This Is Us star Chrissy Metz on Kate's abortion decision — and confronting Marc
Kate Pearson wasn't broken then. And she wouldn't be broken now. But she had unfinished business with one terribly toxic boyfriend from yesteryear, so she decided to face down the pain of her past and take another step in her healing process.
Tuesday's episode of This Is Us, "The Long Road Home," opened with Kate (Chrissy Metz) opening up to her husband, Toby (Chris Sullivan), about something that she had never shared with anyone. On the tail end of her disastrous relationship with Marc (Austin Abrams), teen Kate (Hannah Zeile) got pregnant and opted to have an abortion because, as she explained, she wasn't ready to become a mother or to be "tied" to him forever. "That decision was wrapped in the darkest, lowest most painful time of my life," she said. "I wanted to just lock it up, and I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to think about him."
But she did. Although Kate claimed that this trauma was "in the past," Toby asked, "If it was truly in the past, then why would it take you four years to tell me about it?" The next thing Kate knew, she was headed to San Diego to face down her ex-boyfriend, who was now a ne'er-do-well music store employee. Was he wracked with guilt or even tinges of remorse over what he had done to her years ago? He was not. What he remembered about Kate was just that she was "broken in all the right ways." Kate stood up for herself, and for her teen self: "You're the one that's broken, Marc. You're the disease. And I'm not carrying it a moment longer. So I give it back to you."
How therapeutic will that moment of empowerment prove to be for Kate? Did adult Kate consider telling Marc about the abortion? How did Metz engage with this emotional episode? The actress spoke to EW about her journey on "The Long Road Home." "It's really easy to point a finger and say, 'Oh, I wouldn't have done this. This is what she should have done,'' she says. "I just hope people are open-minded and open-hearted about a decision that is obviously never, ever, ever, ever made lightly."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before the season began, I remember your telling me that [series creator] Dan Fogelman had called you to make sure you were comfortable with doing this story. Why don't we start there, with your recollections of that call, and your first reaction upon learning that Kate had an abortion when she was 18?
CHRISSY METZ: I'm always so intrigued [laughs] when Dan calls because I know it's something important. And so when he said, "These are the things that we're thinking about talking about, and Kate has already been through so much. How do you feel about taking this on?" And I said, "To be honest, it's a controversial topic still in 2021. And especially now that there are a lot of women's rights that are being potentially compromised." [Then] I thought, "Gosh, the more you educate somebody, the more the fear goes away." I've said that forever about everything, but I feel that this story line in particular will be so important because you really get to, hopefully, establish some empathy or sympathy around someone's decisions. In this case, Kate's.
Everybody gets to make their own decision and what they feel is best for their own lives and their own bodies. And that's really important. And then I knew they were going to be people who would have other things to say about it. Which is fine; everybody's entitled to their opinions. But I was like, "If it brings up a discussion and something this important, I think we have to do it. It's something we need to be able to talk about." It was going to be a challenge, but I knew that they would handle it in the best way possible. And they did.
What questions or concerns did you have as you began plotting out your performance in this episode?
Well, I think it was: Was this consensual intimacy? What exactly happened? Just finding out the whole picture, because even if the audience hasn't ever seen it, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. I wanted to just get the full scope of everything and find those answers out. Luckily it wasn't a forced-intimacy situation, but it definitely was a very tumultuous and difficult and manipulative relationship. And that being right after Kate's father passing and she still feeling shame and guilt about it. It's a very, very complicated, layered situation. And as much as Kate wanted to explain to her mother what happened and what she did, she still couldn't. And then she didn't tell anybody about it. So, yeah, I had lots of questions as far as: How did it affect her? And of course it did. It affects every single decision she's probably made since then. And they really entrust all of us to take good care of the character to the best of our abilities. So, it was really about going backward and seeing how this decision really affected everything that Kate thought and did and felt.
Did you and Hannah [Zeile, who plays teen Kate] have any discussions about the story line and your characters sharing the history of this experience?
No, we haven't! I thought about that, but then I thought, as much I'm Kate, so is she. So as much as I wanted to be on the same page, I also wanted her to have her own experience and performance. And luckily, I was able to see some of that footage, just to see how she portrayed the situation. I think she did it so wonderfully and I really wanted it to be her own, and then I can pull what I want to from it.
