The season 2 finale of This Is Us not only sounded the wedding bells, but a few alarm bells as well. The time-traveling family drama gave viewers another deep-into-the-future flash-forward scene featuring Old Randall (Sterling K. Brown) with Adult Tess (Iantha Richardson), but this time the atmosphere was much less cheery, as Randall glumly informed Tess that it was time to see “her,” and they both agreed that they weren’t ready for what was to come next.
Who is “her,” and what has befallen “her”? And given that we’re asking Randall-related questions: How will he and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) handle the renovation of William’s old building and Deja’s bat attack on his Mercedes? Revelations await in season 3 of NBC’s hit family drama, which kicks off Tuesday night, and hints about those revelations arrive… well, right now, in this Q&A with Sterling K. Brown. Read on to see what Brown can do for you.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say “season 3”?
STERLING K. BROWN: Expansive. We put to bed the story of Jack’s death and how it came to be, so now Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] is exploring what other questions about this family’s history are worthy of a similar sort of anticipation. Exploring Jack’s backstory in Vietnam will be opening up new doors. Getting further into that and Toby’s backstories, and giving them a real sense of how they came to be a part of this family as well, is going to be opening up new doors. The show just keeps spanning out. Expansive.
Old Randall had viewers’ minds racing when he said, “It’s time to see her,” to adult Tess. Tease us up, Sterling.
The “her” is a woman. I can tell you that much. [Laughs] It is someone that we have met over the first two seasons, so it won’t be something that comes out of nowhere. Dan has already spoken to the fact that we’ve already shot parts of how he wants the series to end that’s dealing with that particular “her” as well. I think by about midseason, maybe episode 9 or so, the audience will know who that individual is.
How huge are the stakes with this mystery?
They’re big. Anytime as an actor, you want make the stakes as much about life or death as possible, and I think Dan is operating on a similar premise.
What was your reaction when you found out about this new mystery?
I had spoken to him about, “Do we know where we’re going?” because I was very concerned about the Lost of it all — people being really on board with the journey of this family, but if it just meanders, will they stick with us? But because we have an end point in sight, we have something to build towards, I think that keeps people firmly invested throughout the trajectory of our characters’ stories. I was very delighted to know that he indeed knew exactly how he wanted the show to culminate, and I think it’s really exquisite. It’s great.
Did it take you by surprise what he had in mind? Or did it track with what you were thinking?
He probably came up with it first, but we were thinking along similar lines, so I was on board.
What was your favorite fan theory about “her”? You’ve heard everyone speculating that the mystery involves jail to death to estrangement, to Annie [Faithe Hermann] to Beth to Deja [Lyric Ross] to Rebecca [Mandy Moore].
I will say the most vociferous responses I’ve received over social media were with regards to my wife, Beth. They’d be like, “Yo, man, if y’all kill Beth, I ain’t got no time for this.” I love that they love Beth just as much as Randall does, and I love Susan just as much as Randall loves Beth. It’s not the theory of it all, but: “Please don’t let this sister go away.” I can’t answer the question, but I like that they love her that much.
Well, Susan has gone on record to say that Beth is not going to die. So that much we do know.
It’s not Beth? Okay, that’s good. [Laughs]
What was the biggest challenge in playing Old Randall? Did you say to Dan, “Has it been a life of victory or heartbreak or both? Walk me through those last 20 years”?
I think Randall has experienced a great deal of success, so by and large he is at a place in life where he’s fulfilled. But there’s something on his mind — obviously with this individual — that weighs heavy on his soul. But I think life is good. We will also find out something about Tess this season, which is pretty cool. When you see Randall going to visit her, it’s nice.… Randall is in a good place. That’s all I can say.
What was your reaction when you saw yourself in the makeup chair as Old Randall?
I wasn’t happy. You ask people in makeup [about] the prosthetics that they made. They said they had to make a special piece for me because I have so many smile muscles in my face.
Oh! Congrats… I think?
Yeah! Thank you. I appreciate that. But in order for the prosthetic to work, they had to make a piece that had some jowls to it, if you will, and Brown is not accustomed to looking at himself with jowls. I said, “Randall runs every day of his life. Why are you guys doing this to me?” They’re like, “Well, just to differentiate between [the present-day version of] you.” I didn’t see my dad in his dream sequence with big jowls or whatever, but I was like, “Okay. Maybe he took his foot off the gas pedal just a little bit and is just relaxing into his mid-50s, if you will.” Although it did inspire Brown to go home and work out extra-hard after he looked at it, so I’m trying to make Sterling’s 55, 56, 57 look a little bit different than Randall’s.
