Justin Hartley was tested by the rain, and Milo Ventimiglia by the pain

By Dan Snierson
July 02, 2019 at 11:00 AM EDT
NBC
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Season 3 of This Is Us ventured into new territory both at home (maximum marital tension between seemingly indestructible couple Randall and Beth) and abroad (Jack enlists in the Vietnam War to save his spiraling-out-of-control brother, Nicky). Here, the stars of the emotionally supercharged family drama open up about the scenes that proved the most difficult to film.

Justin Hartley (Kevin)

Hartley chooses the moment from “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” when Kevin, in search of an AA meeting, just happens to find himself in the neighborhood where lives his two-time ex, Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), and the pair have a surprise reunion in the rain.

“We had to deal with this weird weather that was happening, which was, like, torrential downpour for half of the scene outside and then zero rain for my coverage,” recalls Hartley. “Just the logistics of being hosed down with freezing cold water while you’re trying to do this scene. Then there was also the expectation. You read the scene, and you see how well it’s written and the history that these two characters have. And I hadn’t seen Alex in a while, but we hit it off right away again. And also Kevin is in this relationship with Zoe [Melanie Liburd], this woman who’s been great, and he’s going to have coffee with ex, after finding another AA meeting that didn’t suit him — I mean, that’s a tricky thing. A lot of the scenes that are great for Kevin, when I read them, I’m like, ‘Oh God, this guy is going to come off like a total asshole!’ And then you put in the work and you try to figure out: Sometimes good people do asshole s—. That was my most challenging [scene] — just making sure that really significant, important story and part of Kevin’s life and his history was serviced.”

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Mandy Moore (Rebecca)

Moore met her match in the suite of scenes that comprised “The Waiting Room,” the episode which took place solely in hospital, while the family awaited news on Kate’s premature baby.

“The stillness of the waiting room episode for all of us — there was so much to contend with, but it was also one of my favorites of the whole series,” says Moore. “All of us got to work in the confines of this room for six days, essentially doing a play in four acts, but my character was so quiet and still and in her head, I was so exhausted at the end of each day, because she’s just ruminating on, ‘The last time I was in the hospital, something horrific happened. And my daughter is in a precarious situation and I will not be able to survive [if anything happens to her or the baby].’ So many different versions of that going through her head. That whole episode was really just tough on all of us — and draining.”

Chrissy Metz (Kate)

In season 2, Metz was tested when Kate had a miscarriage. In season 3, Metz saw the story line deepen: after a fertility struggle, Kate gave birth to a premature son, and she and Toby spent fraught time with baby Jack in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“All of the NICU hospital scenes were tricky, but the first time Kate sees baby Jack in the incubator after giving birth and the pleading to her father for Jack to make it through were the hardest,” says Metz. “She’s in shock, on medication, trying to remain strong and optimistic all while feeling solely responsible for the early birth and condition of her son.”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Chris Sullivan (Toby)

Toby has weathered bouts of depression for years, and in the appropriately titled episode, “Toby,” Kate’s husband became overwhelmed and broke down apologetically in tears after Kate informed him that she was finally pregnant again.

“The breakdown stuff was hard,” says Sullivan. “It’s hard going there. On that particular day, the A crew was off shooting something else, so everyone on set was new — people I hadn’t met before — and that was shocking. I walked in, I was like, ‘Who are all these people? What are we doing?’“

Sterling K. Brown (Randall)

Emotions were running high when Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson filmed a pivotal moment in the fight between the beloved Randall and Beth in their snapshots-in-a-relationship episode, “R&B.”

“I just love Sue so much and it’s hard to argue with her,” shares Brown. “But I think that’s the way it is. This is your friend and in marriage, you’re arguing with your friend, and sometimes you find yourself saying things that are hurtful. There was one take — and I don’t think we used it in the show — she’s like, ‘Oh really, Randall? In between which one of your anxiety attacks were we supposed to do that?’ And I was like, ‘Whoah.’ And I started crying and they didn’t use it. And then she went to grab my hand I was like, ‘Don’t touch me.’ I think they probably thought it was too much, but there was a real reaction. I was like, ‘I can’t believe you just did that.’ That was a tough one.”

Milo Ventimiglia (Jack)

Ventimiglia was tested as he filmed Jack’s tour of duty in the Vietnam War, but the actor chooses a quiet-yet-potent scene that happened after Jack returned from duty. On a road trip to Los Angeles with new girlfriend Rebecca in “Sometimes,” Jack decided to take care of haunting business, meeting with the grieving parents of Squirrel (Moses Storm) and accepting responsibility for this Vietnam soldier dying on his watch.

“There are physical challenging scenes, but there’s also emotionally challenging,” says Ventimiglia. “I remember in rehearsal, I literally was on the edge of losing it and [executive producer/director] Ken Olin and I decided it’s too much. I have to pull back as a human being, but Jack can’t go there yet, because we need to pay off when he’s in the car with Rebecca. That was actually one of the harder moments for me because, I mean, how do you not completely break when you’re telling the story of a son’s heroism or death to parents who just want answers?”

NBC

Susan Kelechi Watson (Beth)

Watson selects Beth’s showcase backstory episode, “Beth,” in which she finally mustered the courage to stand up to her exacting mother (Phylicia Rashad) and informed her that she wanted to dance again, a dream that her mother had extinguished when Beth was a teenager.

“It was challenging to step into Beth’s shoes and stand up to her mom for the first time,” she explains. “How does she do it? How does she say it? it’s the first time she’s ever fighting for her dream, up against somebody who’s intimidating to her, and she’s not often in that space, so it felt like another side of her that she really had to come to terms with. And it was a big moment for her reclaiming her own life and not allowing her mom and other people to dictate. But to say, ‘This is what I want. I’m going to try to go for it.’ It was a big moment. It was a hard scene to enter into because it’s like how you feel with your real parents: ‘How do I start this conversation?’ But we found our way through it and there was a comfort to that.”

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