Plus, the actress on her breakthrough scene with Kate and where Rebecca might be 20 years into the future

By Dan Snierson
March 14, 2018 at 05:41 PM EDT
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Have you been blindly rooting for Jack and Rebecca to live happily ever after, despite the fact that he died two decades ago in a fire-related death? The season 2 finale of This Is Us gave you that fairy-tale-ending wish of your dreams. (Or, rather, Kate’s.)

“The Wedding,” which tied the knot between Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan), delivered a maximum-feels sequence courtesy of her mind: the 40th wedding anniversary of Jack and (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Wearing glasses and sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee, Jack pledged his love to Rebecca once again with one of his romantic speeches, while she sang the mega-meaningful “Moonshadow” to him, and the whole family gazed on with admiration and affection in this alternate dreamscape, as if that marriage to Miguel (Jon Huertas) never happened. While Kate would find a happy way to the altar without Jack in the real world, an eager-to-not-displease Rebecca also was awash in joy that day after an unexpected moment of connection with Kate. (A heartfelt line like “You’re not in my way, you are my way” can work wonders on a strained mother-daughter bond.)

Now that the Pearson festivities — along with the entirety of season 2 — have drawn to close, let’s check in with the magnificent Moore, who takes you inside “The Wedding” and behind the scenes of the dream sequence that reunited Jack and Rebecca in present day.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fair to say that the writers found the ultimate way to incorporate Jack into Kate’s wedding day?
MANDY MOORE:
Did you ever have any doubts? I didn’t. I knew they would find a way to let Milo get to work with the rest of the cast. I’m also just pleased as punch that somebody else had to finally go through some age makeup. I know Sterling [K. Brown] has a couple times now, but for Milo, who’s my real partner in crime on this, for him to get a sense of being in — not necessarily just the age makeup, but of portraying his character present day, I think it was a very special moment for him.

It’s pure wish fulfillment to see Rebecca and Jack together in the present. Did it feel like the ultimate thank you to the fans? “You’ve had a rough year, so here’s the thing you know you wanted most.” 
I think you’re absolutely right. It is sort of a love letter and a thank-you for sticking with us through this pretty tumultuous season. The first time I was told about it, I was like, “Ohhhh!” — just blown away at what a cool idea it was. I think that’s where the trick of the show is — trying to find creative ways for us all to be on screen together, and this just felt like the most appropriate tugging-on-the-heartstrings sentiment, sending Kate down the aisle with this fantasy sequence of her father dancing with her. It’s almost too much, you know?

How did he fare in the makeup chair? Minimal fussing?
He was a champ, like usual. No fussing. I think he was just fascinated by the process. I think knowing that this is not going to be a regular occurrence for him, for anybody in that position, you probably wouldn’t fuss too much, knowing, “Oh, okay, this is only going to happen once or twice. I might as well enjoy it as it unfolds.”

It was really striking watching those scenes seeing Rebecca not carrying around the weight of sadness that she normally has in the present day.
That’s sweet that that was evident, because obviously to me there’s nothing more joyful than this particular scenario. I think this would be the highlight of both of their lives, but their life together, being able to celebrate such a monumental moment in their life. It was so much fun. We were all sort of celebrating the fact that now we’d finished 36 episodes, and we were all together. That never happens. So any time we all get a chance to spend time around one another, we’re pretty joyful.

When you first approached the challenge of playing older Rebecca in the present day, you had to think about how she’s lived this life all these years and experienced great loss, and how it impacts the way she carries herself. Did you have to rethink about how to approach her and say, “Well, she doesn’t have a lot of that baggage”? Was it almost like playing a slightly different character?
A little bit, but also I think anybody that would be celebrating this moment wouldn’t be carrying around that weight. It wouldn’t be on the forefront of her mind at that particular moment. I certainly considered that, but also I just tried to be present and think about how she would feel walking down that aisle, and seeing her children and all of their friends, and her husband at the end of the road weighed more heavily on me than anything else.

You mentioned that this sequence was a celebration of the end of the season 2. But did the actors find themselves more emotional than they thought they’d be? 
Yeah. I think we were all pretty emotional. We were all cold too. It was pretty chilly outside when we were shooting it [laughs], but so mainly it’s all of us trying to stay warm in between takes. It was fairly emotional. I think there’s a lot to consider, thinking about what we all have collectively gone through in the last year in this season together. It felt like an acknowledgement and a tip of the hat to the work that we’ve all done. But overwhelmingly it was more celebratory.

What was probably the most difficult part to pull off, besides staying warm?
I think it was trying to keep the secret of older Jack. Then there was some paparazzi that managed to sneak on and get pictures, which is a huge bummer to all of us. We were like, “Aw, man!” We kept the secret about how he passes away so well for so long, and we were so acutely aware of that, and then we were shooting [this scene] in the middle of Topanga Canyon. It’s so unfathomable to me that anybody would have found us. And we were down in this dell. I wish [the paparazzi] had known what they were doing. It was such a disservice. We were aware of, “Ooh, this is a big moment, let’s try and keep this under wraps.” But nobody really thought that we were in any danger of letting the cat out of the bag. I remember the last day we were on set, we were like, “Arggh!” We saw that the pictures were online. We were all pretty disappointed.

