One thing that is also striking about Rebecca in this time period is how she’s still carrying around grief and loneliness about this death, so many years later. As she tells Randall, the birth of Tess is one of the happiest moments of her life, but “your father isn’t here and that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with the rest of my life.” Did that relationship with Miguel connect her back to Jack in a way but ultimately help her move forward?
I like to think so. We now know at least some of the circumstances and story surrounding Jack’s passing, and it is devastating. Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet as an audience, it is something that lives in Rebecca and haunts her to this very day. It’s such a tragic way to lose somebody. It’s a very mutual benefit for Miguel and Rebecca present-day — to have found each other — and have this level of companionship that they have with one another. In my mind, Jack is the love of her life, and that’s irreplaceable, and that kind of love is once in a lifetime. It’s not to discount the connection that Miguel and Rebecca have, but it’s just different, as any love is. I definitely treat it and think about it and regard it as such, but I think there is a level of comfort for both of them in having to move past losing him, because I think it was just a monumental, life-changing loss for both of them, not just for Rebecca…..
There was a moment — a line — earlier in the episode that got cut out that was where Beth asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “I’m hanging in there.” That’s my rote, usual response. I think at this point in time, she’s probably the loneliest she’s ever been, and that scene with Randall when she breaks the mug on the floor, having just witnessed Tess’ birth, there’s all of this very visceral deep grief that’s sort of surfaced again of how much pain she’s in, how much she really misses her husband, and that realization, like she says, that every happy, joyful moment in life now will be couched with this deep sadness, and it’s bittersweet — “I’m never going to be able to share these moments with your father.” So she’s really accepting that she’s at this next turn in her life, and this next chapter, and there’s a deep abiding loneliness about that.
She still lives in Pittsburgh, she’s by herself, she’s obviously in some small apartment or condo by herself, she doesn’t have grandkids, she probably doesn’t have a ton on her plate. I feel for her. It really weighed on me. And that scene with Beth when she’s like, “I keep hearing about something called Facebook and how it would help me see pictures and feel connected to the world around me and my friends” — oooh, it broke my heart to say those lines, because I could feel that loneliness.
We know about the moon necklace that she still wears, but here, she’s still wearing her wedding ring, too, right? That’s significant.
Yeah. And in my mind, even present-day, she’s definitely still a Pearson. I don’t think she changed her name. I think she’s always going to be Rebecca Pearson. We like to joke with Jon about that, too. The kids like to joke with him, too: “Hey, she’s still a Pearson, bro!” [Laughs] And we joke that maybe Miguel changed his name. Maybe he’s now Miguel Pearson now.
What is Rebecca thinking — and what were you playing — in that final moment of the episode when Miguel reaches out? She initially writes that she’s hanging in there, but erases it and writes, “I’m good. How are you?” She’s obviously caught off-guard to hear from him, but also seems intrigued and pleasantly surprised.
I think I made the connection of, “Oh, this is why people get on this thing! It makes it so accessible to reach out to people that you’ve lost touch with.” I don’t think that she ever thought that this is somebody that would reach out to friend-request her. [Laughs.] I think this is the furthest thing from her mind. It’s not like she signed up for Facebook, thinking, “Oh, this will be a way to reach out and find Miguel again.” In that sense, she’s really caught off-guard. But pleasantly surprised. Like, “Wow, it has been — God! — eight years since we’ve last seen each other and talked? Wow! How are you? What’s happening in your life?”
We learn more about Randall’s emotional history in this episode. Jack accuses Rebecca of handling him like a glass figurine, which she denies at first, but when she puts her foot down with Randall while they’re trick-or-treating, she sees the depth of his rigidity, and how he unravels when a plan doesn’t go exactly as he thought it would. She helped build the foundation for him to protect him, but handling him the way she did, how did her parenting impact him, positively and/or negatively, moving forward?
That’s the trick of this show. That’s what I love so much — seeing ultimately the choices that our parents make and how it fundamentally affects the foundation of everything we are and what we bring to the table later in life. Her relationship with Randall is no exception. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I think she tried her level best to — well, first of all, she just loves him so deeply, and the connection is undeniable. And maybe she is overprotective. She realizes in this episode what Jack is really talking about, in that he has real difficulty in letting go and having the patience to be spontaneous and see how plans could unravel without him really having his nose to the grindstone, so it unfortunately was built into the fiber of who he was. I think that Rebecca and Jack to some extent exacerbated it maybe a little bit, as much as she tried not to, but it was just something that always lived within him. It’s a product of the life he was born into, and his need to persevere and be in control and be a perfectionist. I don’t think that they provided the environment to break him of those habits early enough, but I don’t know. It’s really a question of which came first: the chicken or the egg.
One of the most brutal moments of the episode comes after Rebecca tells Jack that she had to tell Randall about Kyle after the Larsens spill the beans. She does a lovely job of explaining to Randall that he was always supposed to join their family, but as she tells Jack, I don’t know how this would work without you. And he says, “We don’t need to worry about that, because you got me, babe.” I feel like Dan is mean and lives to put people in tears. Do the actors talk about those lines on set, like, ‘You’re killing me, Dan!”?
[Laughs] Sometimes. But also that’s exactly what he would say in that moment. But yes, the audience is obviously going to look toward the future and go like, “Ohhh! Of course!’ But regardless of what happens to him later in life, Jack is the ultimate family man. After being put in that position, as parents, I know this is something that they’ve mulled over and at some point, they are going to have to tell him the full story. Obviously he knows he’s adopted, but he didn’t know the big picture, and it was so nerve-wracking to have to do that alone. As parents, they always considered that they would have this really important moment, and be able to tell him and break the news to him together, and to have to be caught off-guard, and have to do it on the fly, like on Halloween — it was not the greatest situation to find yourself in. So to me, it felt like the perfect response of, no matter what, Jack is always going to be there for his family, and be there for his wife, nobody comes before them. Sometimes we laugh about it, but most of all, it’s like, “That is the perfect Jack Pearson response.”
Rebecca tells Randall, “This wasn’t some big secret we were keeping from you. We always planned on telling you — we were just waiting until you were old enough.” Is she thinking about the bigger secret that she’s keeping from him about William in that moment? Because she winds up using a version of that line later, when the truth comes out about William: “I was just waiting for the right moment to tell you.”
I wasn’t thinking about, no. I’ve talked to some adoptive parents and they have said that talking about their child’s origin story and how they came to be a family was something that they had mulled over and were worried about somebody else spilling the beans before them, and that would be the worst-case scenario, that they wouldn’t be in control of how their child hears that story unfold. And that’s what I was thinking about — God, this isn’t the way that we really wanted this to happen, and I don’t want him to think that we were keeping this a big secret, because it clearly wasn’t. But the idea of William hadn’t even crossed my mind because that is down too deep, burrowed so deeply inside of her that I don’t think she’s really willing to give that up to anybody, not even Jack.
The parallel scenes of Rebecca meeting baby Randall and Tess in the hospital required a tricky, delicate, bittersweet mix of emotions for you to navigate. What resonated with you while shooting that sequence?
Thankfully they were shot separately and we shot the baby Randall part first. It was necessary to have the knowledge and history of that arc in my brain and heart to be able to recognize the significance of being back in the hospital, staring at such a strikingly similar face…. the real start of another chapter all around.