'She’s probably the loneliest she’s ever been,' she says of her character circa 2008
The Halloween episode of This Is Us scared up a new time period to explore — welcome to 2008, brought to you by Obama-Biden — as well as some new information on the Pearson family. As it turns out, Kevin (Justin Hartley) was struggling so severely in his bid to become an actor, he attempted (and failed to) steal a choice part from his roommate who’d just landed a big movie (and who’d even helped him out on rent). His twin sister, Kate (Chrissy Metz), had a fling with a married guy in hopes of… well, just to create any sort of momentum in her life. Meanwhile, their adopted brother, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), tried his darndest to get back to normal after suffering a breakdown as Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) prepared to give birth to a daughter who would be named after a ceiling fan. And deeper into the past — circa 1990 — we saw young Randall (Lonnie Chavis) battling anxiety and having trouble deviating from a plan (and trying to process some half-information from the neighbors about the other member of the original Big Three). In addition, Sonny and Cher, er, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) were not seeing eye-to-eye on how to manage Randall — or Kate, for that matter.
But it was the final scene of the episode — back in 2008 — that closed out the proceedings with a revelation: Rebecca received a Facebook message from Miguel (Jon Huertas), who reached out to see what she had been up to the last eight years. Does that give us confirmation that those two waited many years after Jack’s death before connecting romantically? Are we now beginning to reconsider our feelings about him after that Facebook exchange? Or are we just relieved that he did not use the ‘poke’ feature?
So many questions. Thankfully, the Pearson matriarch shining at the center of the action is ready to answer our friend request and much more. Below is your full-size — not fun-size — interview with a woman who would gladly share a Twix and her thoughts with you on “The 20s” and beyond: Mandy Moore.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start at the final scene and that big revelation. Rebecca has joined Facebook! Wait, that’s not it. Miguel contacted her out of the blue, mentioning that he hasn’t spoken to her in eight years. Our first thought: This indicates Rebecca and Miguel did not connect romantically until at least 2008, which would mean many, many years passed after Jack’s death before they became a couple, which would mean that Miguel is not such a bad guy.
MANDY MOORE: I know. Can the world like him now? I feel like this is a clear indication that the world can slowly start to embrace Miguel. This was a new revelation to us as well that was not something I was expecting. I mean, I had my own thought in my mind about when they sort of found each other, but I was clearly as surprised as the audience was to read that at the end of this episode…. And I feel like it opened up a whole new line of questioning. The more important thing is it was a bit of redemption for him, because he’s so universally — I don’t want to say “reviled” [Laughs] — but people have very strong opinions about Miguel.
If Jack died around 1997, and in 2008, Miguel says they didn’t talk for eight years, that would mean he and Rebecca would have been in touch for three years after Jack died. So, what happened there? Maybe it wasn’t that they had some spark and tried to give it a shot but Rebecca felt it was too early, but what was it about Jack’s death — or the aftermath — that led them to losing touch? That’s a new question.
It is a new question and you’d have to ask Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] for that, because I don’t have all the answers. I mean, I have an idea, but I think the better thing at this point is just to focus on the fact that Miguel and Rebecca did not get together until after 2008. This long period of time went by. I think they were still definitely involved in each other’s lives obviously after losing their best friend and her spouse. I think that in my mind, the family leaned on him and I think he really stepped up as a best friend would to help make sure that the family was okay and staying on the right track, but I still like to believe that nothing crossed that line until this point in time.
So, if people have Miguel pegged wrong, as Dan has long hinted, do you and Jon joke about that on set?
We definitely do. Jon is the greatest sport of all time. I mean, having to step in and fill Jack’s shoes — that’s not an easy position for anyone to be put in, but I think if anyone’s up to the task, it’s definitely Jon Huertas. I’ve heard that next season is going to focus a lot on their relationship, and I’m excited to build that with Jon. He just has such an incredible attitude. First of all, he’s so charming and so winning, just as a human, but I’m really excited for what he’s going to bring to this character to potentially win people over — and to at least get people to understand where he’s coming from. I know that’s a real tall order, but I feel like he’s up to the task. And he’s hilarious, too. I always have so much fun when we both are put through hours and hours of makeup and removal — Jon’s my partner in crime in that sense. [Laughs] We’re the only two actors that really know what it’s like to sit through nearly four hours of makeup all the time — and then the hour and change removal. He’s like a brother in arms in that sense.
