This sidebar appeared in the June 14 Emmy drama contenders issue of Awardsline
If you’ve been moved to tears watching This Is Us on NBC, imagine actually being one of the Pearsons. We spoke with Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley about how the show hits them on a gut level, and how the Pearsons came to be off camera.
Getting the Part: I was hesitant about throwing myself in the ring after three failed pilots, but the script was undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Dan’s and felt certain that I was Rebecca and was dying to be a part of it. I felt OK after my initial audition—which is huge for me because usually, I’m super critical—but I waited a month to hear back from them because I think I came in right in the beginning of the audition process. I ended up being asked to take part in a chemistry read with a few guys, but then only read with Milo in the end. Of course, I walked away wanting to be part of the show even more because the chemistry with Milo was so effortless and palpable.
Takeaway Moment: Jack’s drinking in Episode 2 and the fight in the finale highlight the different colors of this woman and their marriage. It’s easy to understand the deep, kinetic love between them, but I’m happy that we have the opportunity to show a fully fleshed-out marriage of challenges and obstacles, too.
How the Show Changed Her Life:
Life feels completely different from this time last year. To be a part of a project that seems to have struck a chord with a broad swatch of people and help unite us all during tumultuous times, isn’t lost on any of us. The job security isn’t so bad, either.
Getting the Part: It was literally an audition. I was close to people who were close to John Requa, Glenn Ficarra and Dan Fogelman. I walked into the room, and the second I mention our mutual friend, they’re smiling. As much as I heard great reviews about them, they heard also about me. I did what came out of me in regards to Jack, and I felt this very blue-collar tie to him. It was an easy process to tap into the character. My own father is the biggest influence in playing Jack personally. I saw the same heart in Jack that was in my father. He was a man who was passionate about his family, wanting to give to them, not just roof and clothes, but give them lessons to be learned for our success. My father was in the printing business, grew up in Chicago, went into service in Vietnam, and coached little league teams. Every Friday night, he was always around and present.
Takeaway Moment: That fight in the season finale is less of a fight and more of Jack’s final message to his wife. Given the audience’s knowledge of his pending death, he’s not aware of that. He’s laying it all out to his wife like he’s always done. The message is that the kids will be fine, but without his wife and partner, he’s not OK. Seeing Rebecca’s reaction there is hope, and in the landscape of TV, this fight wasn’t as bloody as other battles on TV. In reality, those things being said, how does he get back on track with his wife? That’s the real life struggle. We all make mistakes and accidentally hurt people. At the end of the day, how do you direct yourself back to the joy in that partnership? In regards to the occurrences leading up to Jack’s death, people should pay more attention. Yes, Kate has been the only one vocal about it, but what about Randall, Kevin, and Rebecca? People shouldn’t set their sight on just one view.
How the Show Changed His Life: I meet a lot more people on the streets. When someone approaches me with a smile on their face, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give some positivity and therapy to people. I feel the show has opened my heart up to more humanity, to understanding that life is hard enough. We all experience difficult times and I try to be the light of hope to other people I’m around.
Sterling K. Brown
Getting the Part: I met John and Glenn in New York City a couple of years ago when I was doing the Public Theater and auditioned for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and shot the movie with them. They recommended that I meet Dan. Now, if I hadn’t done the play at the Public Theater, the meeting wouldn’t have taken place, and I would have never been in Whiskey and met Dan. When I met Dan, he was cool. I felt no pressure. I was still shooting The People v. O.J. Simpson, and I had been a fan of his Crazy, Stupid, Love. So, I gushed about his work and the pilot script, which was the best thing I had read in network television. There was no attachment to the meeting at the time, it was an opportunity for me to go in and tell him how much I appreciate his work. When you enter into a room like that, the love of the project translates into work.
