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- Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
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SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, “The Game Plan.”
One giant question was answered on Tuesday’s installment of This Is Us — and the answer was one that fans had been fearing.
Ending weeks of speculation, the emotionally charged “The Game Plan” revealed that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is indeed dead, now a collection of ashes in a golden urn resting over the fireplace in daughter Kate’s living room, where she sweetly, dutifully watches football with him every Sunday. Does this development provide an explanation as to why his wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) might be married to Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas)? It does, though not a full one. It also confirms that there will be no happily ever after for the patriarch and matriarch of this epic family love story that you can’t help but root for. (And if you caught last week’s episode, “The Pool,” you know that the Big Three are losing a fun, inspirational, if still-figuring-it-all-out father with a gift for kid connection.)
What did Ventimiglia think about the revelation, which was unspooled as Kate (Chrissy Metz) finally allowed Toby (Chris Sullivan) to join her in her weekly ritual? How much more of Jack (in corporeal form) will we get to see? How did he feel about Toby outfitting Jack with some Steelers gear? EW dialed the dearly departed to discuss “The Game Plan.”
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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The secret is finally out. How do you feel? Any sense of relief that you can talk about it now — at least partially?
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: Yeah, I think a sense of relief, almost like the reveal of the pilot and you understand that this is a family… I guess there is a bit of relief, but it’s also knowing that I’m never going to be with my kids in the present day.
It’s a little bittersweet. I think it’s great that everybody understands where Jack is and what it means, but at the same time, I personally think about, “Well, that means that Jack isn’t around his kids in the present day. When did that happen? When did he pass? At what point did his lessons to those kids stop? Do they take him as just a memory?” Those are the things that I start to consider and wonder.
Before we get into that, let’s back up for a second. The original version of the pilot had a line that revealed that Jack was dead. Did you find out that he wasn’t alive in your first meeting with [series creator] Dan Fogelman, and what was your reaction to that?
No. I didn’t know. Honestly I hadn’t any idea that Jack was gone until after the pilot had been picked up and Dan started explaining more to us actors the idea where he wanted to go in the series. When Dan told me, he goes, “Yeah, Jack dies.” He of course told me when — I know when it all happens — but he said, “But it doesn’t mean you’re not on the show, Milo. You’re still here, but what we want to do is explore that idea of when the lessons of the parent stop. When you have given all you can to those kids and they move forward in life of their own making.”
What did you think of the urn story as a way to reveal Jack’s death and illustrate the deep connection between Kate and Jack?
Jack’s a lot smaller than people thought he would be in present day. [Laughs.] One of my best friends was like, “Even though you weren’t in that scene, I keep picturing you in the scene in that little jar, just little.”
That’s amazing to picture.
Did the producers talk about different ways that they might reveal his death?
Originally I thought it was going to be revealed in the pilot with the line when Randall says, “My dad’s not here anymore,” and then William says, “Your father must have been very proud of you.” [That exchange was in an early version of the pilot but was cut before it aired.] How it came up that it was just going to be through Kate and football and that connection — it was a surprise to me, but an exciting surprise. It reflects on how much Jack meant to his kids, how impactful he was on his children, and even in death he still is a positive impact on them.
Cool move when Toby put the Steelers hat on your urn?
[Laughs.] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
I do approve. I do approve of Toby. He’s a good guy. He loves my daughter, and that’s what’s important.
As you mentioned, we found out only that he’s dead, not how or when he died. What can you hint about that in terms of when those bits of information will come out? And what do you think about the way that they’re planning to do it? How would you sum up the emotional power of that moment?
Wow. I think there’s going to be a whole lot of disrepair and repair that happens between where we see Jack now as well as where his end is met. Of course, at this point, there’s going to be speculation as opposed to the acceptance of, “Oh wow, Jack’s not around.” I would urge people to not worry too much about how and when, and just accept that Jack has limited time, and know that every moment he has with his kids, with his wife, is going to be the most important thing to him.
That’s good advice. What did you think, though, of Dan’s pitch about how Jack ultimately did meet his maker?
There hasn’t been one thing that Dan has offered up to me that I haven’t seen a good truth in the character with. He’s very soulful with his choices and leading this family on the journey that they’re on, and I think he absolutely hit the mark with where Jack ultimately does meet his end.
In one way the information we got explains a little more of Rebecca showing up with Miguel at Randall’s house in the present day and still wearing the necklace, but it doesn’t definitively confirm that the only reason that she’s with Miguel is because he passed away. There still could have been events before he passed away.
Sure. Of course.