You didn’t film this scene with him, because Rebecca was responding to a message on Facebook, but have you talked to Jon about this latest development? Was he like, “Yes! We’re finally getting a hint of that!”?
I haven’t connected with him, actually. But maybe I will reach out after this episode. We haven’t had anything together. I have a feeling that later on in the season, we’ll have more stuff together, but probably not during this time period.
One thing that is also striking about Rebecca in this time period is how she’s still carrying around grief and loneliness about this death, so many years later. As she tells Randall, the birth of Tess is one of the happiest moments of her life, but “your father isn’t here and that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with the rest of my life.” Did that relationship with Miguel connect her back to Jack in a way but ultimately help her move forward?
I like to think so. We now know at least some of the circumstances and story surrounding Jack’s passing, and it is devastating. Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet as an audience, it is something that lives in Rebecca and haunts her to this very day. It’s such a tragic way to lose somebody. It’s a very mutual benefit for Miguel and Rebecca present-day — to have found each other — and have this level of companionship that they have with one another. In my mind, Jack is the love of her life, and that’s irreplaceable, and that kind of love is once in a lifetime. It’s not to discount the connection that Miguel and Rebecca have, but it’s just different, as any love is. I definitely treat it and think about it and regard it as such, but I think there is a level of comfort for both of them in having to move past losing him, because I think it was just a monumental, life-changing loss for both of them, not just for Rebecca…..
There was a moment — a line — earlier in the episode that got cut out that was where Beth asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “I’m hanging in there.” That’s my rote, usual response. I think at this point in time, she’s probably the loneliest she’s ever been, and that scene with Randall when she breaks the mug on the floor, having just witnessed Tess’ birth, there’s all of this very visceral deep grief that’s sort of surfaced again of how much pain she’s in, how much she really misses her husband, and that realization, like she says, that every happy, joyful moment in life now will be couched with this deep sadness, and it’s bittersweet — “I’m never going to be able to share these moments with your father.” So she’s really accepting that she’s at this next turn in her life, and this next chapter, and there’s a deep abiding loneliness about that.
She still lives in Pittsburgh, she’s by herself, she’s obviously in some small apartment or condo by herself, she doesn’t have grandkids, she probably doesn’t have a ton on her plate. I feel for her. It really weighed on me. And that scene with Beth when she’s like, “I keep hearing about something called Facebook and how it would help me see pictures and feel connected to the world around me and my friends” — oooh, it broke my heart to say those lines, because I could feel that loneliness.
We know about the moon necklace that she still wears, but here, she’s still wearing her wedding ring, too, right? That’s significant.
Yeah. And in my mind, even present-day, she’s definitely still a Pearson. I don’t think she changed her name. I think she’s always going to be Rebecca Pearson. We like to joke with Jon about that, too. The kids like to joke with him, too: “Hey, she’s still a Pearson, bro!” [Laughs] And we joke that maybe Miguel changed his name. Maybe he’s now Miguel Pearson now.
What is Rebecca thinking — and what were you playing — in that final moment of the episode when Miguel reaches out? She initially writes that she’s hanging in there, but erases it and writes, “I’m good. How are you?” She’s obviously caught off-guard to hear from him, but also seems intrigued and pleasantly surprised.
I think I made the connection of, “Oh, this is why people get on this thing! It makes it so accessible to reach out to people that you’ve lost touch with.” I don’t think that she ever thought that this is somebody that would reach out to friend-request her. [Laughs.] I think this is the furthest thing from her mind. It’s not like she signed up for Facebook, thinking, “Oh, this will be a way to reach out and find Miguel again.” In that sense, she’s really caught off-guard. But pleasantly surprised. Like, “Wow, it has been — God! — eight years since we’ve last seen each other and talked? Wow! How are you? What’s happening in your life?”