But, my gosh, at different points of this episode, there were four people in old age makeup, so there was a lot of coordinating those schedules. Every single person in the cast worked on this episode, and a lot of us, save for Milo, worked on Kate and Toby’s wedding for a couple of days outside. So it was just a lot to factor in with kids’ schedules, and getting everybody in the chair at the right time. That was probably the most difficult part of this one.

Does that 40th anniversary scene make Miguel’s journey to win over fans even harder? He began in a hole given that he simply wasn’t Jack. He’s certainly made some progress, but now fans have received a taste of Jack and Rebecca in the present day — and they’d love to see more of that fantasy. Can the poor guy catch a break?
I think Miguel is slowly worming his way into the hearts and minds of the fans of the show. Look, he’s never going to be Jack and that’s fine. He knows that better than anyone. I’m excited for the writers to figure out their origin story because it definitely feels like the most daunting. Thank goodness Jon Huertas happens to be so winning and charming. I hope that by watching the adult Big Three’s relationship towards him slowly thaw, that has left an opening with him and the audience. I don’t see theirs as some huge, earth-shattering, once-in-a-lifetime romance. Rebecca already had that. This is quieter, a bit more comfortable, resigned, content. It’s what they both need at this stage of their lives.

NEXT PAGE: Moore on what happens in season 3 — and what Rebecca is up to 20 years in the future

It’s been such a journey for Kate to forgive herself for Jack’s death, and this episode seems to take the biggest step toward that, with her conversation with the urn on the stump. But her two-steps-forward, one-step-back relationship with Rebecca also really moves forward here. When she tells Rebecca, “You’re not in my way. You are my way”…
Forget it! That makes me tear up thinking about it. I feel like Rebecca has waited her whole life to hear that, and never expected to. But what a beautiful sentiment. All she’s been doing is walking on eggshells, especially knowing how much weight this particular wedding carries. To hear that, especially during the wedding, I think is too much. In a good way.

Rebecca has heard her express this frustration of trying to live up to her mother before, but she’s growing and telescopes it in a new way that Rebecca’s never heard, and it’s transformative.
It is a transformative redirection, absolutely. It’s everything she’s always wanted to hear from her daughter.

Before that moment, though, you feel for Rebecca. In what should be this completely joyous day, she’s having to tiptoe around her daughter, even worrying about what to wear so as not to overshadow her. When Rebecca’s trying to bond with Kate over the dream and then asks the Toby question, which silences Kate, she’s just so crestfallen. 
I know, poor thing. I really hope that there’s some more redemption and that we do a deeper dive into their relationship next season.

Rebecca leaves this season in a good place with her children. What can we look forward to in season 3? Will we see the seeds of Rebecca and Miguel’s romance? What would you hint about the origins of their romantic relationship?
I think you would have to ask Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] that, because I don’t know all of the seeds. I do know that we are going to examine a lot more of Jack and Rebecca’s origin story. Then I think the time directly after his passing, what happens to the family, and what happens with the kids, and where the real disconnect is in their relationship between mom and certainly Kevin and Kate. Because not too long after, the kids move to Los Angeles.

I’m really interested in that 10-year time period between after he passes away and that little sliver of time that we saw earlier this season, in 2008, when she reconnects with Miguel. I want to know how did they lose touch, her and Miguel specifically? And then obviously what happened with the kids that made them make that decision to move across the country and away from her. I have a feeling that the Miguel/Rebecca relationship present day — or at least 2008 moving forward — may not be something until season 4.

What other clues about season 3 can you drop? You can be as cryptic as you want to be.
I’m terrible at being cryptic. I think what we saw with Zoe and Kevin at the end of this episode is a pretty big indication of a story that we’re going to be exploring — the Vietnam era of Jack…. They’ve had the whole season mapped out. [Dan] said it looks like A Beautiful Mind in the writers’ room right now. I hope that I can find some time in the next couple weeks to at least pop my head in there and see what’s going on…. I feel like season 3 is going to be the most ambitious yet. You know Dan. He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve.

Any hints about who the “her” is in that old Randall-adult Tess scene?
Oh, I know! We all know, but I think that’s something that’s going to be teased out throughout the season as well.

There’s Beth, Deja, Annie, someone we don’t even know yet. There’s a lot of possibilities.
Exactly. I know, there’s a lot of ladies in our cast that it could possibly be. Maybe it could be Zoe. Maybe it could be Annie. There’s a lot of possibilities.

The show has introduced this new timeline of about 20 years into the future. What do you imagine that Rebecca is doing then? That would place her in her 80s. She’s still around… right?
Late 80s. Yeah, I would imagine she is. I hope so. I feel like she’s taken good care of herself. I can’t imagine what those prosthetics would look like. [Laughs] Oh, man! That’s a whole other conversation. But I hope she’s happy and healthy and, I don’t know, maybe with great grandkids. I’m sure Dan has that all plotted out.

To read what Chrissy Metz had to say about the finale — and the Jack-Kate scene that you didn’t see — click here.

To read Milo Ventimiglia’s thoughts on playing old Jack at his 40th wedding anniversary, click here.

To see what TIU executive producer Elizabeth Berger revealed about the finale’s time-jumping cliffhangers, click here. 

Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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