The mechanical stability and deformability of the cell nucleus are crucial to many biological processes, including migration, proliferation and polarization. In vivo, the cell nucleus is frequently subjected to deformation on a variety of length and time scales, but current techniques for studying nuclear mechanics do not provide access to subnuclear deformation in live functioning cells. Here we introduce arrays of vertical nanopillars as a new method for the in situ study of nuclear deformability and the mechanical coupling between the cell membrane and the nucleus in live cells. Our measurements show that nanopillar-induced nuclear deformation is determined by nuclear stiffness, as well as opposing effects from actin and intermediate filaments. Furthermore, the depth, width and curvature of nuclear deformation can be controlled by varying the geometry of the nanopillar array. Overall, vertical nanopillar arrays constitute a novel approach for non-invasive, subcellular perturbation of nuclear mechanics and mechanotransduction in live cells.