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How This Is Us Created Its Vietnam Story Line for Season 3

This Is Us. Photo: NBC

Beloved patriarch and wearer of facial hair Jack Pearson is known for throwing his all into every life experience, and it seems his tour of duty in the Vietnam War will be no different. At an Emmy consideration event on Monday, star Milo Ventimiglia told Vulture that he tapped his own father’s emotional experience in the war to inform Jack’s story. “It’s going to be about his time in Vietnam, it’s going to be about what happened to his brother,” Ventimiglia said of the plotline promised at the close of the second season. The arc is set before he meets Rebecca, the love of his life and mother of his children, and while his younger brother Nicky — to be played by I’m Dying Up Here’s Michael Angarano — is still alive and at his side during the war. “How did he lose his brother?” said Ventimiglia. “That’s what I think at least for Jack what we’re really going to want to pay attention to. It’s just a pretty impactful thing to have loss at that level.”

The show’s producers said that the depiction of Jack’s service during season three would be ambitious on both a story and production level. “We’re trying to really break some barriers for network television, in terms of creating something that’s so period, and so overseas,” executive producer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker told Vulture, hinting at a sweeping scope to the story arc. “It’s a real timeline that we’re going to live in and devote some serious episodes to. So it’s going to be a very fully real-life world. It’s not just little moments.”

Executive producer and co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger told Vulture that the young writing staff was committed to getting the details of servicemen’s experiences right, so they turned to an acknowledged expert. “The name we kept saying was, ‘We need Tim O’Brien,’ who is this premier author on Vietnam and a former vet, but that seemed like too good to be true. That was like our dream — and then we got him,” explains Berger. “That’s been incredible, because we never want to take anything on that we can’t do authentically, and I think he’s giving it that stamp of authenticity.”

Ventimiglia said he sees clear parallels between Jack and his own father, Peter Ventimiglia, which he’s applied to his performance. “Jack is a man who has this heart of gold,” he said. “He outshines a lot of adversity that he’s up against, and the one thing that I know my father said about his time in Vietnam was he was surprised that such a beautiful people and such a beautiful culture could be caught up in such a horrific war. I know from what I’ve read already of the Vietnam storyline, Jack feels the same. Jack is a very caring, loving, nurturing man, and he has the same sentiment my father shared with me about this horrible war that he was in,” the actor continued. “So without specifics, it’s understanding that that war is a pretty horrible thing.”

A clip for the first episode shown at the event featured a scene from Jack and Rebecca’s very first date, shortly after he’s returned from the war, and it’s clear he’s struggling to find his footing now that he’s back home. “I don’t like talking about the war or my brother,” Jack tells her. “It makes me sad. It makes me angry. But I like talking to you, a lot.”

Jack’s son Kevin, played by Justin Hartley, will also journey to Vietnam in the present day to connect with his late father’s experience, and the production expects to shoot sequences in the Asian nation as well. “Justin’s heading there, Milo’s potentially heading there, [and] maybe some of our other cast members,” series creator Dan Fogelman said on stage during the event.

How This Is Us Wrote Its Vietnam Story Line for Season 3