Some of the most powerful moments in the episode are watching Rebecca attempt to process the news of Jack’s death. From taking the bite of the candy bar as the doctor tries to deliver the news, to telling him that he had the wrong person and ordering him to get away from her, to walking over to Jack’s hospital room and seeing his lifeless body and losing it, to steeling herself to tell her kids what happened and “ruin” the rest of their lives. What were the challenges in pulling off Rebecca’s shock and denial and grief and acceptance? It’s… a lot.
It’s a lot. But [series creator] Dan Fogelman is brilliant, and like we all say and give him his proper credit: so much of it is on the page. I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility in delivering these moments because they are so integral to who Rebecca is for the rest of her life, at least who we see present day and all of the life that’s lived off camera that we haven’t seen yet — the last 20 years. I really took that to heart and really took that seriously, and just tried to do my best and honor the beautiful work that was on the page. That’s all I could do.
Milo told us that you were surprised that he was lying in the hospital bed when you filmed that moment, saying, “I think she thought she was walking into a blank room, and walking into me, not knowing that the shot was also picking up my reflection, dead-still.” What do you recall of that moment? How did Milo’s presence impact your performance?
I was jarred. I was fully expecting an empty bed, so it shook me even deeper.
Was there a particular moment that was especially difficult to pull off?
No, not really. Everything was just kind of there. I loved the candy bar thing because it was just such an interesting way to get that news. It’s so utterly unfathomable to her that as this doctor is saying what he’s saying, he might as well be speaking jibberish. And she genuinely is like, “I am so sorry. You are talking to the wrong person and this is not appropriate. It’s actually really unprofessional. You’re giving me the news that you should be giving to someone else.” And then it evolves into utter confusion. “Wait, you really don’t remember just talking to me in the room three or four minutes ago with my husband? He has the burn? He’s fine.” To: “You’re wildly inappropriate and you’re really bothering me and this is starting to upset me and I need to go talk to my husband because he’s not going to believe actually what you just told me.” I loved that sequence just in a sense that it felt so true to the different ways people process information and grieve — and just the shock of such an event.
Will Jack’s death hit Rebecca harder, given that she wasn’t there in the room, because she thought the danger had passed?
I don’t think that registers initially. It’s more of a question of, “How was that even a possibility?” It’s not until later that the sheer guilt of not having been there really sets in and haunts her. Or, at least, later in the moment.
And how will the shock of Jack’s death impact Rebecca and her solo parenting in the following days, weeks, months?
I don’t think I have all the answers. I know that this next episode that airs tomorrow I think, dare I say, is even harder to watch than [the Super Bowl episode]. We were talking about it the other day, and the reality is setting in a week later. This man is gone. This family is forever changed. This man who had such a major influence and impact on every member of this family and served such a great purpose in everyone’s life in such a major role. He was “Super Hero Dad,” “Super Hero Father,” and husband. The reality sinking in that this character is no longer on the show moving forward from this period in time is so sad. And I really think that Rebecca is grappling with how she’s so used to being a unit and a twosome, and he is the super parent, and he can do no wrong. I think she just feels like she’s a failure, and she doesn’t know how to do it on her own. These teenagers are out of control and dealing with grief in their own way; they’re bickering and fighting over little things, and one is really stepping up. They’re trying to really digest their grief and figure out how they both need to fulfill the role of man of the house now, but really they’re just 17-year-old boys, and they should just be boys and go out on dates and hang out with their friends and not feel that burden or responsibility. It’s going to be a lot, emotionally, to juggle for this family — in the immediate aftermath, at least.
As she says in the episode: she had to try. Jack didn’t.
Do you blame Crock-Pot just a little bit? Or George the neighbor? If fans have to direct their anger and grief over losing Jack, where should they focus it?
[Laughs.] Nowhere! I don’t think there should be anger or grief at all. It was a tragedy, a plain tragedy. I think, if anything, people should take note to unplug all of their appliances. We all know that: Don’t keep something plugged in even if it’s off. I think it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do as well.
To read why Ventimiglia thinks Jack’s death was “perfect,” click here.
The next episode of This Is Us airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.