Inside Michael Angarano'S Intense Weight-Loss Preparation To Play Nicky Pearson
When Michael Angarano was handed the This Is Us season 3 script, he had already studied up on a lot of material around the Vietnam War. He read Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried to gain more perspective surrounding the anxiety, trauma, and compounded drug use that his character Nicky would experience. He was ready in so many ways. But there was one word about Nicky's physical description that he found particularly problematic: gaunt.
Only one week away from when the This Is Us crew was scheduled to start shooting his scenes, Michael explains that he didn't feel at all like his body could be described using that word.
"There wasn't anything that I had done, or started to prepare me to look ‘gaunt,'" Michael recalls. "There was something that had to be done that would be a sign that Nicky had not only gone through something emotionally, but physically, as well ... I knew I had to get to a different place.”
And so, Michael took the script to director-producer Ken Olin and show runner Elizabeth Berger for a talk. A group decision was made then and there that Michael's hair would have to be shorter, and he would need to lose weight to better resemble his struggling character — as he put it, "it was seemingly necessary for the part."
He began immediately consulting his trainer, Gabe Johns, who he had used before when he needed to put on muscle for a different role. Michael was instantly placed on a "very strict diet," where he had to meticulously count calories and forego many of his favorite foods, like pasta. Luckily, Nicky's pre-Vietnam scenes were shot first — including when Nicky finds out he's been drafted and he's in the living room with his parents and his older brother, Jack. Michael could buy a little time as he worked constantly behind the scenes to lose weight. All in all, over the course of three to four months, Michael ended up losing about 20 pounds.
"You can actually see it, just in my face from the first episode until the last," Michael says. "On set, I felt depleted of energy and that I needed to eat."
But Michael doesn't necessarily pin his fatigue on having to diet, though. Off camera, he says he "felt really great" from eating less pasta. After he talked with Griffin Dunne, who plays the older version of Nicky, he knew that the weariness came from a totally different place.
"There is something about the head space of the character and the heaviness of the storyline and the toll it’s taken on him emotionally," Michael reveals. "That was more tiring than anything else."
The struggle ended up paying off in Michael's eyes. Looking back on his experience portraying young Nicky and filming with Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack, Michael says he is truly proud of the storyline they were able to create."One afternoon, in the middle of a pretty long and challenging day, a Set P.A. was walking me to set and she said, 'I hope this isn’t inappropriate of me to say, but on behalf of the crew, I want to say thank you for working so hard on this role. A lot of us have been anticipating this storyline since season 1 and we’re all really grateful they cast you. And we think you’re really bringing Nicky to life in a beautiful way.' I said, 'Um, wow. Thank YOU?'"
Moments like these made Michael appreciate his time developing Nicky — though, as he hints, his character has an even greater part to play in season 4 and beyond.
"He’s another connection to Jack. He knew a part of Jack that nobody else did, not even Rebecca. He’s the missing link to the family that nobody knew was missing," Michael reasons. "I think Nicky will bring a lot of understanding and depth to the show in an unexpected way."
While it might not be his portrayal of young Nicky who provides The Big Three with greater knowledge about Jack, he knows the character is in great hands.
"I’ve been a fan of Griffin's ever since I watched After Hours as a kid, and being able to work with him in Snow Angels ... I think the writers have some big plans for Nicky."