This Is Us was nominated in the Outstanding Drama Series category, and becomes the first Big Four network to get a nomination in six years. How greatly are the odds stacked against it?
The odds are stacked against us. We’re not the sexy show. We’re not the show that the L.A, critical scene necessarily is championing, and there’s a lot of good shows out there. I mean, I love me some Handmaid’s [Tale]. Ryan [Michelle Bathe, his wife] and I just finished watching it, and it’s a dope show… I think in this particular situation — and it sounds so cliché, but I hold to it — it is an honor just to be nominated. The fact that we got that recognition means a lot. The fact that we didn’t receive any recognition in terms of the writing and the directing probably means that we’re a long shot, but we get a chance to go to the party as a group, and I’m alright with that.
People responded so passionately and emotionally to Randall. Was there a part of Randall that fans responded to that you weren’t expecting would evoke such a universal feeling?
When people who have gone through anxiety said, “I haven’t seen this on TV. Thank you for representing it as well as you did, and making me not feel as if something is wrong with me.” You often have this feeling that it’s just me, and then you get a chance to see somebody else go through what it is that you go through, and then you feel like you’re not alone again. I am always really, really proud of an opportunity to tell people that they’re not alone.
I have moments where I feel overwhelmed and I can go inside of myself, maybe not to the same degree in which Randall does. I have family members who have social anxiety disorders, et cetera, and I have witnessed it firsthand, and I know — because the wounds aren’t visible, because it’s something that’s more internal — it doesn’t get the same sort of respect and acknowledgement that a broken leg can get, because you can see [that]. I wanted to try to do it in a way in which people could see themselves in it. So, it was surprising, but also greatly gratifying that folks felt connected to that.
What scene from season 1 were you most proud of?
You have to submit an episode for [Emmy] consideration, and I did submit “Memphis.” I feel like it was the pinnacle of the journey that culminated throughout the season between William and Randall. And it was the thing that sort of jumpstarted us into Randall’s life, the fact that he had found his biological father. What I love about the episode, truly, is that the majority of the episode is full of so much joy and liveliness. It’s about enjoying the time that you have with someone — not even knowing; William definitely knew more than Randall did when the journey began — and that’s what it was like as an actor too… But the scene I’m most proud of? “Memphis” has a lot of scenes in it, but maybe slightly above something from “Memphis” would be in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” immediately prior, [when Randall is] talking to Kevin [Justin Hartley] on the phone. Just the incapacitation of anxiety and the overwhelming feeling that he had, that he just couldn’t do anything, and Randall could feel it coming on and was trying to observe social graces and tell him, “I won’t be able to make it [to the play],” and not being able to tell him why he won’t be able to make it. But then [Kevin] knowing — honestly, when I see him run down the street, I start bawling like a little baby because my brother’s got my back. I feel like the two of us together in that scene were able to create something really, really special.
What was the scene from season 1 that challenged you the most? Perhaps one that was hard to wrap your head around or one that took a while to crack.
[Deep breath.] Boy, there’s a couple of scenes that come to mind. First of all, was ‘”Pilgrim Rick,” at the Thanksgiving table, telling my mom, “Why is there a picture of me at William’s house?” And that was tough because it required a lot of focus, and it required me for the first time to not be warm on set. [Laughs.] I was very focused, and I wouldn’t talk to Mandy [Moore], and folks could tell, “Oh, Brown’s not his normal, bubbly self,” because it was about to go down. I was like, “I am feeling betrayed, I’m feeling unsafe, and everybody is about to know it.” And there would be a couple of times where there would be chatter on set, and I will, with kindness, but also letting it known that it is a true desire, need people to be quiet. So, I’ll say, “Quiet please, everyone! Need to concentrate!” [Laughs.] And folks will oblige, and then the tone of everything shifts. And I purposely changed the tone of the room because there’s something that I need to accomplish, and it’s easier for me to do it with a certain level of focus. And it went well.
And then number two was the Christmas episode [“Last Christmas,” with] Jimmy Simpson [who guest-starred as his suicidal co-worker, Andy] on the rooftop. Trying to get Andy not to jump, for a couple of reasons, was a long scene. The way that episode was laid out, it had these chapters — you followed one story line for seven, eight pages and then it was over, and then another seven, eight pages for a different storyline. It was a very full scene, and I love Jimmy; we’ve known each other since the Williamstown Theatre Festival, summer of 1999, when we were both in a non-equity company. So, it was great to be reunited with a friend, and someone whose work who I respect so much. But there was a lot of concentration, a lot of lines, very little time to do it. Just wanting to get it right. That sounds like Randall in his pursuit of perfection, and I think there’s an added sort of pressure when you’re like, “Oh, this is my buddy, we got to bring it. I got to bring it for him, he’s going to bring it for me.” That scene was tough, and it was also one of those things that I loved so much from reading it. I was like “All right, the only way that I mess this is up is if I don’t step up to the challenge.” And it was also kind of personal. I have a friend named Andrew, who passed away one year out of college, who, it’s inconclusive, but he may have jumped, pushed, or fallen out of the third story of his building where he lived. So, the fact that I was doing this scene, trying to stop Andy from jumping — it sort of resonated on a whole other level for me. And real talk — I had nothing to do with the naming of the character, it was written that way. But when I saw it, I was like, “Certain things are meant to be.”
NEXT PAGE: Brown on the season 2 premiere: ‘The surprise is so big that when Dan wrote the script, he omitted the final scene from the script’