'This Is Us' : Griffin Dunne on Nicky 'Finding Love' with His Future Wife — 'There's No Age Limit'

"You're going to see, even Kevin's going to go, 'Oh my God, this guy's a ladies' man.' Once he's found a woman, he's not so shy anymore," Griffin Dunne tells PEOPLE about Nicky in season 6

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Photo: joe pugliese/ NBC

This Is Us had fans falling in love.

Tuesday's episode, titled "One Giant Leap," told two romantic love stories, one between young people with Deja (Lyric Ross) and Malik (Asante Blackk), and the other between older people as Nicky (Griffin Dunne) and Sally (Dey Young) finally reunited after 50 years with help from Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Miguel (Jon Huertas).

The innocence of falling in love for the first time was told through both generations. Deja traveled from Philadelphia to Boston, albeit lying to Randall (Sterling K. Brown) for the first time, to spend quality time with her boyfriend, who has been studying at Harvard. In addition to meeting Jennifer (Zuri Starks), the mother of his daughter Janelle, Deja spends an unforgettable night with Malik.

Meanwhile, in California, Nicky coaxed Rebecca and Miguel on a road trip to Sally's home. Last season, fans learned about Nicky's first love, when a younger version of him, played by Michael Angarano, worked at a veterinarian's office. There, Nicky met Sally, whom he bonded with and spent nights staring up at the moon from the back of Sally's van named Pearl. While they were dating, she asked him to drive cross country and go to California with her. However, at the time, Nicky felt too insecure about not fitting in and ultimately stood her up. Soon after, he was drafted into the Vietnam War and left his memories of Sally behind.

Also in the episode, audiences learned more about Rebecca and Miguel's love story, including their love of salsa dancing and new details of their wedding. As the Pearson matriarch reflected on growing old, she also said that she felt her best years were with her late husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) while Miguel has a more difficult road ahead with her Alzheimer's prognosis.

Below, Dunne, who first joined the cast as Jack's younger brother in season 3, tells PEOPLE all about Nicky's one giant leap to see Sally again and finally learning the identity of Nicky's future wife Edie (Vanessa Bell Calloway), the lovely flight attendant who was revealed at the end of the episode and in the flashforward scene.

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PEOPLE: This episode finally answers the questions: Who Nicky is married to? And who is in the white car at the future house?

GRIFFIN DUNNE: Certainly, yeah. They put that to bed. I hope the audience will be as surprised as I was when I read the script. I didn't see it coming at all.

What was your reaction when you first read the script for this Nicky-centric episode about a road trip love story?

I'm sitting there reading the script, not knowing at all where it's going. Then I think, "Oh, look, I finally meet Sally." And "Oh, no, she's married. Oh, I guess it's not going to happen." Then I'm like, "Wow, all that talk and that's what happened. Not at all what I pictured." And then it went a step further with what I didn't picture, that it was Edie and [Nicky] was being a grumpy passenger. The moment Nicky saw Edie... I felt like I hadn't been able to smile much in this [as Nicky]. I, kind of like, get to be playful, where I'm just a giddy teenager. It's really fun, how love can do that. It just lightens your load.

Do you think Nicky would've ever been able to meet Sally if he wasn't with Rebecca and Miguel?

Not a chance, not a chance. He would've failed so much sooner, and it would've been his narrative that he would've just mumbled and complained about it to anyone who listened.It could never have happened, Nicky would've never made it. And you know, that's what's so sweet.