We learn more about Randall’s emotional history in this episode. Jack accuses Rebecca of handling him like a glass figurine, which she denies at first, but when she puts her foot down with Randall while they’re trick-or-treating, she sees the depth of his rigidity, and how he unravels when a plan doesn’t go exactly as he thought it would. She helped build the foundation for him to protect him, but handling him the way she did, how did her parenting impact him, positively and/or negatively, moving forward?
That’s the trick of this show. That’s what I love so much — seeing ultimately the choices that our parents make and how it fundamentally affects the foundation of everything we are and what we bring to the table later in life. Her relationship with Randall is no exception. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I think she tried her level best to — well, first of all, she just loves him so deeply, and the connection is undeniable. And maybe she is overprotective. She realizes in this episode what Jack is really talking about, in that he has real difficulty in letting go and having the patience to be spontaneous and see how plans could unravel without him really having his nose to the grindstone, so it unfortunately was built into the fiber of who he was. I think that Rebecca and Jack to some extent exacerbated it maybe a little bit, as much as she tried not to, but it was just something that always lived within him. It’s a product of the life he was born into, and his need to persevere and be in control and be a perfectionist. I don’t think that they provided the environment to break him of those habits early enough, but I don’t know. It’s really a question of which came first: the chicken or the egg.
One of the most brutal moments of the episode comes after Rebecca tells Jack that she had to tell Randall about Kyle after the Larsens spill the beans. She does a lovely job of explaining to Randall that he was always supposed to join their family, but as she tells Jack, I don’t know how this would work without you. And he says, “We don’t need to worry about that, because you got me, babe.” I feel like Dan is mean and lives to put people in tears. Do the actors talk about those lines on set, like, ‘You’re killing me, Dan!”?
[Laughs] Sometimes. But also that’s exactly what he would say in that moment. But yes, the audience is obviously going to look toward the future and go like, “Ohhh! Of course!’ But regardless of what happens to him later in life, Jack is the ultimate family man. After being put in that position, as parents, I know this is something that they’ve mulled over and at some point, they are going to have to tell him the full story. Obviously he knows he’s adopted, but he didn’t know the big picture, and it was so nerve-wracking to have to do that alone. As parents, they always considered that they would have this really important moment, and be able to tell him and break the news to him together, and to have to be caught off-guard, and have to do it on the fly, like on Halloween — it was not the greatest situation to find yourself in. So to me, it felt like the perfect response of, no matter what, Jack is always going to be there for his family, and be there for his wife, nobody comes before them. Sometimes we laugh about it, but most of all, it’s like, “That is the perfect Jack Pearson response.”
Rebecca tells Randall, “This wasn’t some big secret we were keeping from you. We always planned on telling you — we were just waiting until you were old enough.” Is she thinking about the bigger secret that she’s keeping from him about William in that moment? Because she winds up using a version of that line later, when the truth comes out about William: “I was just waiting for the right moment to tell you.”
I wasn’t thinking about, no. I’ve talked to some adoptive parents and they have said that talking about their child’s origin story and how they came to be a family was something that they had mulled over and were worried about somebody else spilling the beans before them, and that would be the worst-case scenario, that they wouldn’t be in control of how their child hears that story unfold. And that’s what I was thinking about — God, this isn’t the way that we really wanted this to happen, and I don’t want him to think that we were keeping this a big secret, because it clearly wasn’t. But the idea of William hadn’t even crossed my mind because that is down too deep, burrowed so deeply inside of her that I don’t think she’s really willing to give that up to anybody, not even Jack.
The parallel scenes of Rebecca meeting baby Randall and Tess in the hospital required a tricky, delicate, bittersweet mix of emotions for you to navigate. What resonated with you while shooting that sequence?
Thankfully they were shot separately and we shot the baby Randall part first. It was necessary to have the knowledge and history of that arc in my brain and heart to be able to recognize the significance of being back in the hospital, staring at such a strikingly similar face…. the real start of another chapter all around.
We finally had a nice bonding moment with Rebecca and Beth, and they both have come to understand how to navigate Randall’s fragile state in different ways. What intrigued you about the Rebecca and Beth connection that we saw? I know you’re a huge Beth fan, so was that something you’d been lobbying the writers for?
