'This Is Us': Griffin Dunne on Charting Nicky's Heartbreaking Journey and If He'll Return (Exclusive)

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This Is Us
NBC

Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday's episode of This Is Us.

Nicky Pearson's story presumably ended in heartbreaking fashion on the latest episode of This Is Us but left the door open for a possible revisit.

In Tuesday's hour, titled "Songbird Road: Part Two," the final installment of the two-part arc saw Jack's estranged brother, Nicky (Griffin Dunne), meeting his Pearson family members for the very first time. But it wasn't a happy family reunion. Not by a long shot. After finding him with pistol in hand and a glass of booze in the other, Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) persuaded him to stay at the hotel with them as they enacted a plan of action to get him help and out of the leaky trailer he's called home for decades following the Vietnam War. It was also the first time Nicky met and spent time with Jack's wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and to say their meeting was tense is an understatement. 

While Nicky ultimately didn't change or accept most of their help, only agreeing in the end to go to one Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and to let Kevin help patch up the hole in his trailer, it appeared there was much more to mine for Nicky and the Pearson family he never knew. Dunne, who was deeply entranced by the character's tragic backstory and who himself was almost drafted into the Vietnam War, recently jumped on the phone with ET to chat about Tuesday's episode, how Nicky and Jack's final conversation should have gone, if Nicky is to blame for Kevin's relapse and whether his story is over.

ET: It's been interesting charting how the Vietnam War really affected Nicky, just from one tragic accident with the boy on the boat, how that has shaped him to the present day. What was your understanding of how Nicky has dealt with the boy's death in the years that followed? 

Griffin Dunne: The war and his experience with the war with the death of the little kid was wearing him down and taking his soul, as it does for so many veterans who have seen a lot of combat. That war in particular had a lot of accessibility to all kinds of drugs, and many soldiers anesthetize themselves from the day to day terror dealing with boredom one minute to battles and explosions the next that come out of nowhere. I think he would have been traumatized in any case. Then this terrible thing that he was responsible for, as a result of his drug-taking, was not only tragic for him being responsible for killing this boy, but it also ended his relationship with his brother, who cut him out and never looked back. He not only lost the young boy, but he lost whatever family connection he would ever have. He loves his brother and he realizes that he was looking out for him, and there was nothing more he could do about it. It's tragic on so many levels.

If Nicky had the chance to say one last thing to his brother, what would he say? 

A lot of time would have to go by before he would tell him [what actually happened on the boat] and feel he was being heard. Everything he said in the aftermath would've just been another excuse, deflection, lie, betrayal -- everything he's been doing up until that point. Jack wouldn't believe him or want to hear it. I think he was going to tell Jack when Jack showed up in 1992 after finally responding to all the postcards, but when Nicky looked at that photo of Rebecca and he saw that house in the background and he saw these children that he was the uncle of and the life he missed out on that he'll never get back, I think that's when he decided to cut himself off. It was too painful. It was another reawakening of that inciting incident and he couldn't look at Jack, which is why it ended so badly. It led to even more isolation and pain and alcohol.

But have you thought about that last conversation you'd like to have seen between Nicky and Jack?

I think Nicky would tell Jack what happened and not make it sound like, "It's not my fault," because that's what he would probably be afraid of having Jack say. He would try to own it. I don't think Jack would want to hear it right off. Nicky would have to be aggressive about telling him, something that is so painful for him to think about, but he would have forced himself. It wouldn't have been a quick conversation. It would have been a lot of struggle to get the information and a lot of struggle to be heard that might have led to a lot of conflict and maybe not resolution.

Nicky also got to meet Rebecca for the first time, as well as Jack's kids: Randall, Kate and Kevin. What did those scenes represent to you?

That's what was so great about this part. To play someone who hasn't heard his own voice speaking to someone else, let alone someone from his past and family members he's never met. To be descended on like this and disrupting his survival. He's living [in the trailer] to survive from day to day, who seem to want something from him. It was an emotional culture shock. It was a great part to play because so much of it involved wanting to shut them out and another moment wanting to know information from them and then wishing they would leave and then being afraid that they would leave. Not wanting to need something from them and being resentful that you felt that way. 

At the end of the episode, it appeared that Kevin's unsuccessful attempt at trying to "fix" Nicky, as he says, leads him back to possibly heading down the spiral of his alcohol addiction. We see him taking a drink in Nicky's trailer. Is Nicky the catalyst for Kevin's relapse?

I think so. Kevin probably saw a bit of himself in Nicky and I think he put a lot of hope that in finding Nicky would fill a hole in himself and answer things about his own life and family, and have it be a healing moment. When he saw Nicky's condition and he saw that Nicky couldn't help him fill that hole inside himself, I think, like most alcoholics, it's the first thing they see; when they check in the hotel room, they check the minibar, so he saw that bottle from the first visit. I think it had a profound effect on Kevin, seeing Nicky, and it brought up the loss of his father, things that might have been and I think he was dying for a drink afterwards.

Is Nicky's story over? Could we see you return?

You'll just have to tune in to see.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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