We also learn in this episode that Kate struggled with eating disorders when she was younger, but losing weight didn’t make her happier, any happier. In fact, she said that she missed the voice of hate. It felt empty without it. It’s good that she realizes happiness isn’t achieved by a number, but sad that she feels that she needed a voice of hate. How would you characterize that voice inside her now?
That’s an interesting question. I think it’s definitely still there. This was definitely an interesting one that was talked about in the writers’ room for a long time. It’s such a nuanced, sophisticated idea, where when you define yourself as overweight and your thing is, “All right, this is my body, I just need to lose weight.” Once you cross that goal and reach a weight that you should be happy with, all of a sudden, you don’t know who you are because your whole identity has been tied up in, “I have to lose the weight, I have to lose the weight.” A number of people in our writers’ room who have struggled with weight spoke to this. Once you hit your goal, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Who am I?” Because you spent so much of your energy and so much of your consciousness thinking about reaching that goal…. Kate still has that voice she’s struggling with. Does she want to lose more weight? Is she accepting who she is? I think it’s a constant battle for her. As we saw last week, it’s further complicated by the food being wrapped up so much in her relationship with her dead father. I think there’s no simple answer and it changes a lot for her, but I do think to a certain extent that voice is always with you.
In this episode, you certainly are delving more into the nuances of this eating disorder she has and her history of struggles with eating, which we also learn about after Kate picks up on the subtle clues of Madison’s bulimia. You’ve talked about how you bring in consultants before tackling various issues, and I know Dan’s own sister consults on the show. How did those conversations with all those experts inform how you’re telling this part of the story?
The writer of the episode, Bekah Brunstetter, did extensive research, and spoke to a few friends who work professionally with people specifically struggling from eating disorders to really, really try to get it right. There was some personal experience in the room to go on, but there was a lot there that we didn’t know. And it’s such a universal, common experience that we wanted to make sure that we got it right. There was a lot there. One of the things we learned was that Madison, as someone new to this, would be very unlikely to define herself as bulimic, or give a name to it, which is why we avoided those words. But there are a lot of really interesting little nuances, and I certainly learned a lot in diving into this issue.
If this is the age for when the problems really took root, is Jack’s death the catalyst for exacerbating it?
That’s exactly right. Jack’s death just takes what was already an underlying issue for her and just magnifies it.
In other news, Randall finally seems to have found his professional purpose. He’s going to help Beth with this project and, as he says, bring dignity to these people’s lives. What can you say specifically about what this project is?
One of the things that always gets asked is, “What does Beth do exactly?” We’ve always known she was in urban planning, but none of us totally knew exactly what that meant. [Laughs.] It was sort of like a phrase we threw around, much like the weather trading last year. So then we came up with the notion of, “Remember William’s building? It had such a character to it, and felt like there were all these really interesting people living there. It’s this very tangible connection to learning more about William.”
Once we came up with that and then realized that this job we had given Beth fits perfectly with the idea of taking over a building like that and trying to give an underserved community housing with dignity, we got really excited, and we actually talked to our composer, Sid [Khosla]. His father started a company in New Jersey, where their whole mission is: Just because you can’t pay a lot of rent doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a nice modest apartment that has good hot water, et cetera, et cetera.
So we spoke to him on the phone and he had all these amazing stories about starting with one building and really renovating it and finding a way to make it financially viable to give lower-income communities a nice place to live. We thought, “Oh, that’s the perfect convergence of Beth’s actual job, Randall’s desire for this bigger purpose, and a connection to William,” so we just ran with it.
Any hints about the dynamic you’ll explore with Randall and Beth working together professionally, which is new terrain?
That’s exactly what next week is about. They’ve been married for a long time, and they’re partners in that sense, but it’s a very, very, very different world when you enter into a financial business relationship with someone. There’s an immediate and initial clashing of their attitudes.
We also get to spend more time with the residents of that building, including Garrett Morris [who plays Lloyd]. Everything that guy says is so hilarious. The looks he gives — he’ll have one line in a scene, and we’re just on the floor laughing. Him and a couple of other really wonderful character actors fill out this building. It’s just a really cool, new world for Randall and Beth to be in.
Funny, my next question was that given that Garrett was so great as Lloyd, were you already devising scenarios to bring him back, and then this idea came along?
Oh, yeah. He read for [the role]. I didn’t even think he would audition, but he came in and he auditioned, and we were like, “Oh my god, of course.” He was like the funniest man ever. You could literally give him anything and he just kills.
The biggest twist in the episode turned out to be William’s lover, who was revealed to be a Billie Holiday mural. Were you looking for a way to tie William’s legacy into Randall finding new professional purpose? And did you know early on that the mystery would end with the mural, or were there other ideas?
We did know it would end with the mural. I believe Dan came up with the idea. We knew that we had the idea for the box of William’s stuff. Then out of that came, “What if there was our version of a whodunit — a This Is Us/Murder She Wrote,” where there’s a clue that taps into the obsessive side of Randall. He fixates, and he can’t let it go. And another romance for William seemed like the juiciest thing. Then the idea of the mural was pretty early on, but we had a very hard time figuring out who the mural should be of in a way that you didn’t see it coming. Then we realized Billie Holiday has this nickname Lady Day, so that gives you an extra step of removal. We had one late night where we ordered dinner and we were on Wikipedia going through sort of, “Who would there be a mural of that William loved? Oh no, that name, that gives it away. That’s wrong.” Then we finally figured out Billie Holiday was the perfect one.
We also learned a lot more in this episode about Clooney the cat. Why did you want to tell this story other than, of course, fun fan curiosity?
Honestly, we usually don’t try too much to take into account what the fans think, but we got asked that question so much. And you don’t — you never even really meet Clooney, you just hear about him. People were so concerned. “Is that cat okay? Who’s watching the cat? What happened to the cat?” So, it was always in our heads. And we actually have in the writers’ room — [laughs] this is a little bit dark — but we have a plastic Halloween skeleton of a cat and someone labeled it “Clooney the cat.” And the running joke was that no one had taken care of Clooney the cat. Of course, that was not the case; that was just our little room bit. That cat was always kind of just sitting in the corner, and I think one day, someone probably looked over at it and said, “Guys, what if we tell the story of what actually happened to Clooney the cat?”
Then we wrote several scenes just with the animal, and our poor director got the script and we’re like, “Yeah, we’re basically asking you to do Homeward Bound but in seven days.” She’s wonderful, and she did it, and that’s how we got the story of Clooney the cat.
Given that we just met also the new Pearson dog this season — and Randall sent the penguins off to the great migration — are there any other animals you plan on throwing into the mix this season?
Actually, yes we do. I don’t want to say what it is, but next week we have another animal friend. Pretty soon, we’re basically just going to become like Wishbone.
What is your one-sentence tease for next week’s episode?
We see Jack and Rebecca’s last Super Bowl with the kids before they all leave home, and their desire to spend it together as a family — with relatively disastrous results.
To see why Milo Ventimiglia was pained watching the fiery clue about Jack’s death, click here.