You said to people who were jumping to conclusions about Miguel to “just wait.” What would you say about Rebecca ending up with Miguel, with the new information we have?
That’s still something that I don’t even know about. I don’t know how that road is paved, so to say. I’m not sure, and not to take the ignorant road, but I’m like, “Well, Jack passed on, and hopefully he had a good relationship with his best friend and things were on the up and up with his then-wife…” But at that point, Jack is a memory. It’s out of Jack’s hands.
People are still trying to figure out what to make of Miguel…
And that’s the thing. There’s a lot to discover about who Miguel is and how he was involved in the family’s life. That’s where we are even still building from, just nine, ten episodes [into filming], there’s still a lot that’s going to be happening in the past with Miguel and Jack and Rebecca, as well as in the present day. You’re going to learn a lot more about him as you see he’s just “Grandpa” to little Tess and Annie.
NEXT: Ventimiglia on Rebecca’s reluctance to have children[pagebreak]
We also learn this episode Rebecca wasn’t interested in having kids — at least not right away. Did that one catch you off-guard?
It was talked about, where this idea of wanting to have a bigger family came from. Let’s say they didn’t have triplets, but they had one kid. Would they ultimately have three? If I remember right, Dan was saying it was definitely coming from Jack’s side of the family and potentially that Jack didn’t quite have the best of upbringings, so because of that, he wanted that sense of family. He wanted that comfort of family. He’s a very loving man. He’s a very loving man, so I think the idea that Jack has love to give — he would have ended up with a big family, no matter what.
We see that she clearly had musical aspirations which obviously were put on hold to have kids. How much of a source of tension will that be for Jack and Rebecca moving forward in their story?
What we’ve always said is that we’re going to go through a marriage, through the ups and through the downs. There are moments where each of them have to focus on themselves, and ultimately it’s going to impact them in a way that hopefully they can hang onto that spark of love that brought them together and it doesn’t pull them apart.
There’s so much more story to tell about Jack and Rebecca and their impact on the Big Three, but fans are going to want to know that you’ll be sticking around for the long haul. The revelation, while huge in a way, really doesn’t change anything.
No. I mean people already understand that there’s a lot happening in the past with the Big Three. That’s not going to change at all. I think what we’re doing now, though, is again understanding the lesson that it’s a ticking clock for Jack. You know that he’s already passed, and I think people are going to be interested in seeing the moment where he actually dies. At the same time, I think the bigger impact is one of those moments where he’s giving his kids those life lessons that are going to continue on and hold him in that very dear, dear place that they do. At the end of episode 5, when Kevin (Justin Hartley) is giving that big, beautiful speech to Tess and Annie and he says, “My dad’s not around, but he’s with me every day.” I think that’s a very important thing to remember, that even though a loved one can leave us in our lives, how we remember them and how we chose to apply how they lived their lives is often the biggest impact that they can have on anyone. Even bigger than being around to take you to the airport or cook a meal or sit and have more conversation. I think there is something great about appreciating what you can, when you can, with who you can.
The show has been giving you guys some powerhouse monologues. You had a great one in “The Pool.” Kevin has this big moment with his nieces and says, “Just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting, and I think that’s maybe the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no you, me or them, it’s just us.” I’m wondering did that speech resonate to you as just the thesis of the show?
[Laughs.] I think so very much. I mean, even when Dan explained when he was wanting to do this show, this examination of a family from several different angles as well as different generations, it summed it up very clearly. I think it goes back to just a very human place of: How do you live your life hopefully in a positive way being impacted by those that were before you and giving what you can to those who are going to be after you?
In the episode, it’s a little jarring to see Jack and Rebecca partying — Rebecca wakes Jack up on Super Bowl Sunday with a shot — given what we know. Jack has a bit of a drinking problem as we saw in episode 2, but then he cleans up, and in “The Pool,” she offers him a drink that he declines. Is there more to say here about Jack’s alcohol issues moving forward?
I don’t want to say that it’s done, but I also at the same time don’t want to say that it’s going to get any deeper. It’s a very real thing how a person’s actions can impact family life, and Jack having had a problem drinking or becoming less aware of the problems that were happening in his home because he had been staying away. It never seemed like there was a slip-up on Jack’s part. He never left the kids after school and forgot to picking them up because he was drunk. He just wasn’t entirely himself. He wasn’t present, and alcohol always is something that aggravates a situation, but at the same time, sometimes it can be a truth serum. Jack relating to alcohol — it’s not done, but it’s also not going to take over his life. I wouldn’t say that the early days of Jack and Rebecca — how free-spirited Rebecca is — is any indication of Jack having a drink or two or four. I think that may be his youth. That is freedom. That is being able to not have responsibility or only being responsible for yourselves or, at that point, just your wife.
