The incredibly successful drama This is Us chronicles the multi-generational journey of the Pearson family – Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and their three children, Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K Brown).
Both creator and executive producer of the series, Dan Fogelman, and star Mandy Moore came to the TV Critics tour to discuss season 4, which resumes on NBC Tuesday, January 14th, 2020.
Dan, in the beginning of this season, I enjoyed the way that you introduced the grown up grandkids story. But is there a danger that the show becomes so complex that it’s harder for new viewers to understand what’s happening. How do you ride that line between keeping the show interesting and unexpected for longtime fans, but not making the stories get so complex that it’s harder for new viewers to check it out?
Dan Fogelman: I think if you’re coming to the show now in episode 71 for the first time, you’re going to have a difficult time figuring out what the hell is going on.
We knew it was going to be risky to have an opening episode with all these new characters, believing that we can pull off an ending that made it all worthwhile and set up our season.
I continue to say it over and over again for all the people who talk about the nature of broadcast television and network television not taking any risks. Take, arguably, the biggest show on network television that’s very expensive, I’m sure it costs a lot of money to buy advertisements, and then tell them that Justin, Sterling and Chrissy, are not going to be in the big season premiere of the episode. That’s a big deal, and we’ve done that over and over again, because NBC has never batted an eye or said, ‘Hey, don’t do that.’
Mandy, I am truly amazed at you playing your younger self and then your much older self. How unnerving is it? And when your character has those memory lapses, does it affect you in some way?
Mandy Moore: It’s thrilling and unnerving and everything in between. It makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to do this. It is the job of a lifetime portraying this matriarch, it really is.
When I slip on that wig and those prosthetics and sit through that process, it’s how I know Sterling. It’s how I know Justin. It’s how I know Chrissy. That’s my relationship (with them) outside of that here today. (This) is something completely different.
But when we’re working together, it’s the only way that I know them. So it’s so comfortable and familiar at this point; almost more comfortable and familiar than the other ages. I feel like especially in this season we’ve been living in that world, present day, a lot more.
Did you do research on dementia?
Mandy: In terms of what Rebecca finds herself ailed with and what she’s suffering through, it’s something that I have done a lot of research on and something I’ve paid a careful amount of attention to. (I’ve watched) podcasts and documentaries and (read) books. I want to thoughtfully approach what Rebecca is going through at this stage in her life with as much care and consideration.
I can’t imagine being in that position. And I don’t want to speak too much to it, because obviously I want people to watch the season unfold and this journey that she’s on with her family. But I think it’s something we all have talked a great deal about. And I think in typical This Is Us fashion, we’re able to deal with issues across the board in a very graceful manner.
On the brighter side, what is the most fun thing about being your younger self and grooving to the oldies?
Mandy: I like that, grooving to the oldies.
Honestly, I guess on a very surface level, it’s so much fun to go through hair, makeup and wardrobe and to watch the character come to life in different iterations, living in those different worlds and those different times.
We have an incredibly, impeccably talented cast of younger actors at different ages, the teens and the 12 year olds. The fact that I’m lucky enough to get to work with everyone across the board is my favorite part of the job.
Dan: I say it all the time, and I just can’t speak enough about all the cast, but what Mandy does is really extraordinary in the show. This is a 32 year old woman.
Mandy: 35. But thank you.
Dan: I knew you were 35. I’m looking at the performance when I’m in the edit bay, going, ‘Oh, did I like that take of older Rebecca or that take?’ And I’m no longer even contemplating the fact that it’s a 35 year old woman playing the part. I think it’s really extraordinary work.
Dan, I don’t know how much you keep up with the fan theories, but there are a couple of interesting ones. One is that This Is Us is actually the story the kids are telling to Rebecca later in life. And there’s another theory that maybe the whole series is all in Jack’s head. It’s his vision of the future.
Dan: No. We don’t have anything coming at the end like that.
I don’t think we’re going to pull the wool out of what the narrative thread of the story is. Obviously we’re treading with Rebecca, Mandy’s character. This show has always been about time, memory and nostalgia; the way you look back and forward at your family. And so there are elements of that without the device of the questions you just asked that are coming, but not quite like, oh, this whole thing has been inside somebody’s head.
Mandy, you’re getting ready for a major concert tour, which begins on March 20th. That’s something you haven’t done before. How is all of this coming together for you right now?
Mandy: I continue to feel like the luckiest person on the planet to be a part of this show, with this cast, with this family. And the fact that I’m able to revisit music and have all this other stuff happening in life is pretty fantastic.
The show keeps us all so emotionally and creatively fulfilled that there’s really no need to have anything on the outside happening beyond what we get to do for eight months of the year.
And yet there is something happening on the outside. Do you have enough time as far as the rehearsal right now, or is that still far enough off?
Mandy: Now you’re stressing me out. I don’t know. To be quite honest, I’m super focused. We have five episodes left this season. We’re still in the midst of filming. And I know there are very ambitious things happening for the rest of the season, so I want to focus on that, and the other stuff will happen when it’s supposed to.