I actually hadn’t lobbied the writers, but I guess I will publicly now. [Laughs] I want to continue to have more scenes with Susan — just Mandy and Susan scenes. These are the two most important women in Randall’s life, and I was at least curious what the depth of their relationship was, because I really only had that one moment with Beth when she found out about William [Ron Cephas Jones] and confronted me at the house and was like, “When are you going to tell him? Because we don’t keep secrets in our marriage.” That fraught bit of dialogue between them was the only time that they’ve really shared the screen together, and it didn’t give me any indication other than, clearly, this situation is abnormal and out of the ordinary.
Obviously I would not fault her for having that sort of attitude toward Rebecca at this point in time, so I loved seeing that Beth really leans on Rebecca a little bit more about what to do about Randall, and how well she knows Randall — or at least being vulnerable enough to open up what the last couple months have been of her pregnancy, and him having this emotional breakdown. I like that there’s a gentleness and a softness between them. And a respect. It feels like a real camaraderie, like they know that they are in the trenches together, and they can count on one another, and I love feeling that with Susan. Because these two women are both forces in their own way, I feel that kinship between them, and to me it was more of an indication of like, “I understand now why Randall chose her.” They definitely have similarities, and they share a lot between them, what they bring to the table as strong women, you know?
They’re both the unsung heroes of their families in a lot of ways — and the glue that holds everything together. But they assert themselves in different ways.
Yeah. Jack and Randall get so much credit and celebration, and it’s very much deserved. But I agree. Anytime people [look at] Beth or Rebecca and they’re like, “You know what? You’re not perfect, you’re real, and you guys are flawed, but you’re strong, and you really are the glue,” I always am appreciative when people can recognize that, and not just criticize the choices that they’ve made — maybe not so much Beth but Rebecca. I’m always like, “Geez, guys! Moms tend to be the unsung heroes. They do everything, they get the kids up, they make the lunches, they make sure everybody’s dressed, they take them to the doctor, they keep the ship running.” And Jack gets to come in and have fun and carve pumpkins with them. Meanwhile, I’m sewing the Halloween costumes. [Laughs]
We’re so used to seeing the Randall-Beth relationship as rock solid. We saw it tested during the adoption process earlier this season, and we see it here, where Beth seems to be doubting whether he can pull it together at a critical time and provide that support. Though, in the end, perhaps mother did know best, because as Rebecca says, “He’s a lot stronger than you think.”
There’s a history there, and in my mind, it all went back to Jack’s passing, and how Randall was there, and stepped up, and was the true provider when he needed to be.
There was a passing Kevin Spacey reference in the episode. [In the scene, which was filmed almost two months ago, Kevin’s 2008 roommate was excited to report that he was cast in a Kevin Spacey movie, and Spacey’s name was swapped for Christian Bale’s just before airing]. Considering that the show recently predicted the Kardashian pregnancy cycles, we ask: Does Dan have a crystal ball?
I know! I’m like, “Can you give us our lottery numbers, Dan?” It’s pretty crazy.
In last week’s episode, we saw that Jack is keeping a big secret from everyone: he has a brother, presumably who died in Vietnam. I’m curious to know what you thought about that revelation.
I think all of us had our jaws on the floor. We were like, “What??? Did not expect that!” It’s funny that we find ourselves just as surprised as the audience oftentimes.
He told Rebecca months before he died that he can’t beat his alcoholism alone. It seems that he was intent on making an effort to open up before he died, but one looming question is: How much is Jack able to share before he dies? Do they deepen their relationship before the end — and does that make it all the more tragic?
[Hums] Duh-duh-duh. That’s the million dollar question at this point. I think you’re going to have to ask Dan. I think they’re just starting that process because we know the clock is ticking at this point. We’ve met the dog, we’re about to get answers to some of the other clues that we saw at the end of the first episode. At this point in time, there’s still some time, but the clock is definitely ticking.
And how would you tease next week’s episode in one sentence?
The Pearsons fight to make Randall an official member of their family.