September 25, 2018 at 12:23 PM EDT

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”?
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

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