Jack confesses to Rebecca that not only is he drunk while they are talking at the door, but that he’s been hiding his drinking problem from her. How much of his story in the next few episodes is about attacking his alcoholism?
It’s very much a part of Jack’s story. It’s pulling back the layer of the onion on top of Jack, this guy who as Milo said, he’s a superhero who’s so good, but when somebody is that good and perfect, you have to ask: What formed them? And that’s a big part of what we’re doing this season. The next episode picks up in the car on the way back home as he talks to Rebecca both about what he’s going through now, but also what he went through the first time, in episode 2 of our entire series, when he said he would clean up his drinking. What was it like for him back then versus how is he going to handle it now? And what is at the core of his problem? We get into all of that with Jack in episode 2.
The adoption story took an interesting turn with both Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) shifting their points-of-view, and Beth pushing them to adopt someone older who society has forgotten about. Will they start tackling the issue from the same side, or will we still find them at odds?
Next week, in our second episode, there’s a little more discord in a way that you might not expect — characters going the opposite way. Eventually, they embark on this big story. I’m very excited about it. We have a young actor or actress — I won’t give away gender — joining our cast. It’s a very exciting story of a certain specific thing in fostering an older child that hasn’t necessarily been explored that much on a mainstream television show — and all of the things that come with it. And we get to some really interesting, surprising places in the course of the season. It’s not the dream scenario — Randall has in his mind’s eye that you adopt a child and then you have the perfect family instantly without chaos or drama. It’s just slightly different. And they’re going to go through all of that together.
We saw Kate step up to the plate and wind up happy for being rejected for all the right reasons in her audition. What can you tease about her journey moving forward?
Her journey, also like Randall and Beth’s — it’s not going where you think it’s going, in terms of the singing. We thought that that was the best way to do it. I had that idea for this scene that you saw in my head for a while, which is like at 37 years old, you don’t decide that you want to be a singer, walk into your first audition and become Adele. That’s not how life works. We’re doing a TV show, and that obviously would be extremely fulfilling to our audience, but that’s not how life operates. So we thought it would be interesting to almost sell like that what it’s going to be, and then give her the victory in the smallest way, which is a victory of self-worth and self-confidence — even if it means rejection and heartbreak and starting from the bottom, I am going to figure out my path. And do it. It was exciting to me in the first five minutes after the show ended, before the chaos began, to see people really responding to that. Because I thought that was just a launching-off point. Anything that Chrissy does is so tactile for people. They latch onto that journey. A woman saying, “It wasn’t my age, it was my lack of ability, and I’m going to start from the bottom and do this,” in her own small, small way is really exciting. It’s also exciting for me knowing for me what’s coming ahead. Tonight she got cut off; next week Chrissy really belts and shows what she can do. I’ve shown my own family a clip of it and without any context, they started crying because it’s very powerful.
Was that something you were looking for when casting that role?
No. Even Mandy singing — I thought that Rebecca was an artist in some shape or form, I thought that’s where it came from for Kevin, and I thought that Kate held a little bit of artistry inside of her, but I didn’t know about singing. And then when Mandy was our Rebecca, and then when I learned that Chrissy could sing, that was something that quickly evolved with the actors. That was one piece that evolved a little bit with the casting.
Kevin (Justin Hartley) tells Toby (Chris Sullivan) that he’s not a great actor. Is this the launch pad for a story where we’ll explore more of his self-doubt?
Even our male actors who were just nominated for Emmys, Sterling and Milo, the way they talk about what Justin is doing this season makes me love everybody so much. But it’s actually very truthful. Kevin’s been this very breezy character. He’s obviously super incredibly handsome and is an actor and movie star, and his issues aren’t necessarily real-world issues because he’s living this heightened reality of a movie star. He’s getting into the weeds this year in a lot of different ways as he explores himself internally. What you start seeing tonight, which is just a small story about his relationship with his sister, but that moment where he says “I’m not really that great of an actor,” that’s a hint of what’s to come of self-doubt, and a little bit of self-loathing from this guy who seems to have everything — but has a lot of questions.
You used a codename for the burned-down house. What was it?
The code name was the marble. We called the fire the marble. We called it the marble, and all of our boards we would not put the word fire in writing. In script. In emails. In anything we would refer to it as the marble. It was a bunch of dorky dramedy writers trying to figure out how to keep this Lost-style secret, and one of our writers said Beyoncé referred to her Lemonade album as The Marble, so that stuck.
What was the craziest security measure that you took in this process?
There were multiple. The network itself came to my edit bay to view the ending of the episode because I was getting too anxious to send it out via DVD or the internet. We drove hours away from Los Angeles to film it with fake signs that didn’t say TIU. Honestly, it’s been quite an undertaking.
Theory: Is it possible that one of Randall’s fake cigarettes caused the fire?
I love it! … What causes the fire is going to be heartbreaking. The small movements of our lives, and how big they can become if little things break the right way or the wrong way — I’ve always been fascinated by [the fact that] you could have met your husband or your wife if you had just not gone that way at the bar that night, or the friend hadn’t wanted to set you up. The great things in your life, how easily that sliding door could have gone a different way, as well as the tragedy. That’s part of our story.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.