Tonight completed the three-episode “Number” arc of NBC/Fox’s This Is Us, which kicked off November 14. Each episode focused on one of the three Pearson children as adults and during their high school days when they were discovering their own potential.
“Number One” centered on a young Kevin (Logan Shroyer) incurring a high school football knee injury, one which would haunt him as an adult, sending him into a tailspin of painkillers. “Number Two” revolved around Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) miscarriage and the emotional toll it took on her. But tonight on “Number Three,” we see how Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) come to terms with losing Deja (Lyric Ross), the foster child they’ve come to love, as the girl’s mother Shauna (Joy Brunson) re-enters her life. This story is intercut between Randall’s high school self (Niles Fitch), a platinum academic who is scouting Howard University. Below is Deadline’s interview with two-time Emmy winner Brown, who tells us about the origins of tonight’s episode and teases out what we can expect when This Is Us returns from hiatus on January 2.
DEADLINE: How did the writers approach you about this three-episode arc? Was “Number Three” always about Randall letting go of Deja?
STERLING K. BROWN: We were thinking about what our Thanksgiving episode was going to be; the holiday is near and dear to the Pearsons’ hearts. Originally, the Pearsons were going to travel to Memphis to meet Randall’s other family. As the writers were hashing that storyline out and pairing different people, the question came up: “Where’s the Memphis part?” There were all these new people to introduce, and we had so much story to already talk about with the Pearsons, the thinking was that maybe Memphis wasn’t the best idea. Originally there was going to be one episode about the kids exploring their different college options, but ultimately they had so much story that at first it was two episodes then it became three episodes, enough to sustain three characters.
DEADLINE: So will we get to see a Memphis reunion this season?
BROWN: I don’t know if it will happen this season. There’s a potential for it to exist in the future. This season they’re almost done with breaking story on how we end in 2018. We’re shooting Episode 214 right now, and we have four more episodes. We’re shooting right here in Los Angeles at Paramount.
DEADLINE: Keeping tone as an actor, especially on an emotional drama like this, is vital so that the scene stays grounded and nothing goes over the top. How do you maintain it? Do you look at the monitor after each take?
BROWN: My favorite anecdote is from Miss Sarah Paulson (on The People v. O.J. Simpson), who would always ask for a playback by watching it in the camera without any sound. She would watch the visual of her performance. If she was satisfied with the visual, she would move on. I rarely watch playback. If I don’t feel it’s right, I’ll ask for another take. Directors will also shoot extra takes and say, “This one is for you.” There’s so much trust in the writing. The railroad track is in place, and the writing takes us to where the truth of the moment needs to be. We also have great writers, producers and directors like Ken Olin, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa that always tell us when we do and don’t hit the mark and when we can move on.
DEADLINE: Talk about what we saw tonight: Randall in an organic way learns to let go of Deja to her real mother by reflecting on how the Pearsons welcomed in his real father William Hill and made him an extension of the family.
BROWN: At the beginning of the episode, Shauna (Joy Brunson) comes out of nowhere looking for a daughter, but as foster parents, Beth and I have certain rights in regards to Deja. We’re upset, and we don’t want to let this child go. What I love about Randall is that he ultimately has empathy for both sides of the equation. He has empathy for his parents and how they opened their house to him, and he looks back on his relationship with William (Ron Cephas Jones): He knows what the sense of loss is like and wanting to be part of a child’s life and not being able to do that. That conversation he has with him — “Who am I to assert myself in your life against your mother’s wishes?” — Randall asked himself those questions. Whether or not Randall can create a better life for Deja, she has a biological mother who wants to be back in her daughter’s life and a daughter who wants to be reunited with her mother. And at the end of the day, who is Randall to come between a mother and a daughter who wish to be with each other?
DEADLINE: Is Randall a stronger guy than he was in Season 1, when he was crippled with anxiety and the death of his father?
BROWN: Probably. Being off from work and with the kids helps considerably. But he has the fullest sense of fullness. He’s in a reflective position, enjoying being with the kids. That can always change from where he is right now, but it gives us the opportunity to explore other things that people are going through right now, such as Kevin (Justin Hartley).
DEADLINE: Speaking of Kevin and his DUI tonight, how long will we see him at rock bottom?
BROWN: When we come back in 2018, we’ll see the ramifications of his DUI and where his life with the family is in that regard. There’s specifically tension between Randall and Kevin now: My daughter was in the car with someone who was drunk driving. That’s a hard thing to recover from. Randall is very much cognizant that when he was at his lowest point in his life, his brother was there for him. Now, he’s doing the best for his brother.
DEADLINE: And in regards to adopting another child. Will Randall and Beth really have to wait longer like they said tonight?
BROWN: They’re adopting, but not immediately. In the episode you see a young boy talking to a social worker who is destined to join our family. You’ll see the manifestation of that story around Episode 214/215.
DEADLINE: As we learn more about how Jack died, is Randall like Kate in that he feels responsible for his father’s death?
BROWN: I think Randall more than Kate or Kevin feels the most at peace with his father’s passing. I think they didn’t leave anything left unsaid. There’s a sense of wholeness with that relationship at the time of his departure whereas with the other two they may feel they didn’t get to do or say certain things to Jack. Randall is pretty OK with him.
DEADLINE: Does young Randall eventually attend Howard University?
BROWN: We’ll find out. The portion where he goes to Howard University fills me with great joy that I can’t describe. You have a young man in Randall who is being raised by people who love and respect him, but he feels like an outsider. But then he goes on campus and is immersed in his culture with people who look like him. It’s one of those moments where this is the place where he feels like he belongs. It’s a place that answer questions about who he is; a place where he might meet someone like Beth.