This is a big step for Kate to face down the past. Why was it necessary for her to actually face down such a toxic ex-boyfriend in the present day — and why now? That confrontation could be triggering or even dangerous. That's a big decision.
Yeah. I think she has been holding onto it for so long. And as she said, she's eaten over it and she's damaged herself over it. Mentally, emotionally, physically, he's had such a control and hold of her. Now she's in a place she feels confident enough to stand on her own and say, "Yeah — this isn't okay." And the epiphany that she has while she's having this conversation with him. Any human would like to believe the best of people. And I think part of her wanted to go and see, "Oh! Is he the same old guy or…?" He could be some massive music manager at this point or what it is that she thought he was going to be.
So to lay that to rest and then having the confidence to do it and not knowing what the outcome was going to be — I think so much of that is Toby loving her through it all and unconditionally. He's just so supportive of her that she had enough growth and enough progress to finally do it on her own. [But] she had to do it on her own. And this is just the beginning of a change for her and of massive growth for her. But I think she had to come to a place where she was going to do it on her own, whether Toby was in her life or not. This was something she needed answers about. While she never even explained to [Marc] that she was pregnant or what she decided to do, I think she realized like, "Oh! Yeah. He's not changed. He's not going to change." And my goodness did she dodge a bullet. And she was able to find some answers that were plaguing her for so long. But she had to do it on our own. I know that, for sure.
When you found out Kate was going to confront him, you must have had an expectation of that encounter. What surprised you about the way it played out? Was it how little Marc said, or how little remorse he had?
You would think that someone in 20 years would evolve, and would have enough wherewithal, and the delusion might subside a bit. [Laughs] I just thought, "Wow, he really hasn't changed!" And there are people that we all know that never do. Yeah, when I was actually reading it, I was like, "Ooh, I want her to go off on him!" And then I thought, "You know what? By saying what she said, she said everything she needed to say." And it wasn't about him ever. It was always about her. Initially I was like, "I want to just light him up!" But you know, that's not always the way of grief and loss and closure. [Laughs]
In explaining to Marc that what he did was wrong, adult Kate does not bring up the abortion. Teen Kate withheld the same information after a disheartening reunion at his apartment. Did adult Kate go into that conversation with the intention to share that information this time, but she wound up changing her mind after interacting with him, much like teen Kate did?
Yeah. I think that she probably was going to share that, only to just say, "This is really what happened." But it's not even worth it. You can't [draw water] from an empty well, you know? He had nothing to give her, aside from an answer of who he's always shown her that he was. I do think that she had the intention of telling him when she was a teenager before she went through the procedure, but then she just realized — and I'm so grateful, I'm so glad —he wouldn't even be able to support her in anything that she decided, no matter what the decision was. So she was strong enough then to say, "Yeah, I gotta go." And I do think that she had an intention of telling him when she confronted him at the music store, but then again [it] just affirmed that she already knew who he was.
Do you think if Marc had said something different or acted different with teen Kate, she might not have gone through with the abortion? Or did she go there subconsciously seeking reinforcement of her decision that she felt was the right one, knowing that he would hurt her?
I don't think our brains fully mature till we're, like, what 25 or something? I think as an 18-year-old, the hope and the dream of him being a guy that she would love to have loved her — she always knew that he just wasn't quite the right one. She always had, in the back of her mind, "Well, he could change his mind. Maybe he would want to have a baby together." But I think the moment that he made it all about himself because he doesn't know how to do anything else — because he has his own trauma he hasn't addressed; we don't really know the backstory — I think she finally heard him and trusted her instincts after all the manipulation and the lies and what he tried to apologize for. That such a s--- apology, it's embarrassing. So I think that she might've had this dream and hope, but realized for the last time… what's the point?
What was the most challenging moment of the episode for you to film?
Definitely the confrontation with Marc. Not only because there are buses and horns and school buses and school getting out — we're literally on the streets of L.A., even while shooting that really important scene — but also because it had been so many years. What are you saying? What are you not saying? How much are you willing to give up and to show that he affected her in such a massive, massive way and changed not only the trajectory of her life, but her self-esteem? It was hard to [calibrate] the idea of not letting him have too much of her, because he already took so much of her and standing in her own power, and also not crumbling but finally making a turn and being a badass.
