Last night’s episode of This Is Us began as a carefree day for the Pearsons at a community pool in Pittsburgh, but made a splash in different ways: Eight-year-old Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) had her self-confidence drained by her cruel classmates and covered up with a t-shirt, while 36-year-old Kate (Chrissy Metz) let her insecurities run wild and went undercover to learn more about Toby’s skinny ex-wife. Eight-year-old Randall (Lonnie Chavis), stealthily wanting to learn more about where he came from, slipped away from his adoptive family to spend time with the other African-American kids, while 36-year-old Randall (Sterling K. Brown) found himself defensive about his identity with his biological father (Ron Cephas Jones), who finally broke through with a poignant apology — and I’m-proud-of-you validation — that Randall had been waiting to hear. And while eight-year-old Kevin (Parker Bates) struggled in the adult waters of the pool while his parents, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) focused on managing his siblings, 36-year-old Kevin had a rough go in the big-boy waters of the New York theater scene.
Maybe you’re thinking about the fatherly hand that William placed on Randall’s knee while gently saying, “You’re doing everything right, son.” Or that cruel napkin that Kate’s “friends” gave her, washing away a day of innocent fun (though Jack did his best to build her back up). Or Kate’s misguided mission to befriend Toby’s ex-wife — and Toby’s devastating but humanizing reaction. Or Kevin’s amusing audition that triggered a thousand cringes and introduced him to a formidable force in Olivia Maine (Janet Montgomery). Here, the stars of the NBC dramedy riff on a few key moments from “The Pool.”
On William’s assessment of Randall and the life he’s created for himself and his family in a white world:
JONES: Because he’s older and wise and because he’s been through life, he starts to understand that black and white, it doesn’t matter. It’s that you’re alive, you have a beautiful family, you have a good job, you have loving children. So for William, it doesn’t matter — all the protesting — what really matters is that you’re safe, you’re healthy, and that you have the ability to protest if you choose to do that. When they come back from the Snow White play and he comes into the room and Randall’s there and he says, “I’m no in position to judge you whatsoever, and I’m not judging you but if I did, you’d be getting high marks”… that is a part of being black also, is to be exactly who you are, a successful person in a white world — to be a loving father where many times we don’t see that or we don’t covet it and we don’t celebrate it. That’s what William loves about Randall… That piece that Randall thinks is missing is really not missing at all, you know? All the things that Randall is worrying about, William tells him: You don’t have to worry about that. You’re enough.
On the father-son bonding moment that came with the apology William has craved:
JONES: It was like a button on the idea that biological ties and love never goes away. You can love something and then years from now you can see it again and still feel the same amount of intense love. I think that’s the first time that I can remember in a scene with Randall, where you actually see how forgiving Randall is, but how all those years of stuff, William has been hurt by the separation also. It’s a very small moment, but it’s a moment of truth that happens – it just touched me to no end. It’s the first time he calls him “son.” He says, “You’re doing everything right, son.” And I think that actually wasn’t in the script but I put it in there because it felt like it was supposed to be there and the directors [Glenn Ficarra and John Requa] loved it. It was the first time he actually touches him in that way, in an intimate way, when he puts the hand on the knee — which the camera focused on, which was beautiful — at the time he was saying, “You’re doing everything right, son.” It’s the first time they connect like father and son. It was a pivotal moment in both my and Sterling’s journey as William and Randall, and how we’re bonding, not only on the set but behind the scenes.
On whether there will now be a rush to intimacy now that they are finally connecting as father and son — and the that William’s terminal illness has been confirmed:
JONES: They do it in a natural way, in a day-at-time kind of thing — because of the fact that the terminal illness is looming, everything seems to be slowed up. Everyone’s aware of that, so it almost feels like they almost slow things up so that we can really understand what’s going to transpire, which I don’t really know either. I don’t know the longevity or the life expectancy of William at this point.
