By Dan Snierson
April 02, 2019 at 10:30 PM EDT
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Rebecca Pearson is a formidable matriarch with a sunny disposition who has weathered great tragedy while raising three children of the same age. Her journey on This Is Us has been as rewarding as it has been challenging, and viewers have watched her find meaning and happiness in a second act after the passing of her beloved husband, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia).

Tuesday’s season 3 finale of NBC’s era-hopping family drama, titled “Her,” brought the first and highly anticipated peek at Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in the distant future. And while she was indeed revealed to be alive, This Is Us fans were left to wonder: This Is…. the End? With the family gathering at Kevin’s house to say a final farewell, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) walked dutifully if glumly into the bedroom, where Rebecca lay in bed, her brother-in-law Nicky (Griffin Dunne) by her side. Her son said his own name twice, as if to remind her who he was, while she stared at him with little sign of recognition, seemingly in a world of her own. End of scene. End of episode. End of season 3.

And… the beginning of a torrent of questions: What happened to Rebecca? Where was her second husband, Miguel (Jon Huertas)? When did Nicky re-enter the fold? EW dialed up This Is Us MVP Mandy Moore to shed some light on a future not looking so bright and to take a closer look at “Her.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your first thoughts when you learned about that powerful flash-forward scene?
MANDY MOORE:
I didn’t really know what it was, because it was redacted. [Laughs] The script that we got was missing that last scene, and all of us were like, “Wait, so… who’s in it? What is it?” I knew that I had gone through this extra-special fitting, and we had done a screen test. And we had done a makeup test. So I knew this was coming at some point in the season, I just didn’t know when exactly. So I kind of guessed that it was all leading up to the last episode. But there wasn’t final confirmation. All of us were like, “Who is in the last scene and what is happening?” And we didn’t get those pages until the day before. In that sense, I guess I was surprised but also not.

And how did you feel when you saw the implications of it and the mystery around it?
I’m glad that we’re starting to tell that part of the story. There are a lot of questions surrounding what may or may not ail Rebecca, and obviously, we can’t confirm or deny anything. But… clearly, there’s something going on. And in that sense, she’s just not the vibrant woman that I’ve known for the last three seasons. So to see her in that place is pretty… heartbreaking, you know?

In the flashbacks, when she was laid up in the hospital, Jack called her the engine of the family. Now, in the flash-forward, it appears that this engine is failing. How close are we to the end of her life?
We’re in the final throes of her life, the last couple of weeks, I would say. You get that sense of urgency of the family gathering, for one reason or another, and in my mind, it’s to sort of say farewell.

We saw Randall say his name twice to Rebecca, as if to remind her of who he is. One’s mind goes to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia — or is that maybe another illness that we might not even think to guess?
I don’t know. I think that will be revealed in the next season or two, for sure. Could go either way.

But you know what it is, right?
Yes, I do. We all do. We all have known. You know Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator]. This has all been in the cards and in the plans for a while.

How lucid is Rebecca? Are you allowed to hint at anything in that direction?
I don’t think I am allowed.

Does it feel like you’re playing a third character? We’ve seen Rebecca later in life —
Yeah. Absolutely. It feels like a completely different version.

Which is an exciting challenge.
It is. I mean, this show is nothing but a challenge. It always keeps all of us on our toes. We’re like, “What? Oh, I’m playing 17 now? Okay! Cool. Oh, what are we doing now? 83? All right, got it, awesome.” It’s tricky, but in the best possible way. It’s always a surprise.

Rebecca had a brain scan when there was a cancer scare years ago. It came up negative. But is that now significant maybe in terms of where she ended up?
Ohhhhhhhh! Interesting. I hadn’t really thought about that. Perhaps.

Beth [Susan Kelechi Watson] brings the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, while Toby brings the sidewalk chalk to the house. Are they trying to jog her memory? Anything you can hint at there, given that the game is significant from the Pearson birthdays of the past?
Your guess is as good as mine. [Laughs]

Miguel isn’t in this flash-forward. Very notable. It feels significant.
Yeah!

Will we learn more about his future fate soon? Is it a surprising story?
We will definitely learn more about that. I don’t know if it’s going to be next season, or if it will be season 5, but definitely.

But he’s been through so much, Mandy. You can’t kill him!
I know! I agree. He’s sort of the unsung hero. I love him so much, and I love Jon Huertas so much. I just can’t wait to do more stuff together, whatever decade it may be in.

Is Rebecca wearing a ring, by the way?
I was wearing a ring. I’m 90 percent sure that I was wearing a ring because it was a whole thing to get it to me before they applied a hand prosthetic.

While Miguel isn’t there, Nicky is. No one seems that surprised that he’s there. Has he maybe been in the picture for some time, and this isn’t a recent reconciliation?
People can take what they want from it, but to me, it feels like there’s more of a familiarity between everybody, so that would maybe hint at not a recent reconciliation necessarily.

