‘This Is Us’: The Real Reason Why Nicky Is Played by Two Actors

Nicky Pearsons

This Is Us has wowed audiences with its ability to transcend time to tell the Pearson family story.

Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) younger brother Nicky was first introduced as a little boy, played by Donnie Masihi, during the show’s second season in a flashback sequence. And in Season 3, the series cast I’m Dying Up Here star Michael Angarano as the young adult version of Nicky Pearson, whom viewers, along with Jack’s family, believed died in Vietnam.

Of course, we now know Nicky survived the war and went on to live out his days in a dingy trailer. But when we were introduced to 70-year-old Nicky, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t Angarano aged-up through the magic of makeup.

Griffin Dunne, an entirely new actor, made his debut as Uncle Nicky in “Songbird Road: Part One,” which was a change from how the show typically handles characters aging — via old-age makeup and prosthetics, as done with Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Miguel (Jon Huertas), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and more.

The show’s executive producer Issac Aptaker explained to Entertainment Weekly it wasn’t a personal decision, but rather a visual decision when it came to casting Dunne as present-day Nicky.

Mandy Moore as Rebecca in the past and present

Mandy [Moore] is such a chameleon. We’re always amazed with what our hair and makeup department are able to do with her,” he remarked about the actress, who plays Rebecca at ages 20-something through 60-something. “Michael [Angarano] 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.”

For authenticity reasons, Aptaker explained, “We didn’t want it to feel like kids playing old characters in a high school play.”

In many ways, this is the opposite of Ron Cephas Jones‘ role as Randall’s birth father William, as the make-up department couldn’t reverse-age the actor. Instead, they had to hire Jermel Nakia to play the younger version of the character. But apart from William and Nicky, all of the adult actors portray their characters into old age, as well.

Despite the need to cast an older actor to play older Nicky, fellow EP Elizabeth Berger said it couldn’t have worked out better, as Dunne and Angarano look so similar.

“There was no one way to go with this,” she said, “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.”

This Is Us, Season 3 Returns, Tuesday, February 12, 9/8c, NBC