And also the conversation between Kate and Toby, when she said, "This is exactly what happened." It's so hard because there shouldn't be guilt and shame about whatever decisions we choose to make, but it's inevitable. And then to have kept a secret from Toby for many years and to potentially disappoint him was hard. But also not to downplay what happened, but also not to have so much shame around it because she had come to terms with a piece of it. So again, it was very layered and complicated — just to play all those notes can be very challenging.
It's almost like the "shame" that she felt was in just keeping it a secret, not the shame of what she actually did.
Exactly. People make the decision for their own bodies and they should be able to; they're their own bodies. But I think there's so much stigma — still — attached to that decision. I specifically didn't want to play it that she had shame around it because she owned the decision.
Kate seems to get at least most of the closure that she was seeking. You hinted at it above, but how much stronger is she for it? Will she move through life a little differently and more confidently than before?
I really hope so. This is such a great depiction of what therapy and love and support and encouragement can do for somebody. We've seen her come from the anguish and pain through all of these particular incidents and scenes. And now she's like, "Oh! Okay. All of these things have led me to this point where I was strong enough to say, 'This is a turning point in my life.'" Many of us have had those, and many of us will have those, and sometimes we have them more often than not. But I hope it shows that there is a light and there is a positivity to working through the pain. And it's not what happens to us but for us that we get to grow. And we get to see that happening in real time with Kate. I do think it's going to change her. I don't know how it couldn't.
Another dragon has been slain, it seems.
Right! Exactly. Or at least really, really badly wounded.
What lies ahead next for Kate and Toby, specifically in their adoption journey?
We're going to see that just because you have a great relationship or a budding relationship with a birth mother doesn't mean you're going to necessarily have the baby, because there are different rules and regulations in different states. But a parent can choose to keep their child, even if they agreed to turn the baby over for adoption. So I think that is really in the back of — or the front of — Toby and Kate's minds in moving forward, because not only is it a scary, exciting thing, but also there is a lot weighing on it. I think it's important to both of them. So we're going to see if they get to bring a baby home. And that is going to be a whole other dynamic, especially as Jack is growing, as well.
Looking back at another important episode, you and Sterling [K. Brown] were in perhaps the show's best scene of the season, when Kate carefully checks in with Randall at the cabin, only to have it turn into that highly awkward but very real conversation about race. Can we expect more raw honest conversations about race between these characters and other family members down the road? That was a really uncomfortable, powerful scene.
It is so uncomfortable. And I hope that we do get to those moments and those scenes in these next episodes — and maybe even as the season progresses.
What was it like to film that scene?
It was very uncomfortable, in that I knew that it was not about me as an actress. It was not about me as a character. It was not about me as a woman or as my race. But hearing what not only, of course, Randall, but what Sterling, what Susan [Kelechi Watson], what Faithe [Herman], what any person of color has gone through — I can't understand because I've never had that experience. But having that empathy and that desire to want to not only understand, but also authentically and honestly have that conversation that so many people don't know to have, especially when it comes to people that they love. Kate isn't wrong, but this has got to change. Our perception is our reality, but I think that scene was so powerful because there are many people who were like, "I never knew what to say to my brother or to my best friend or my coworker that has had an experience their entire life that is different than myself as a white woman." It was really, really important for me to play it — I don't want to say right, but to play it and to have the audience know that it wasn't about me and it wasn't about Kate, but that we could also understand that people have been ignorant. That's not an excuse and something has to change.
It's such a massive scene. and it's so much more than a scene in a TV show. It was probably the most difficult scene I've ever done in my life, because it was just so important to me to see a person for who they are, as a person, and not because of what society has deemed them or the social injustice that this country was basically founded on. It's hard, because I get very emotional about it. And I know that I can't, because it's not about me, you know what I mean? It's even hard to wrap my head around it because I just know that if I was the mouthpiece of people who didn't know what to say and how to say it, I'm like, "Great. Now let's do something about it and let's change something. Because it can't go on like this."
And then just to know how lost and lonely Randall must have felt and how this is so much more than a TV show, right? I think Kay [Oyegun], who wrote the episode, did such a beautiful job. Randall still was so loving and kind to Kate. Which is even more heartbreaking for me. No matter what, there is love there, but there needs to be a better understanding. And so this is, I think, hopefully bridging a gap between understanding and also a change. A massive change that has to happen.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.