I love working with Mandy so much, she has that kind of heart and compassion that Rebecca has, she really is in alignment with what Mandy is all about. She's very, very caring. I love when we talk and we ask about each other's families. It occurred to me — and I speak to Mandy in a very particular way — it wasn't until recently [when] we had a press event and there I saw Mandy, like, "Oh my God, you're like 30 years old!" All I see her in is in the age makeup and, quite honestly, she reminds me so much of my mother. They were so similar and they look so similar when Mandy is in the age makeup. So then I see Mandy at a red carpet thing, she's this hot young actress in this beautiful dress. And I go, "My God, I keep forgetting that's who you really are." [laughs]

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During the awkward dinner, Sally airs her dirty laundry and admits to being unhappy in her marriage. Meanwhile, Nicky has been pining for her for 50 years and has no regrets about it. Sally is confronting a regret in her life while Nicky's long dream to see her became reality. Why do you think that scene was important?

That dinner table scene kind of read for us, like a one-act Pirandello play. We were just sort of in this existential state, each of us having our moment of sharing. So the scene itself came from several different points of view, but I thought it was a wonderful insight, a wise insight, of Nicky's to recognize that hope. Even if it isn't fulfilled, hope is what kept him and what keeps us all going. Without it, we're nothing.

When we first saw Nicky in the show, when he was introduced to the Big Three, he was a guy alone drinking in a trailer with only a pistol to keep him company. I think his life was saved. As he became more comfortable in this family, I think he allowed himself to hope and remember the things that he had before, of when he was a young man in love and life before the war. Hope is what kept him going. And again, that wouldn't have happened unless he was saved by the Big Three.

Sally also kept a photo of him from their night in her van 50 years ago. After the dinner at her home and seeing that photo, did Nicky finally get closure?

Yeah, I think the closure happens. It's almost like he earns the right to recognize Edie by closing this chapter. When he gets in the back seat of the car, it's like he completed something. He completed a circle. He might not have walked away with the girl, but he found out what happened to her. He closed something, a chapter in his life, where he doesn't have to think about regret and he could forgive himself, not punish himself. It was an enormously satisfying moment in Nicky's life. It's a cliché, but it's true: You let go of something, something else comes flying through the window. I don't think he could have recognized an opportunity of love coming from an unexpected direction, had he not let it go with Sally.

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Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Nicky's opening line to Edie was so smooth in comparison to his greeting at Sally's door. From what you know about the final season, how will Nicky and Edie's romance be explored?

You're going to see, even Kevin's going to go, "Oh my God, this guy's a ladies' man." Once he's found a woman, he's not so shy anymore. He's a romantic. He's all in, once he's in love.

Nicky was first introduced in season 3. In season 5's "One Small Step" episode, it showed his efforts at multiple life stages to make a big change. This one is titled "One Giant Leap," how would you describe Nicky's growth? Would you still call him complicated, fragile, endearing?

He's a work in progress. I think this is a real gift that he's moved on. He's evolved enough to let himself accept, but he's human and complicated. Just because that happens... you still have your torments and your insecurities, struggling with not picking up a bottle and all that kind of stuff. I think his shrink, if he had one, would be very proud of him.

I love that the moon has been such a symbol for Nicky. Does this episode close that chapter about how significant the moon has been? Is Edie his ultimate moon?

Without a doubt, I think very much so. I don't know how conscious it was that she is in aviation and flying so close to the stars and the moon. Makes it even more fitting.

How do you feel about older people, like Nicky who've experienced regrets and loss in life, finding love again?

I think it's great, it's entirely possible. I don't dwell on this too much, but I recognize that Nicky represents people of a certain age and [people of] experience having a real strong connection to Nicky's journey. When I'm in airports going from place to place, or I go to the World War II Museum in New Orleans, I am approached as if I was a veteran of the war, as if I have suffered from PTSD. I'm thanked for representing veterans. I kind of feel like maybe this is like an extension of that too, of a guy in his 70s finding The One. That would be great if men and women take hope from that or relate to that and go, "Yeah, that's luckily who I'm sharing my bed with, I found that too." There's no age limit on finding love and everyone deserves it.

When will we see Nicky next?

I don't know, I don't. I wish I did. I keep trying to find out. [laughs] I know we will and I know that certain things are laid up in terms of getting the future house in order and stuff like that, but I don't know anything specific.

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

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