It was the feel-good scene of the century. Or at least of two seasons of This Is Us.
In the season 2 finale of the NBC family drama, deep inside the subconscious of Kate (Chrissy Metz), viewers received something they could only dream of: Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) was alive and very well, showing no sign of smoke inhalation, standing proudly with his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who in this alternate version of reality only knew Miguel (Jon Huertas) as best friend of Jack, not as second husband. Together, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary while the Big Three looked on lovingly.
Yes, the daughter who was angst-ridden about having to walk down the aisle without her dad had been conjuring this all-the-feels-and-then-some! scene every night for several weeks. There was Jack — with glasses and some gray hair — beaming as he delivered his umpteenth classic Jack speech, explaining that the highlight of his day for 22 years was the note that his wife would pack in his lunch every day, and then when the couple started Big Three Homes together (yes, the very business they were dreaming about the night of the fire), she stopped the ritual. But it didn’t matter because he had “the highlight of my day right there, sitting by my side every day.” At this glittery-glowy 40th reception, Rebecca sang “Moonshadow” to her husband, the song she was performing when these two had that first unlikely and charged encounter. As icing on this multi-layer cake, father and daughter had a chance to dance, something she wouldn’t get to do at her actual wedding.
Although Jack’s absence loomed large on her big day with Toby (Chris Sullivan), Kate made peace with her guilt in a conversation with her dad’s ashes in the woods outside the family cabin. She explained she had to let go of him a little bit so she could let Toby in. Of course, Jack isn’t going anywhere; on this time-tripping show, his spirit is everywhere. Before the band stops playing and the six-month countdown until season 3 begins, why don’t you grab a cone of banana pudding ice cream, sit on this lovely stump, and read what Ventimiglia has to say about that magical moment in “The Wedding.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s the ultimate wish fulfillment for fans to see Rebecca and Jack together in the present day, albeit in a dream. If I remember correctly, there was talk of putting you in old-age makeup almost from the beginning. What were your first thoughts when you found out this context for it?
MILO VENTIMIGLIA: I was excited about it. I was happy about it. For several reasons. One, I get to experience what Mandy or Jon Huertas go through. I get to stand next to Mandy dressed as my aged version of Jack. Which I think is not only cool for the audience, but really cool for us just to think about what the life lived could have been. And then beyond that also, selfishly for me, I got to share the stage with actors I don’t get to usually spend time with — i.e., Justin [Hartley] and Chrissy and Sterling [K. Brown] and Susan [Kelechi Watson] and the kids, Eris [Baker] and Faithe [Herman]. It was fun, it was exciting, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that [creator Dan] Fogelman and the writers give me and all of us to be able to play those different possibilities for the characters.
You looked good for a 73-year-old man, by the way.
Thanks, man. Thank you. When the whole process was going down, [TIU makeup artist] Zoey Hay and our effects team, they wanted to see photos of my father, who was close to Jack’s age, even though he was younger. So I sent photos of my father from different angles and they imagined this idea of what I would look like in my seventies, and it was a whole three-hour process, with a wig.
The salt-and-pepper goatee was nice, but were you initially thinking he’d get a new facial hair look in this time period?
[Laughs.] No. Once Jack hits his fifties and he was with the goatee, it’s kind of a continuation. It’s like seeing photos of men in their fifties [and their look] pretty much continued into their older years. It was the easiest. We knew that look. We knew what we were doing, so to age it was more simple than to develop something new.
What was it like to shoot those scenes? Chrissy mentioned it was hard for you to laugh in the prosthetic.
I mean, any time I’m in a fake beard, a fake goatee — anything but the mustache — I have a hard time laughing. My mouth opens wide, my face gets animated when I laugh personally, so being on set with the adult Big Three — that’s an entirely different set. There’s a lot of laughter, there’s a lot of back-and-forth, and they’re doing things that are just cracking me up, so I wasn’t really able to laugh too big with them, because I didn’t want to ruin this wonderful makeup that our effects team and Zoe had put on me.
I know you’re a proud Pearson papa, so what was it like to have a father-daughter dance with Chrissy and close the circle on the adult Big Three moments? You’ve now had scenes with Justin, Sterling, and Chrissy….
It was great. Much like the other cast that I’ve worked with, Chrissy and I were just kind of savoring it, enjoying it. There were a lot of looks that Chrissy and I shared throughout that. Mostly because it was her sequence, and of course there’s the dynamic in the relationship between Kate and Jack. But that was her vision and her dream of what could have happened or idea of Mom and Dad’s wedding-vow renewal. So I wanted to respect that and make sure that that’s from her point of view, so the connection would be — everything is going back to Kate.
It’s been quite a journey for Kate to forgive herself for Jack’s death. Can we say that the finale gives the closest thing to closure on that pain as she moves forward into marriage?
Yes. One hundred percent. It was needed. She was the one that was literally carrying Jack’s death around with her, keeping his urn on her mantle, so it was needed for her, and, as exactly as she said, to make room for Toby. It was a really beautiful transition to that next part of her life.
How did you approach playing Jack at that period in his life? How much thought did you put into that?
There wasn’t a whole lot of thought. Looking at the history of Jack and how he had lived his life in a very simple way — I feel like a broken record saying he loves his wife and he loves his kids, but I feel like that is expanded when you get to your seventies. He felt like a man that was probably interested in slowing things down as best as he could, just to hang on to the moments. Almost in a way reflecting what William [Ron Cephas Jones] had said before. Knowing that he was dying, he said, “You just hold on to these moments as best you can.” Jack in his seventies would slow time down to a crawl just so he could embrace his family as much as he could.
It was striking to see Rebecca not carrying around a weight of sadness that she has. Did that resonate with you, seeing how happy and light she was?
It absolutely did. It wasn’t lost on me. Every time I see present-day Rebecca, it breaks my heart, because Mandy carries her with such weight and life lived that it was nice to see her not have to shoulder that anymore. She almost stood taller. She had her shoulders back. She was easier to smile. The tears were happy tears; they weren’t anything different than that.
Does this scene make it harder for Miguel? The writers have already had to dig him out of the hole with the audience because he’s not Jack, and now fans get to see Rebecca and Jack together in the present, and they’ll surely say, “We want more of this please.”
[Laughs.] You’re going to have ask Dan or Isaac [Aptaker, executive producer] or Elizabeth [Berger, executive producer] that question. I’ve always tried to back up Miguel, and that whole relationship, and I think people need to give him a chance. Even Miguel said, “There was always just Jack and Rebecca,” so I don’t think he’s there to diminish that or take away from that. There is this reality that people need to accept loss and accept it in a graceful way that they can move on from, and it shouldn’t diminish things that come after. It shouldn’t at all. Because life moves on. And if you’re stuck in the past, then you’re stuck in sadness or regret or anger, and it’s not good to do.
To read what This Is Us executive producer Elizabeth Berger had to say about the finale’s three time-jumping cliffhangers, click here.