This Is Us star Susan Kelechi Watson on season 5, how Beth will handle Randall
The actress also talked about the show addressing Black Lives Matter, what to expect in Beth's career, and the scene she'd love to see before This Is Us ends.
This Is Us ended season 4 with a horrific showdown between brothers Kevin and Randall Pearson. Viewers could see it coming — the writers warned us it was coming — but you know who else saw big trouble brewing? Beth Pearson.
Randall's endearing, no-nonsense wife and glue of his family (played by Susan Kelechi Watson) has been rather intuitive when it comes to family drama over the last four seasons, and that was most recently evidenced in the finale, when she ushered some Pearson family members out of the room so Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) could blow off some sibling-rivalry steam. (Alas, that confrontation turned far colder and meaner than anyone, even the brothers, could have guessed.)
"You have to let people clear the air in the way that they need to," says Watson, who spoke to EW as part of a 92nd Street Y virtual conversation this summer. "You can't always just be trying to keep the peace. Sometimes being a peacemaker means some drama has to go down to really make peace and not just try to keep peace. Beth knows her husband. She knows he can't let things go. And she knows that the relationship between him and Kevin has always been a little fragile. You have to know when to step back and let them work that out."
While Watson stands by her onscreen man, she believes he crossed the line in guilting his mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), into entering that Alzheimer's study, even though she recognizes that it was borne out of his fear of losing another parent. "[Beth] feels like he overstepped some, but she knows that that's what he does, that's kind of his nature," says Watson. "That's what he does. So I would say if I was on a side, I'm always going to be on Randall's side. But do I think that he necessarily did the right thing? Maybe not this time."
And seeing these two brothers calmly and deliberately dismantle each other was painful. "I mean, that was rough," she says. "I remember watching it as an audience member and thinking like, 'Wow.' And I had people texting me, like, 'Man! They gonna come back from this? I was like, Whoa.'"
How will Beth handle Randall (whom she already helped into therapy) and that sibling rift in the coming episodes? "It's between them and I'm a little bit on the periphery of it, but you have to let the cards fall where they fall," she notes. "If you went there, you have to let the dust settle. Maybe that was stuff that has been building up forever that they've been dancing around, and they haven't been able to have a full relationship because of that. So there's the heaviness to it. But also if that's always been there, maybe it had to be said at some point. I'm sure they said it way worse, you know what I mean? I'm sure they look back on it and are like, 'I didn't mean to say it like that.' But if it was there, it's the root of a deeper problem.'"
The premiere's present-day story centers on the Big Three turning 40, and, as previously teased in a flash-forward, Randall is celebrating on his own, without Kevin, Kate (Chrissy Metz), or Rebecca at the family cabin. "Because it is their big birthday, it's not going to be anything small," she says, "but the sad part of it is that it won't be together."
Season 5 also will show "what's happening with the girls as they're getting older and trying to fit in, what's happening with Tess [Eris Baker] and what's happening with Deja [Lyric Ross], and Annie [Faithe Herman] trying to find her voice, where she wants to go, where she wants to be," says Watson. "I feel like there's a lot of Pearson family stuff coming up, and growing pains are happening — we're dealing with that." As for Beth herself? The new episodes will "explore her career more," says Watson. "Beth has moved into this big realm with her dance career. We had that [deep-future] flash-forward of this beautiful dance studio. So, [we'll see] how she progressively gets there."
That drive is something that Watson worked to instill in Beth during the character-building process. "People, a lot of times, can associate a person with a character," she says. "And I find myself really trying to distance me from Beth. So I think people would be surprised at how much I use the experiences of other women that I've heard throughout the years to create Beth. Me not being a mom, me not being married, but hearing what people desire, still, as a married woman with kids, the dreams they still desire, the way they still desire to be seen and heard — that never was lost on me. People want to be seen not just as the wife and mother, they want to be seen as the woman that they are, and they still have dreams and they still have goals and they don't feel like a complete person all the time, just because they're the wife and the mom. They want to be a whole person first… I wanted to make sure that she was the type of woman who fought for that."
Beth, along with the rest of the Pearsons, will find herself in season 5 tackling the two biggest issues facing our country in 2020: the pandemic and the racial reckoning. And it looks like that she will again act as a rock of support. (In the latest trailer, after the family is seen watching Black Lives Matter protests on TV, Beth comforts Randall: "The world is a resilient place. This pain is not forever. Nothing is forever. Except us.") Watson is looking forward to seeing the show — which has tackled myriad issues of race and identity in previous seasons — rise to the challenge of addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and our uncertain time. "Our show is so good at being honest about where we all are at in our lives," she says. "I feel like because that's just part of who we are. That stuff finds itself in there and addresses it in the best ways. What I'm proud of with this show is that we've been addressing a lot of these Black Lives Matter issues along the way anyway, so the way it's coming at us now is in a whole new way, which as a Black woman is blowing my mind — it's painful and yet I'm happy for the change that are happening. But I do believe that we've been showing an honest testimony of who we are. We've been bringing it to people in ways that they haven't seen on television before, and also have shown what the struggle is as a Black child, compared to being a white child. My hope is that [the show] attacks it in an even stronger way directly related to the Black Lives Matter thing. That's something that I'm very passionate about."
Series creator Dan Fogelman says the writers have found a way to incorporate these real world issues into the series in a way that enhances its endgame but does not alter its master plan. But with only two seasons of Pearson drama and mystery left to unspool, is there a dream scene that Watson would love to act in before family time is over? There is — and involves her onscreen husband. "I would love an episode where Beth and Randall really try to have a date night or try to really connect and keep missing each other maybe, but then eventually find each other in like the most unusual way," she says. "I would love to see what it is like when you're in the throes of everyday life and you're really trying to go back to that original connection, and how they would navigate that. I want to see them get to be more passionate and just explore their connection more, even in the midst of what's going on with them job-wise, what's going on with them in new career horizons, with raising kids. I love getting into their core connection. What would be a night where they don't talk about any of that stuff? What would that sound like? I don't even know."
Before you join her in wondering what that date night might look like, Watson leaves you with a hint about Beth for season 5: "She's trying to figure out how to say and do it right."
The two-hour This Is Us season 5 premiere airs Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. Metz also dropped hints about the new season, as did Chris Sullivan. And you might want to hear what Milo Ventimiglia had to say.
This Is Us
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.