One of television’s biggest fall hits has a Kansas City connection: Jermel Nakia.
A former student at Lee’s Summit High School, Nakia made his second appearance this week on NBC’s hit family drama “This Is Us.”
“Oh, you better bring out the tissue,” he said of his role in episode 9. “If I have anything to do with it, you might have to go through a box or two.”
At Lee’s Summit High, Nakia was known as Jermel Nakia Fryer. He believes his upbringing in the Kansas City area — “an amazing place to grow up” — has kept him grounded throughout his years spent in Hollywood. He moved to Los Angeles in 1994.
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“It gives you a real strong moral grounding, which has definitely aided me throughout my life,” he said of his Midwest childhood. “In this business, there is so much stuff you can get into.
“Although I have lived here more of my life than I have lived in Missouri, I still hold on to the same sensibilities.”
On “This Is Us,” which follows a family through episodes not in chronological order, Nakia portrays the younger William, who is the biological father of Randall, an African-American adopted as an infant by a white couple played by Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia.
[Spoiler alert!] Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown) grew up thinking that his parents did not know William. But it turns out Randall’s mother, Moore’s character Rebecca, has known William for years, making an agreement with him years ago to not come back for Randall.
Nakia plays the young, drug-addicted William. He first appeared in episode 3.
“This Is Us” debuted in September and became the first scripted show to build upon lead-in singing competition “The Voice” in the 18-49 demographic, according to CNN. Variety reported that the show drew 10.56 million viewers for Tuesday’s episode and deemed it “a shining beacon” for the network.
“I do think that this is just the beginning of a new season for me,” Nakia said. “I’ve been at it for a long time, but this definitely continues to have the wheels spinning for me.”
Nakia’s credits include 2011’s “After the Wizard,” in which he played Scarecrow, who leaves Oz of “The Wizard of Oz” fame with the Tin Woodman to find help ... in Kansas, from a 12-year-old girl.
Though Nakia doesn’t have family in the Kansas City area anymore, he does keep one connection: his 816 area code.
“I just never changed it,” Nakia said. “There was never any reason for me to change it, and I probably never will.”
Where to watch
“This Is Us” airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC.