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There’s little doubt that This Is Us boasts one of the strongest casts on television right now. From Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia to Sterling K. Brown and Chrissy Metz, there’s no shortage of talent on that show. But the main cast isn’t where all the talent lies. Not by a long shot. In fact, the supporting cast is incredible, too. And if you broaden your scope a bit and take a deeper look at the show’s flashback scenes, you’ll discover the remarkable talent of actress Laura Niemi, who plays Jack Pearson’s mom, Marilyn.
A native of Los Angeles, Niemi has her hands in lots of creative activities. She’s an actress and musician, as well as a theater enthusiast. She runs a theater and production company and works with writers to bring women’s stories to life. As you can imagine, channeling all that creative passion into women’s stories definitely lends a hand to her role on This Is Us. Marilyn Pearson is, after all, a downtrodden wife and mother whose sons mean the world to her. Naturally, Niemi infuses her performance on the show with the utmost respect and sympathy. And she assured me that her co-star Milo Ventimiglia does exactly the same.
So, what's Ventimiglia like behind the scenes? According to Niemi, he’s simply the best.
“First of all, he’s the greatest number one ever,” Niemi tells me in an exclusive interview for Elite Daily. “And I mean that sincerely, meaning the number one cast member. He is — it’s unbelievable. He takes care of everybody on set. They call him Papa Bear for a reason. He really is so attentive to everybody — cast, crew. Whatever is going on, he’s always trying to make sure that everybody is, you know, okay and has what they need.”
In addition to his concern for his cast and crew, Ventimiglia is also very attentive to those around him and ensures that everything on set goes as smoothly as possible. In Niemi’s view, Ventimiglia’s generosity extends well beyond the person he’s sharing a scene with.
“He is just the most generous human being that way and it’s incredible,” she says. “It really is incredible how he can be thinking a million different things at once while he’s in a scene and somebody, like one of the grips wasn’t using his knees when he was picking up a couch and he’s like, ‘Be careful. Use your knees.’ He’s just always aware of what’s around him. He’s the greatest teammate. So, I mean, I can’t say enough about him.”
As for how Ventimiglia works when filming a scene, Niemi says that he’s an absolute dream in that environment as well — a true team player who makes the This Is Us set as welcoming and supportive as possible.
“A lot of times, you go on set and there’s not a lot of chit-chat. Sometimes, people don’t welcome you,” Niemi said of her experience as an actor. But Ventimiglia gave her a sense of security on This Is Us. “From the gate, that first season, he came up to me and I had done a shoot that he might have seen the dailies for, so I hadn’t worked with him because they had established my teenage son and he just came up to me and just said, ‘You know, I saw your work. It was fantastic.’ He’s just very generous that way.”
When she did have the chance to work with Ventimiglia, he impressed her then, too. As they were about to embark on an important scene for the Vietnam story line in Season 3, Niemi says that Ventimiglia made sure he was very present and in the moment, which helped ease her nerves.
“I was nervous and he just kind of held my gaze before the cameras rolled,” Niemi reveals. “And it was really special because we were both in that moment of, ‘OK, we’re going to tell this story’ and he held my gaze for quite some time and it was just one of those moments as an actor where you go, ‘OK, this guy’s in it with me. He’s really, really in it with me and this is a very intense scene.’ And so, he’s just a very generous actor, very, very generous that way.”
Working with Ventimiglia aside, Niemi describes the atmosphere on the This Is Us set as having a sense of family.
“Both the cast and crew are people I'd want to celebrate the holidays with, I blame Dan Fogelman for that,” she says. “Everyone on set is generous with their time and attention. They all give to help everyone succeed.”
Though fans have only seen Niemi's character on the show a handful of times, the actress is certain that they've already connected with Marilyn. One fan interaction via Facebook left Niemi emotional and more aware than ever of how far-reaching the stories on This Is Us truly are.
"A woman left a message saying, 'Just so you know, we’re a bunch of Muslim women in the southeast and we’re rooting for you,'" Niemi recalls. "And for some reason, that just gave me a lump in my throat. It just really gave me a lump in my throat and that was just really powerful to be able to experience that from other women."
The impact of the show, Niemi says, is definitely going to carry into its third season.
"I think it’s going to be wonderful this season to see where my character goes," Niemi says of Season 3. "It’d be very interesting to me to hear the feedback from other women because as women we can all relate to being in, staying in a relationship that’s dysfunctional and being afraid to get out and staying in unhealthy relationships. Men, too. But I think it’s a little bit more common for women, so that’s been real powerful for me."
You can catch Niemi and the rest of your favorites from This Is Us on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.