It showed an interesting dimension, too, in that we had compartmentalized Jack’s drinking — that it was his thing —but this was showing it in a little different light.
And it’s also interesting: If Rebecca has a problem with it in ’88, but she didn’t have a problem with it in ’80, who’s made the biggest change? Rebecca… And it’s funny, too. I think a lot of fans have [said], “How could Jack do that? Jack, get back to your family. Jack this and that.” And it’s like, yeah, but now maybe you have a better understanding. Don’t judge until you’ve read the full book.
NEXT: Ventimiglia weighs in on William’s fate[pagebreak]
The episode also gave us our first flash forward and seemed to reveal that William (Ron Cephas Jones) has died. It’s an obvious inevitability based on everything we knew — his diagnosis was confirmed a couple episodes ago — yet it still hits you hard seeing Randall (Sterling K. Brown) packing up his clothes and crying. What were your first thoughts when you saw that?
It’s kind of one of those things you understand, but as an actor on a set, you’re like, “But wait. What happens to Ron? Ron is amazing, and he’s doing this beautiful work. Oh my god, if that’s foreshadowing what’s to come, I hope maybe we’re going to live in a little bit of a flashback with William, because I love Ron and I want to see him stick around.” I don’t know. It’s the nature of television and characters. Some characters are going to go away. Some are going to stick around. Some are going to deviate to different paths. It’s the nature of the business and how storytelling is not just told but experienced.
We also went back in time earlier than we’d ever gone. Not just to Jack and Rebecca before they had kids, but to Rebecca as a kid, and Jack’s grandfather. Does that give the show permission to go anywhere? And are you interested in making an episode that just stays in a particular time period?
Dan has mentioned to us about traveling in different directions and going forward and going back. It’s the idea that you’re not looking at time forward and backward, with your kids ahead of you and your parents behind you; you’re rotating it 90 degrees and seeing everything march forward laterally. I think you’re right. Permission is a very good word. Maybe it does give us permission to explore different generations of the Pearson family, and really going off Kevin’s speech, understand that when we’re dead, we’re not out of the picture.
Was there a moment or line between you and Mandy that you particularly loved in this episode?
I think the one at least for me from Jack to Rebecca is “Between you and the kids, you always win.” It was just something that I know that Dan and I have always spoken about. I think Jack is excited to be a father. I think he’s a fun dad, and we’ve seen that, but he loves his wife. Knowing that is his foundation, it’s going to be interesting to see how Rebecca got to being married to Jack’s best friend still wearing the necklace he gave her.
She definitely needed to hear that in that moment. That was important for Jack to make that statement of purpose. When she says, “I love our life… and I’m so scared of changing it,” he says, “I’m not going to stand for anything changing between us. What we have together, you and me, nothing.” It’s heartbreaking to know that something changed, whatever it was.
And the wild thing is, even early in the episode when Jack admits to his wife, “We’re great together. I wonder if we can’t be even greater.” It’s funny, Rebecca had to hear it, but it was almost like Rebecca wasn’t listening. That’s another question. Rebecca could be Jack’s bottom-line end-all — everything is about Rebecca. Is Jack everything for her, though? It’s a question people should ask themselves. It is this monumental couple, but I’ve always talked about Jack loves his wife. And I know Rebecca loves Jack, but to Jack, Rebecca is everything. But is Jack everything to Rebecca? That’s a good question.
And finally, you’ve said that this was a “painful” episode. If you had to pinpoint it, how many times did you cry?
Three. I give it five tissue boxes. It was Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) when they were on the bathroom floor. Crushed me. Just understanding how their lives are about to change and how they’re actually accepting it. It goes back to that real accepting of what’s put in your path and what you chose to do with that acceptance. It was Kate and Toby, when Kate is talking about how she used to watch the game with her family. It was the very end, when it was going through the memory of the kids and Kevin’s speech. Putting it all together. He walks everybody through not only his acting process, which I think amazingly enough for a sitcom actor, as shallow as he’s possibly displayed in the past, he’s got a lot of depth. He’s got a lot of soul, and it was a really great moment to see that things are not just on the surface with him, but he really cares. He’s got the same heart his brother and sister do… When Justin was reading that speech at the table read, it had just about all of us in tears.
Well, the good news is that we’ve gotten all the cries out now and there are no more coming this season.