He looks great. Time has treated him well. May we entertain the notion that he wound up pulling his life together?
One could assume that, right? It’s a pretty big indication that at some point along the way he sort of cleaned himself up and cleaned up his act, because, as you said, it looks like life has been treating him well. He’s aged well. He seems to be in a much different place than he was the last time we saw him, present day.

Wearing the older, present-day Rebecca makeup is always a challenge; it takes hours to go through the process, and they’ve streamlined it now. What was this process like — becoming the old, old Rebecca?
Oof.

Brutal?
I was like, “How often are we doing this, Dan?” [Laughs] It’s much more restrictive than what I’m used to with present-day Rebecca. But it’s also new. In the same way that those first few episodes of applying the age makeup in general to play her present day felt completely foreign to me now is cake. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to the process at this point. So perhaps we’ll get to that point with the future makeup. But because I am almost 35, aging me to 82, 83 — we’re talking literally 50 years nearly — it requires a lot more. So, in that sense, it does feel more restrictive.… I’m not sure that there would be a ton of mobility for me to be able to move around, and for things to look as real and authentic as possible…. I know that this will factor into the series long term. There will definitely be more scenes in the future with Rebecca, but I don’t know to what degree…. This future world is a world that we will be living in on and off for the remainder of the series, to a certain degree.

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What did you think when you looked in the mirror?
Oh, wow. It was mesmerizing. And haunting. So this is how her story ends, you know? It’s crazy, reconciling with your own mortality. [Laughs] Even though it’s a fictional character, it felt truly bizarre. When I walked on the set that last day, people were shocked, people didn’t recognize me. It was very weird. And it was the very last thing that we shot for the season too, and it was the only thing we shot that day, so it was weird.

Milo’s been the center of the show’s mysteries before, and it was intense. How are you feeling about being at the heart of this mystery? Is it fun to have your turn, or is it stressful?
It’s only stressful trying to figure out how to talk about it — to talk and not talk about it. I’m such an open book about things, and I’m terrible at concealing. So I don’t appreciate that side of it, but I guess I just reconciled myself that this job is going to entail much of that. I feel like we’re in the Marvel universe talking about superheroes or something — to a much lesser degree. [Laughs] But I love that I finally feel the world coming around to this woman this season. It feels like with the end of last season and this season, people have really gotten on board with her as a mother and as a human and a wife. I appreciate that because I have so much compassion and empathy for her.

We always talk about the loss of Jack being absolutely devastating to the family, and we’ve seen this idea of the importance of Rebecca before. But do you feel like one of the messages of those flashback scenes with her in the hospital was to show again that the true MVP of this family might have been Rebecca? In many ways, she was the one that they actually couldn’t live without.
Absolutely. She is the glue! [Laughs] I loved that that’s the overwhelming message of this episode, but maybe a general theme of the show as well. She is also the unsung hero. I think she was dragged through the mud for the first few seasons, and again, with perspective, looking at the macro picture of this family, you need to recognize that she is the glue.

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The Rebecca moment in the flash-forward sequence is a big one, but there’s a lot to chew on in there. Are Toby and Kate still together? Who is the mother of Kevin’s son? Nicky. No Miguel. What were people on the set buzzing the most about after Rebecca?
Toby and Kate. But also Kevin having a kid, and who is he with? Like, what? He and Zoe [Melanie Liburd] are together, or are they, or what? What happens? Who’s the mom? Where is she? And definitely the Toby and Kate of it all, for sure.

What struck you about this finale overall? It gives you a lot of resolution in the present day but punches a ton of questions back at you in those final minutes.
It wouldn’t be our show if we didn’t do that. We answered some significant questions, but then posed a few more. But not just to be provocative. It’s just the way life unfolds and we’re telling it out of order, and that’s what makes it so fascinating and makes you hungry for those details, because you’re like, “Oh, wait, I skipped a step. I’m missing a puzzle piece, and that puzzle piece is so integral to knowing the flow of the story.” I love that our show is essentially bits and pieces of the puzzle all put together, but you can’t really see that their picture just yet. It’s going to take some time.

And in that final picture, where we’re close to the end of Rebecca’s life, how will the family go on without its engine?
Isn’t that one of the bigger questions in life and part of this human condition? I think that’s why we find and create our own families — to carry that legacy on and figure out who’s going to be the glue of the family. Who’s next in line? Who’s the next and waiting to take on that role in the family dynamic and carry things into the next generation?

At least Beth and Randall are back together. If that foundation wasn’t there, this whole Pearson thing might just fall apart.
It would not make sense.

To read what This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman revealed about the finale’s flash-forward surprises, click here.

Related content:

Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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  • Tuesdays at 9:00pm
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  • 09/20/16
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