Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The show's creator says, 'A character could die tomorrow... it doesn't mean the actor leaves the show'

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October 26, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

In this episode, like you said, we found out only that he’s dead, not the how or when. What can you hint about when we’ll receive more intel about those things?

We spread it out for quite a while. Next week’s episode, one of the Big Three talks about the loss of their father. In terms of information, you’re going to get hints over the course of the first season of when he died. But this is the big piece of information — that in the present day, he’s no longer alive. The when he died of it all will be revealed in the course of two episodes of the show. It’s not going to be something that there’s an immediate answer for. I think the bigger question that’s going to start looming is, we’re going to be watching the evolution of a marriage between Mandy and Milo’s characters, and I think you want to focus on that, and the journey of this family in the marriage, and enjoy that story without worrying when he’s going to die. And then at a certain point, it starts becoming a prominent part of our storytelling, probably more in the second season of our show.

There is still much story to tell here about Jack and Rebecca and the family. With that death revelation, is the next step to show us more of each of the Big Three’s connection with Jack and how he has impacted their lives? What does this allow you to do?

Our stories don’t change too much with this information that Jack is dead. Jack hasn’t existed in the present-day stories yet, and now you know why. And in terms of the past stories, two episodes from now, the kids will be in a different time frame. The kids will be 13 years old; it’s five years past where we’ve been in the 1988 period, and Jack will be very alive and well, so we know he’s good there. [Laughs.] I think anybody who has lost a parent at any time in their life, a lot of these episodes are reflecting back to before they lost a parent, so the past stories aren’t really that affected by it, because you’re looking back on stories that have involved you, and your family, and your parents. And as long as Jack’s alive, it doesn’t really affect what stories we’re telling. Because he’s obviously an incredible dad. He has a very special episode next week. Jack and little Randall have a very special story that I love. He’s a superhero dad, and he’s the type of dad that no matter what age he might die at, we tend to make martyrs of because he deserved it a little bit. So it’s more of the present-day stories. We have these kids who have lost somebody that was very close to them. It clearly has had a massive effect on Kate; we’ll start learning the effect it has had on the other children, and that’s where we’ll focus, if ever, on what the loss of not having a father around will affect.

We also learned that Rebecca wasn’t interested in having kids — at least not right away. She clearly had musical aspirations, which were put on hold to have kids. How much of a source of tension will that be for Jack and Rebecca — among the many tensions on their marriage — moving forward?

I think you feel it, right? Now, after watching the fifth episode, I think it’s an interesting exercise sometimes for people — not that people should do this — but hypothetically to look at the second episode of the show again, which was in 1988, after we left them in the pilot. And you see there’s a distance in their marriage that has grown in the interim years that they’ve worked on repairing, clearly, in subsequent episodes in that time period. We tend to think of our parents as these creatures who only exist to give birth to us and be our parents, and this episode is very much about the fact that at one point, our parents were very young people with hopes and dreams, some of which worked out, some of which didn’t. And I think that’s a really interesting way to look at a parent and to be able to dramatize on our television show.

We start introducing in the back half of our season a lot more of a later time period, in 1993, when the kids are a little bit older. And it’s a part of the marriage where now that the kids are old enough to almost babysit themselves for lack of a better word, and be self-functional aside from needing rides and parenting. Rebecca contemplates getting back into music, something she’s put aside for almost 13 years. So it’s a story line that comes back upon itself. I thought it was a really interesting thing to show a parent not just before they had children, but to show a completely different side of a parent. We’ve only known Rebecca as a mother. We met her giving birth to triplets. We’ve seen her in the show either pregnant or mothering 8-year-olds, and being a stay-at-home mom. But there was this artistic, free-spirited, doing-shots-in-bed, 29-year-old woman who existed before the Big Three came into the world. And it’s not like that person just goes away because there’s three kids running around in the house. And that’s something later on their lives, when the kids are about 13 years old, we see them start going back to, and it causes a great deal of conflict in both the home and in the marriage.

NEXT: Fogelman on William’s fate

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