February 21, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST

This Is Us

TV Show
run date
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Dan Fogelman

What was the most memorable moment from shooting in Memphis?
Oh, there were so many, man. I mean, the one that comes to my mind was the one by the segregated water fountain at the Schwab’s store. That moment was funny, but it also was so touching, and it said a lot about the history and the awareness and the importance of Memphis and where he’s really from and all the things that go along with Memphis, so that choked me up, really. It brought [back] a lot of memories of my parents and living through a lot of those segregated times, so there was a lot of reflection for me in that moment, of being in that store. And the people in there were so beautiful and gracious. After we finished, the woman who owned the place offered me this hat that I happened to be admiring. I stopped to look at this hat, and she overheard me say, “Man, this is a really beautiful piece. I would wear it.” And so hours later, after we finished filming it, she had put it in a box and gave it to me as a gift. It was a moment I’ll never forget. It had a lot of meaning to me — and just the whole history of this country and the things that we’re going through at the moment. It was one of those really incredible moments. She gave me this big hug, and there were people in the store passing by that loved the show. It was just a beautiful day that day.

What were the moments that you guys found while you were shooting? Stuff that wasn’t in the script that you decided to take advantage of while in Memphis?
We found a lot of moments that weren’t in [the script]. There were a lot of improvisational moments, like the barber shop. When we got to the barber shop, we weren’t quite sure exactly what was scripted, because nothing was really there. It was going to be P.O.V., but they ended up putting in just the conversation that we had, because Sterling and I both know what it’s like being in a barber’s shop on a Saturday afternoon, and that just kind of kicked in, and the other guys that were there were guys from Memphis. So it just worked. He said “Action!” and then we just start talking barber shop talk, you know? The water fountain moment was also a moment that just happened. We just kind of improvised around it, Sterling and I. We looked at the fountain, looked at each other, and then dialogue just started to happen, and they kept a little bit of that, also.

What moments elsewhere in the episode choked you up?
We started off with the scene in the hospital, so I guess from there you can pretty much just count every other moment after that. There were some excellent moments there, and some difficult times for Sterling and I going through that scene, but we were so connected by that point that we knew exactly what each other needed, and what those characters needed in that moment. And that was something I’ll remember, too, not only from a performance end, but as an actor, when you’re working with another actor, and you have this trust, and you just know that they’re going to give you just enough, and they know that you’re going to give them just enough. It was a really beautiful working bond that I had developed with Sterling; we just had a language that we both understood. And a lot of that maybe had to do with the fact that we both were in the theater for some time. So, that was another moment. I mean, I could go on and on, you know?

I’m glad you brought up Sterling. What were your conversations with him while filming this episode? Was there a vibe of melancholy or reflection during the shoot? How did it feel different, if at all?
No, it never got too deep. Sterling has two little boys, so we talk a lot about being parents. I have a daughter; she’s here visiting me now, and she’s all grown up. But for me, it’s usually when cats have kids, we usually talk a lot about kids and growing up, and what they’re doing, things like that. We talk a lot about New York and our friends back in New York and meeting up for lunch. So I just think there was a bond that we had. We both know a lot of the same people who are actors, so the circles start to get smaller and smaller, and they’re all connected, so it’s always fun when you’ve been around for a while, like I have.

And what was it like to film that deathbed scene, where William confessed he was a little scared, and Randall held William’s head in his hands and was showing him how to breathe, just like Jack taught him? In that final moment, it came full circle, though the roles were reversed with father and son. Do you feel like he truly became part of the Pearson family in the way that moment interconnected them all?
Yes, I do. It was beautiful. It reflected all those moments that you were already familiar with, and a lot of the fans will remember that moment when Jack put his hands around young Randall’s face, and then you see the mother who does it to young baby William, and then Randall’s doing it to the older William before he goes into the next life. I thought it was just so beautifully done, the editing, and the way John and Glenn [Requa and Ficarra, the episode’s directors] filmed it. It was very touching.

NEXT PAGE: Jones on returning to the show: “There’s a chunk of his life that we haven’t explored”

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