than just this. There’s a bigger plan for Nicky.” Adds Berger cryptically: “There’s a larger plan.”
For more from Aptaker and Berger on Jack’s haunting decision to cut off ties with Nicky, head over here.
This Is Us returns Feb. 5.