Takeaway Moment: Any opportunity to work with Ron Cephas Jones is true wonderment. He’s such a pure, present soul. When you look in his eyes, you really recognize something special. I also love how Randall parents his girls and doesn’t apologize for it. It’s something I relate to as a parent. I have two young children myself and you pray you’re doing right for them. Your best guess is to commit and move forward. Then Episode 15, “Jack Pearson’s Son”, was tremendous; trying to portray the realities of social anxiety and how debilitating it can be. In Episode 16, having lost my father at a young age, it was a cathartic moment for me to have the opportunity to say goodbye to William. When I was 10, I had to stay home from the hospital when I lost my own father.
How the Show Changed His Life: I was always cognizant of the fact of the power of art to transform life. That’s why I got into the game in the first place, but I don’t think I had a job that has fulfilled all those directives as completely as This is Us. A number of times, people have approached me, not just about how wonderful the work has been, but how important and therapeutic it has been for them, in allowing them to deal with loss and grief in way that helps them move forward. That sort of healing power in a TV show is something that I’ve never encountered before in a TV show and to be part of that is a dream come true.
Getting the Part: The script was incredible from the moment I started it; it felt different. I desperately wanted an audition and begged my agent for the opportunity to read for casting. This was a role that finally broke down the real issues behind weight; inadequacy, codependent relationships and living in the shadows. The callback—which I didn’t think was coming—was unlike any other I had ever experienced. Dan, John and Glenn really worked with me through every scene. Glenn even asked me to grab my purse out of the lobby and walk into the scene through the door. It was as if they were already directing me.
Takeaway Moment: There’s something really wonderful about shooting the pilot and finding your footing as you go. The Hollywood party in Episode 2 was a riot; have you seen Chris Sullivan’s moves?! We worked ’til the sun came up and it was amazing. The painting episode with the most moving monologue featuring Justin Hartley just cracked me wide open. We were sobbing at the table read. I have to say seeing Rebecca walk in Randall’s home with the moon necklace and another man—Miguel—by her side still gets me. The fight scene in the finale with Jack and Rebecca was shocking and hard to watch; even when you sympathize with them individually, you see and understand people change, nobody is perfect and when our egos are challenged, the hurt is hard to stomach.
How the Show Changed Her Life: Just about in every way possible. From recognition to opportunities, to crying with strangers in bathrooms, living my dream daily and traveling to places I never thought I would see.
Getting the Part: This started before I met [John, Glenn and Dan]. I had a script in my inbox from my agent and I was going to sit down and spend four or five hours, and read a couple of them. One of them was a pilot by Dan Fogelman, and I thought, I want to read that baseball pilot [Fogelman’s cancelled series Pitch]. Turned out the pilot I read was This is Us, which then went by the name the Untitled Dan Fogelman project. I thought it was fantastic. I called my agent and said, “You got to get me in the room.” I knew I had a special take on Kevin. I wanted to tap into where he came from, and what created this mess. I went into the room before Glenn, John and Dan, and it was a monologue I had to deliver about the Challenger explosion, and Kevin was ready to explode and have a nervous breakdown. I thought Kevin was funnier than being a nut job and he had this interesting, humorous take on his situation, like he was searching for answers. I made them laugh and left the room feeling good with what I did.
Takeaway Moment: That monologue about the painting; even though he was trying to explain it to his niece, it was the first time that Kevin realized what he was saying. He was learning as he was saying; that changed his approach from that point forward. He took the play more seriously. When he explains the moment to his nieces, it sets him on a path where he feels better; this is how he wants to live his life. The moment that he left the play to be with Randall; that was the only choice in Kevin’s mind. Kevin in general is really discovering himself, living his life as an adult.
How the Show Changed His Life: It’s a show that even if I wasn’t on it, I’d watch every episode. I’ve slowed things down that needed to be slowed down in life. You tend to, in life, get away from your center. Especially in this business, if you don’t constantly remind yourself of the little moments, you’re 50 and the kids are out of the house. [The show] has helped me appreciate; made me recognize the little interactions. Running into complete strangers, you suddenly have something to bond with them over: the meaning of the show. You’re friends with these people you don’t know because you have a common love of the show.