The Pearsons hash it out when the family visits Kevin in rehab

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January 09, 2018 at 10:01 PM EST

What was the harshest line that the writers brainstormed for the therapy scene that never made it out of the writers’ room? Was there one where you said, “Oh, that’s just too mean”?
Oh man, good question. We had a lot more venom from Randall, specifically about the drunk driving and the danger that [Kevin] put Tess in, but we felt like that was the immediate anger that he was feeling towards Kevin. It became so much more of an interesting scene that really got into their lifelong dynamic of feeling like Kevin was always obsessed with attention and “the Kevin Show,” and then Kevin going right back at Randall at “the Randall Show”-type stuff — these two brothers really getting into the core of their issue, as opposed to Randall just slinging some really nasty insults about the drunk-driving incident.

What sticks out to you about shooting that scene? 
I was not on set that day… but we shot that at Casamigos Ranch in Malibu. And weirdly enough, that’s where Justin Hartley was getting married a week later or he had just gotten married there. He had to do this brutally intense scene from the show where his character is lashing out and is torn into, and then have this really beautiful wedding in the exact same place. I think he actually spent his first night as a married man either in the room that Kevin was supposed to be staying in, or the adjacent room. It was just a weird coincidence.

Kate Burton lays down some serious law as Kevin’s therapist. How did you land on her for the role and did she bring anything to it that you weren’t expecting?
Everyone loved her from her recent stuff on Grey’s Anatomy, so we were really psyched that she said yes…. She had seen the show a little bit, but she wasn’t super familiar with it. My writing partner, Elizabeth [Berger, who’s also a TIU executive producer], got on the phone with her and explained what we were trying to do and it was going to be our longest scene ever for this show. She was going to have to hold her own against our actors who had been working together a year and a half, and were really going to lash into each other. I thought she did such a brilliant job. Not only holding her own, but bringing such a credibility to it. I think she just made it feel so authentic and real. She had the perfect amount of asserting herself and just stepping back and letting the bombs fly. One of my favorite moments is between her and Rebecca, when she’s really pushing Rebecca to admit that Jack was an addict. Then Rebecca goes on that rant against her, and Mandy ad-libbed this, I believe, at the end of Rebecca’s run she just said, “Thank you!” And goes back into polite, middle-aged-woman mode. I thought that that between the two of them was just a really nice touch.

The intensity of the therapy session balanced nicely with the Others, a.k.a. Beth, Toby, and Miguel, bonding at the bar. Was it somewhat or very inappropriate for them to get drunk, given the circumstances?
I know, right? At least they own it.

It’s really fun to watch these people we don’t see together gripe about being on the Pearson periphery, and it feels like you’re winking at the audience and some of the conversations we have. Were the seeds of this conversation borne out of that moment in the second episode of this season, where Toby says, “Miguel gets no love and I feel his pain”?
We have such a big cast, and we love them all so much. It’s always so much fun for us to try out new dynamics and say, “Hey, we’ve never seen what’s it like when Toby and Beth interact with each other. Let’s try throwing them into a story.” It felt so organic to us that when we were going to do this long therapy story that really dived into the dynamics of the immediate family, that we could do a very similar story where we could get into the dynamics of what it’s like to be a significant other of the Pearsons. It comes with its own very specific and complicated set of baggage. Once we came up with that notion, the story almost wrote itself. It was so much fun imagining how those three characters would relate and realizing that they actually have so much in common dealing with what it’s like to try to be in a relationship with someone who has experienced this profound loss and had to put their life back together.

Kevin is getting help, and is on his way to healing. What is his road from here? How soon will he leave rehab, and is his next task making amends with Sophie?
We’re trying to be very realistic here in our portrayal of addiction and recovery. As everybody knows, it’s a long and unpredictable process. The rehab chapter is wrapping up after this week, but there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s exactly as you said: he has a lot of amends to make, he has a lot of work to do based on what happened in that therapy session. Episode 12  picks up right where we left off; he dives headfirst into repair. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s one of my favorite Kevin stories we have coming up — the people he chooses to try to fix his relationship with first.

In the past story, Jack struggles in the role of bad cop with Kate. “I couldn’t stand the way she was looking at me,” he tells Rebecca, “I would give her all the ice cream in the world.” How much of Kate’s issues with food and weight is a reflection of addictive traits inherited from Jack, and how much of it provides a relief and is a gateway drug to a more innocent time, when she was with her father? Is it a way to hold on to a connection to him?
Yeah, I think it’s both of those things. There’s a genetic component to addiction, so part of it can certainly be inherited. Also, her relationship with food, as we learned in this episode, is much more complex than we may have even realized. Certainly, she’s an emotional eater, and she associates it with comfort, but it’s also deeply associated with her father. She can’t go have lunch with her father, but she can have ice cream in private and view that as a way to [hold on to] these memories of him. It’s all tied up in a way that she’s only begun to unpack.

How much more is there to come with Tess’ unhappiness, and why she hid in Kevin’s car? It seems to be related to all the upheaval and house guests coming and going. It’s touched on very briefly as Randall and Beth leave to go visit Kevin, and she insists that she’s fine, but if they’re going to be bringing a new foster child into this house, as we saw hinted in the fall finale, isn’t that going to pose more problems and bring that back to the surface?
Definitely. That story is not at all put to bed. Keep your eye on Tess, because there’s more to that than we have seen.

To read what Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson revealed about Randall and Beth’s relationship, click here.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

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