Jennifer Morrison Opens Up About Researching for Her 'This Is Us' Role

Jim Halterman
Preview Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Life is hard for Afghanistan War veteran Cassidy Sharp (Jennifer Morrison, in her first TV role since ABC's Once Upon a Time). But on the upside for the new This Is Us character — who is not related to the Pearsons — her difficult reentry as a civilian in Pennsylvania makes her a worthy addition to the deeply felt family drama.

As we learned in September's Season 4 premiere, Sharp's struggles with PTSD have led to a separation from her concerned husband, Ryan (Nick Wechsler, above, with Jaxson Difilippo and Morrison), and 9-year-old son, Matty. "Cassidy is someone who has been self-medicating with alcohol and hides it well," Morrison explains. "But she can't really hide stuff from her husband."

Seeking counseling at a U.S. Veterans Affairs office has put her in the path of volatile Vietnam vet Nicky Pearson (Griffin Dunne), the brother who Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) said — falsely — had been killed in action. Last season, we learned Nicky was alive and that Jack had severed ties with him after Nicky caused the death of a civilian child. 

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"No matter what war it is you've lived through, you face some of the same challenges when you return home," Morrison says of the characters' intersecting stories. Sharp may also learn she has something in common with Nicky's movie-star nephew, recovering addict Kevin (Justin Hartley), who has returned to PA from L.A. to help his emotionally fragile uncle. "There's a lot of parallels, for sure," Morrison admits. 

To get inside a soldier's mind, the actress leaned on research from the show's military consultant, writers and detail-oriented costume and prop departments. She did her own digging too, following female service members on Instagram and reading various memoirs. "I put together different memories and things from those that would be good [emotional] touchstones for Cassidy," she says. Talking logistics on set with extras who were real veterans also helped. 

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Dan Fogelman, creator of the Emmy-winning series, generously shared the character's military backstory with Morrison. But how much does she know about Sharp's future? "Because Cassidy doesn't know where she's headed, I like not quite knowing where it's going," Morrison insists. "All possibilities are possible in any given moment."

This Is UsTuesdays, 9/8c, NBC