NEXT PAGE: Brown reveals that Randall and Beth “hit a snag” in their marriage — and that Jack was hiding a secret
What challenges await present-day Randall this year, whether it relates to the business with Beth or helping Deja or beyond?
There’s a lot. This is a challenging season for Randall. He always is dealing with issues of identity, running this building and being in greater contact with the African-American community, and then at times being embraced and at times being viewed as an outsider and whether is he black enough. Is he doing too much? Is he not doing enough? These are questions that he continues to wrestle with throughout the course of the season.
I can say that he and Beth go through a bit of tumult, and not tumult to the point of where these people are ever going to be apart from one another. It’s the real-life tumult of being married and the constant communication that is required in order for something to progress and flourish. They hit a snag where they want different things out of life, and they’re normally very much on the same page, but it takes its toll. It’s something that Sue and I are both excited to explore, because we know that as much as we love the people that we share our lives with — she with her long-term boyfriend, and me with my wife, Ryan Michelle [Bathe] — every once in a while you hit some snags. You gotta work that s— out, so you see Beth and Randall working that s— out.
I told you something is going to transpire with Tess, and there’s also: How does Deja fit in to the family? After the end of last season, obviously she’s not what one would call a happy camper, so how do Randall and Beth deal with trying to make her feel as welcomed as possible, and growing and expanding their family?
What can you tell us about the season premiere? Apparently Beth isn’t too pleased with this budding romance between Kevin [Justin Hartley] and Zoe [Melanie Liburd], and we go back to the ’70s for Jack and Rebecca’s first date.
I just love every time Dan Fogelman picks up a pen and writes. The first date is really lovely. There’s a couple of shocks that happen during the course of the first date that I know the audience will be like, “No way!!!” There’s always that moment when Fogelman writes that you’re just like, “Aw, you got them, dude, right in the palm of your hand!” I love watching the evolution of Katoby [Kate and Toby, played by Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan] and how they’re moving forward with their lives. This relationship between Zoe and Kevin is very intriguing. I love that my brother is not opposed to a little jungle fever, so to speak, and she shows herself to be a very interesting person. We barely got to meet her, so you learn a little bit more about her and how good of a fit she is for Kevin. Or how good of a fit Kevin is for her. Beth is hyper-vigilant about this pairing, and we’ll see why throughout the course of this first episode.
What’s an adjective that you would use to describe the premiere?
Nostalgic. It’s nostalgic in that the audience now knows what happened to Jack Pearson, and the way in which instead of picking up with Jack and Rebecca when they have the Big Three and they’re parents, we’re going back. There’s a real sense of this man is gone, but he’s never gone from the tapestry of our show, and to see how the two of them come to be is really sweet. And it’s something nice for the audience to know that even though we saw the fire and even though we saw the passing, that he is always with us.
Last season, Jack’s death hung over the show, and in dealing with that, there were some really heavy moments. Of course there were some lighter ones too, but does the show feel even a degree lighter this season with that in the rear view? Does it feel different tonally?
It feels different for a couple of reasons. You’re going be seeing a lot of Rebecca with her children without Jack, so that’s going to be a shock. And you’ll be seeing more of Jack by himself and how he came to be the man that he is. Tonally, the path takes on a different structure, because you’re following two different storylines in the past rather than just one. Then, in the present, you have two married children and you have one child who’s in a relationship, but that kid is in a relationship all the time. I’m talking about Kevin, obviously, so you never know: Is this the one for Kev? Is this not the one for Kev? But it’s nice to see in present day the two of us going through marriage, so you see two people navigating marriage differently who are siblings, and they navigated it differently than their parents. I just like the juxtaposition of all the couples — and how everybody has their own way of dealing with being in relationships.
What’s one cryptic season 3 tease you can give us?
[Devilish laugh] Um, let me see.… All right, there’s that.… Okay.… Oh, that’s good!… There’s something about Jack that he’s kept private. It has to do with the war, and his experience over there, because you saw in that scene with Rebecca, he says, “I don’t like to talk about the war. That’s not pleasant for me.” But there’s something that happened in Vietnam that’s a bit of a game-changer for the present-day Pearsons that will be revealed throughout the course of the season.
This Is Us returns Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.