This Is Us: Chris Sullivan on how he'd feel about Toby and Kate NOT ending up together
The actor also drops a few hints about season 5.
Season 4 of This Is Us ended with a brutal fight between two-thirds of the Big Three. The third sibling generated a few headlines of her own, too, as Kate (Chrissy Metz) decided with husband Toby (Chris Sullivan) to adopt a second child. (The grown-up version was revealed in the episode). In the hospital parking lot, fresh from visiting the NICU where their first child was born prematurely, the perpetually overwhelmed recent-weds recognized that this might be an emotional and rash decision, even as they pushed forward. Don’t these two have their hands full already?
“In my life, I find some of the best times to take on new challenges are when my hands are full,” Sullivan tells EW. “At least that has been historically the case. I guess we'll find out. We know they have this conversation and we know that Jack has a sister. So we will now wait and see how the This Is Us writers connect those two dots. It's one of my favorite ways that our writers tell our stories by giving you the end point and the beginning point. And then now we get to enjoy the story of how these two dots get connected.”
What intrigues Sullivan about unspooling another story of adoption, a subject that oft is explored through Randall (both as a child and a father)? “This Is Us presents a very open-hearted and open-minded vision of what family can be and what family can mean and we get stuck in the idea that it's a mother, a father, and a baby," he says. "And adoption is one of the themes in our show that really challenges that structure of what it means to have the typical American family. This show is a bit of a handbook for me on a life well-lived, on a life lived in connection and a life lived in compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings. So the theme of adoption and the idea that there is a stranger out there who already exists, who needs a family, needs a place to live, someone to protect them, someone to guide them, and that this family is kind of all in on, that idea is pretty lovely to me.”
Not that this adoption journey in the hit family drama's fifth season will be all balloons and avocados. “There's going to be struggles around it,” he warns. “I'm sure there will be individual personal feelings between Toby and Kate. I'm sure her family will have thoughts. We’ll see how the writers handle it, but I can guarantee conflict!”
Which leads to more questions about the couple, of course. Sullivan hints that season 5 will explore “the longterm health of Toby and Kate's relationship.” That should be welcome news to fans who have been speculating about Kate’s status down the road (divorced? um… alive?), given that she has not been spotted in the distant future at Kevin’s house, where a depressed Toby has popped up. “You know that Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] and the writers are going to have surprises and twists and turns all along these paths,” says Sullivan. “And there is no straight line from point A to point B. There's just not a lot that we either know at this point or can share.”
Indeed, Sullivan told EW last year that even he wasn't told the significance of the sidewalk chalk that Toby was asked to bring to Kevin’s house. Does he know now? “Still don’t,” says Sullivan. “And I keep forgetting to ask. In fact, I hadn't thought about that a long time until you just brought it up. It's fun for me over the next two seasons to still have that little mystery. I walk onto set and somebody says ‘Here, this is what you're bringing to the house.’ It's way more fun for me to just say ‘Fantastic. Okay,’ Instead of ‘Wait, why? Explain it. I need to know.’ I don't need to. I just hand it to Sterling and [say], ‘Here’s the sidewalk chalk you wanted.’… I know everything I need to know to tell my part of the story. Sometimes it's helpful for me to pick and choose the things that I'm aware of. If Toby is not aware of it, then maybe I don't need to be aware of it.”
By the way, if you’ve also been spending time wondering why neither Kate nor Toby are nowhere to be seen when Jack Jr's wife, Lucy (Auden Thornton) is giving birth, Sullivan might put be able to put your mind at ease, at least on that front. “As far as the TV scene [you saw], you're like, ‘Oh yeah, this is an incomplete picture,’” he says. “But if Jack Jr. (Blake Stadnik) is in a different city, and he and his sister live in the same city, and Toby and Kate do not — there are all kinds of logistical things. Sometimes the grandparents aren't there for the delivery or postpartum scenarios. So I don't think there's too much to read it.” A pause. “There is never too much to read into until there is.”
On that note, let’s read too much into something for a minute. How would Sullivan feel if Kate and Toby didn’t wind up in forever bliss? “There are love stories that have ‘happy endings,’ where the people are together for the rest of their lives, and there are great, great love stories where that's not true,” he says. “I just finished watching Schitt’s Creek, and they were talking about that how there’s the love story of Alexis and how these two people love each other very much, but they've evolved into different people who no longer make a good couple. I don't know if that's what's going to happen with Toby and Kate, but I feel taken care of by the writers. They're not going to force these characters into any kind of salacious scenario for the sake of drama. These are well-lived, well-written characters who are headed exactly where they're supposed to be.”
Their journey will take them through the recent real-world events, as confirmed by Fogelman. ″I know the entire writers’ room and the entire cast stand with Black Lives Matter and say the words 'Black Lives Matter,'" he says. And as for the spread of COVID-19 being addressed, Sullivan quips: “I doubt it'll be a season 5 of everyone just having Zoom calls.”
And finally, how about a cryptic hint about Toby in the episodes to come? “Double down.”
NBC will double down on the debut of season 5, offering a two-hour premiere on Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. Head over here on the double to find out why Chrissy Metz is hinting that Kate will deal with something "very unexpected from her past" in season 5.
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This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.