NEXT: Chrissy Metz on Kate’s “witch hunt”[pagebreak]
On how Kate’s lack of confidence in herself led her to spy on Toby’s ex-wife, Josie (Natalia Cigliuti), and wind up taking a job at her shop:
METZ: Her insecurities definitely got the best of her. It’s normal and not necessarily to be expected, but because she’s still working on these self-worth issues, she can’t help but compare herself to a previous woman who you come to find out wasn’t even that great of a person. But physically, she has what Kate wants. And also because Toby has been trying to protect her and maybe even thinks, “Gosh, if I was really honest and I showed her a picture, who knows what it could mean?” But I think in all earnestness that she’s not even a thought in his memory. He was moving on. But because [Kate’s] perception is her reality, she’s made it personal, and then she goes on a little witch hunt (laughs) and it turns out that she’s a lovely woman and somebody that respects her, and they have this instant bond. I was so happy to see these issues being brought up because it’s just real life. Those conversations happen all the time, and insecurities bubble up in all kinds of relationships, no matter if you’re of average size or if you’re dealing with a weight issue.
On her initial reaction to that story:
METZ: I was like, “Oooh! That’s not something I would ever do.” And I thought, “Oh my gosh, she’s really desperado!” She’s just trying to find some answers and also almost self-sabotaging. I thought, “Oh, wow, this character is much more complex than even anyone knows yet.” I was excited about it because there’s so much to work with and to pull from.
On Toby (Chris Sullivan) revealing the physical and emotional damage that Josie caused him, which deepened his character:
SULLIVAN: It’s a really interesting double-edged sword that no matter what people look like, we have instant judgments in our brains of what that person must be like based on their outer appearance. We automatically assume that someone who is overweight is unhappy, or we automatically assume that someone who is skinny and good-looking has it all figured out. I think it’s a really interesting lesson and that’s not how the world works.
METZ: I have friends who have gone through similar experiences and when you think you’re in love, you give your heart and soul to someone and they just obliterate you. It’s heartbreaking. And Kate realizes, “Oh my gosh, this isn’t about me at all. It’s what Toby has gone through.” And then you discover that this self-deprecating humor comes from this really awful experience and this relationship that he endured. And it’s just really beautiful how [Kate and Toby] come together again because they really do care for each other, and that’s what you do in relationships. It’s compromise and sacrifice. It’s probably one of my favorite scenes between Kate and Toby…. Chris is a funny guy, he’s the comedic relief — there’s always a rhyme and a reason for our behavior and our actions, and it’s great to know that it’s so multilayered. He does such an amazing job with that scene.
On her reaction to eight-year-old Kate’s story, in which we see the first big blow to her self-confidence:
METZ: When I read it, I cried. When I saw it, I bawled my eyes out, because we’re conditioned — just as you don’t see weight, you don’t see race, you’re told that you’re beautiful and perfect the way you are. And these kids pick on her — and who knows for what reason, because we never know — and it just breaks her down, and even though her dad continues to build her up, you definitely see the beginning of Kate, as an adult, struggling with this very, very thing.
On Kevin being out of his league in the theater world, a point hammered home by his new costar:
HARTLEY: She makes him realize that he’s nowhere near where he needs to be to… He can’t do theater right now. Quite frankly, he’s probably not good enough, he’s not disciplined enough. It’s not an intellectual thing as much as it is he’s unable to access those feelings that are needed because he’s damaged. He’s got things that he’s holding onto and he’s not willing to go there…. He’s so happy that he got the job and he got the job because of who he is, his notoriety, and then it sets in really quickly. It’s like, “I got the job. Oh, no. Now I have to do the job.” He’s got to figure out how to become an actor and he’s got to do it quickly. He’s with this woman who just is not nice, but she’s honest with him. It’s not that she’s mean, she’s just being honest. She’s like, “Look, here’s the truth. You’re going to fall on your face and it’s not going to be pretty. This is my life and you’re messing with it. It took me forever to get here and you got here because you’re the Manny.” She resents him in that way as well.
On using a real-life incident as fodder for his awkward audition:
HARTLEY: I spent three months in an audition office one night. It was probably three minutes, but it seemed like about three years, okay? And I was the worst actor on the planet. I left that room convinced that I had forgotten how to act and I don’t know what I’m doing and I have no business being out here and I’m moving back home, and as long as I never audition again, I’ll never be that embarrassed. I remembered that, and I thought, “How cool is it that I can have that experience again, maybe even cleanse it from my soul and do it in a safe environment where I’m ‘performing’?” There was no performance there. I was sweating because I had been there before.
To read what creator Dan Fogelman had to say about “The Pool,” dive in here.
The cast of This Is Us will be live and battling each other in a game of trivia at EW PopFest later this month. Click the banner above for details and tickets.
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