Randall, wringer. Wringer, Randall.
These two have certainly gotten to know each other over the last few episodes of This Is Us, though it appears that Randall is coming out the other side intact. The family man extraordinaire, played by Sterling K. Brown, saw things come crashing down in “Jack Pearson’s Son” as the stresses of whatever he does at his job (wind-trading?), caring for a terminally ill father, and trying to keep up with his commitments as a husband and father left him quivering on his office floor, where he’d find unlikely comfort from his play-skipping brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley). “Memphis” opened several days after Randall was hospitalized and treated for his anxiety, and wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) reluctantly allowed him to hop in a car with William (Ron Cephas Jones), so a father with extremely limited time left on this planet could show his son where he grew up. Their memory-stuffed tour ended in the hospital, where William died, his head cradled in Randall’s hands.
And then, in Tuesday’s installment of the NBC dramedy, titled “What Now?” — which also saw an inebriated Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) hop into a car to fix his marriage and Kate (Chrissy Metz) reveal that she’s the reason that Jack is dead — Randall was back home, grieving the loss of a father, cruelly for the second time in his life. At the end of the memorial service — to which “The Team” at work sent a perfunctory if not downright lethal basket of pears — Randall and the guilt-soaked Rebecca (Mandy Moore) had a loaded, yet healing conversation, one in which Randall issued true forgiveness, or something close to it, to his mother for hiding William’s identity from him for three and a half decades. The emotional Olympics didn’t end there, though: Learning of all the people that William touched — from the Vicodin-addicted athlete with whom he pretended to enjoy football to the mailman that he chatted up on his morning walks — Randall finally realized the way to honor his fallen father’s legacy and to roll down the windows of his life: He dropped by the office after Kevin’s Opening Night, Take 2 (which went so well, by the way, now Ron Howard wants him to act in his new movie), explained to his boss how disappointing the firm proved to be in his time of need, and then just plain quit his job. (Not quite as viral as Kevin’s adios, but an impressive statement nonetheless.) This, whatever this was, would be the new start to a life that his father would want him to live. “No hard feelings,” Randall told Tyler (John Pollono). “I walk out of here in triumph.”
On that high note, let’s speak to the man who came, who saw, and who conquered these last few episodes: Sterling K. Brown.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you feeling like you yourself went through some sort of massive emotional gauntlet? That’s quite a one-two-three punch of episodes.
STERLING K. BROWN: It really is. I would say “Yes.” I remember going from shooting Randall’s breakdown, where Kevin finds him in the corner of his office on one day, and then the next day, if I’m not mistaken, I had to shoot the goodbye scene between Randall and William. And it was just — I don’t know who schedules this — but it was so painful, and so taxing. And then ultimately it turned out to be a good thing for Ron and I because we were like, “All right. Well, at least we got that over with. Now we can just enjoy each other’s company,” because that’s what we’re doing for the majority of the rest of the episode.
And then [in this episode] I am so proud of my brother, recognizing that he came to me on his important day and made a tremendous sacrifice to be present, and that he was able to get the play back up and that we were able to go and witness him do what it is that he loves. It was a combination of the mailman telling me about his experiences with William — seeing how he’s affected our family at large — and there was a scene that got cut where every day William takes a nap, so the girls had us all lay blankets out in the living room and take a nap. And Kevin has this wonderful scene where he’s talking about, “Well, William would help me with my lines,” and talked about how much he enjoyed Brando from The Godfather, and I said, “When did William help you with your lines?” He said, “You know, sometimes we would both be up at night, and he couldn’t sleep and I’d just go and run lines with him, or I’d just wake him up because I couldn’t sleep, just to get his advice on something.”
It’s just another example of the many ways in which this man was present for people. I think Randall came to recognize through the course of the day, and then watching his brother’s play, that there was more to life, and that certainly he had been rushing through things to get to the end result of something, rather than purely enjoying the process and the journey of being. And it made sense then. It was a wonderful release because you would think you go in to quit a job, and it’s going to be something that’s fraught with tension and anxiety, but this was one of the most anxiety-free moments that I think Randall has had, because… it just didn’t make sense anymore.
Randall has weathered so much in these last few episodes. He suffered the breakdown, was hospitalized, went to Memphis, suffered the loss of his father and quit his job. Is part of you nervous for him? Is too much happening?
I feel like in [episodes] 15 and 16, I was very nervous for him. People would tweet and they’d be like, “I’m worried about Randall,” and I’d be like, ‘Girl, I’m worried about Randall, too!’ (Laughs) In 17, I feel like he is getting to a place of awareness to recognize that he actually has to slow down, and I feel most at ease with him right now moving into the end of the season, because he’s giving himself the time necessary to reflect on what’s transpired, rather than trying to barrel forward and just try to make everything normal. He recognizes that what’s transpired is not normal, and he needs a little bit of time to absorb what the new normal is going to be. So, I’m in a good place with where Randall is left off at the end of the season.
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Let’s back up to the eulogy/toast at William’s memorial/”fun-eral,” where Randall starts his speech but instead passes the mic to someone whom he says was truly “in it” with William every day. It’s a moment that comes after Beth — who has been so protective of Randall and ultimately of William, too — tearfully tells her husband that she loved William too and that everyone else had their chance to say goodbye to him. A lot is made of how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca are the model romance on the show, but do we still not talk enough about the Randall/Beth relationship? Because the love and support, and loyalty and good humor runneth over there, too.
It really does. [Series creator Dan] Fogelman will be one of the first to say, “I know you guys don’t get the same screen time as a couple, but I am such a fan of the relationship of Randall and Beth, and the way that you and Susan can bring this couple to life.” I think it’s a lovely, lovely relationship. I’ve had somebody tell me, “You guys have a really great relationship. At what point in time do you have the affair?” and I was like, “I don’t know if that’s going to happen.” He’s like, “Well, you can’t stay perfect forever!” I was like, “It’s not perfect.” The thing that’s beautiful about it is that they love one another through their imperfections and the way that Beth is Randall’s rock. He would not be able to go out into the world and be successful at what he does if he didn’t know that this woman was here to provide a loving and caring environment for their children, for the father that he brought into his home, and she just doesn’t let him fall. And if he does fall, she picks him right back up and loves him into wholeness. I love Susan, and I love the fact that we get a chance to show this journey of this African-American couple who love each other through thick and thin. I’m sure our marriage will have its highs and lows, but in my mind, it’s never in danger of not being a marriage that’s meant to last forever.
NEXT PAGE: Brown on the Randall-Rebecca moment: “I feel like the healing is… complete.”