When Susan Kelechi Watson first appeared as Beth Pearson in NBC’s mega-hit This is Us, her steady, supporting character could have become just a foil to onscreen husband Sterling K. Brown’s lead role. But she brought such gravitas and complexity to the role that, when a flash forward at the end of Season 2 prompted rumors Beth might be killed off, fans began an online campaign to save her. Now, deservedly surrounded by Emmy buzz, she reassures us that not only is Beth not doomed to die anytime soon, but we’ll be seeing a great deal more of her in Season 3.
Beth is by far your biggest role to date—has the show’s massive success been a strange experience?
Finally breaking through and coming to the other side of something felt really great. It felt like I just reached this new level, but I didn’t know the success that it was going to be. There was no way to predict that This is Us was going to be what it is; that it would really resonate with people. But once it did, we were right in the midst of it, so it was hard to wrap your brain around as it was happening. We were still in this bubble at the very beginning, but I felt really good about it because they let us see the pilot before it aired, and I thought, “Oh, wow. Wait, was it just me or was that really good?”
Was Beth always intended to be this dynamic or did the writers adjust the role when they saw what you could do with her?
Honestly, they didn’t quite know what direction they were going to go in with Beth yet, and so there’s this really cool symbiotic thing that starts to happen. The more I play the character, the more food it gives the writers to go, “Oh, we can go in this direction, or this direction. We’re learning about the character through the actor.” So it goes back and forth. But I was very invested in the beginning, and although I didn’t know much about her, I was giving her my own sense of what her background was, of what she’s fighting for, and who she is, because that is my part in it. She gets to reveal herself a little more slowly than the others so she sort of remains this surprise that we keep learning about. And it gives us the opportunity to tease her out a little bit more.
Fans really panicked when they saw Randall without Beth in the flash-forward at the end of Season 2. Are they right to be worried?
I thought it was hilarious. I was like, “Oh, they think I’m going to die. Oh, I get it. It’s like one of those urban legend things that somebody was making up.” But then people were really expressing this love for her and they’re like, “You better not kill Beth off!”
It’s just so lovely. I was so surprised by it, of course grateful for it, and didn’t expect it. There were all these articles either wishing Beth the best or threatening the writers if they killed her off. But I talked with Dan [Fogelman, creator] about it, and we had a good laugh about it. He was like, “Did you see this? We don’t have any plans to kill Beth off.” That’s when a show means the most, when you see how invested our audience is, and how they’re really tracking with us, which is just awesome. It makes me want to go so much further with her and continue to bring as much life and integrity to her as I possibly can.
Beth is usually so poised. Will we see her get a little messy in Season 3?
You know what, I think she will. Let’s be honest, there’s story that has to be told and the family’s obviously at a place where there’s this crossroads happening for all of them, which is what sort of breaks open the drama, right?
At the end of the day, maybe we just haven’t looked deep into Beth’s closet yet. Once we open up whatever her Pandora’s box is, we’ll see how she deals with it. But at her core, I believe there’s strength. I believe there is a part of her that is used to dealing with a lot of different issues at once. So let’s see what happens when that is challenged by her own personal issues.
We did see Beth having some more dramatic moments towards the end of last season, especially during the trip to Vegas.
I loved this idea of, OK, cool, let’s just put something behind us and have a good time. It came off as her being a little bit harder about it, but it wasn’t that. It was like: I have to think about this every minute of every day and I have to deal with the pain of that. I’m just trying to try over here, I’m just trying to hold on. And if somebody’s given us a weekend away from this, I’m going to take it.
Laura [Kenar] was our writer for that episode. It was so honest and so real, and the argument that her and Randall had was so raw and so real, and it wasn’t trying to be cute, it wasn’t trying to wrap anything up with bow. It was like, “Are you serious right now? Can we have a moment where there’s just no drama?”
And so this has, to me, started to show what we’re cracking into with Beth. What is underneath the surface. What is she dealing with? How does that affect her? And I’m fairly certain, from the conversations I’ve had with the writers, that we’re going to delve more into that next season.
What sort of feedback have you had from viewers?
With my representation of a black woman in the world today, there’s such a powerful response from my community about what it means to have black representation on television. That response is so overwhelming and so strong that I just have to express my own gratitude for it, because I understand the necessity for it. I grew up with that need. I still have that need. I’m thankful that I get to fulfill that need for so many.
Then there’s the aspect of me as a woman and the camaraderie. They just feel like I’m their best friend; this character’s their best friend, and so many women say, “I’m just like you.” Or the goal is to sort of be similar to Beth; it gives them a way to kind of strategize, and helps them to move through their life.
Also, we talked about adoption on the show, and now to be able to talk about fostering, it’s really just such a great opportunity to open that door to that conversation as well. So many people have been through fostering, they understand the complications that come along with that, and so appreciate this storyline, and I’m so thankful I get to be a person who represents that.
So I feel really good about what she’s offering people, whether it be a representation of being an African-American woman in this world, her representation as a woman, of being a woman that other women can identify with, and also of being an advocate for fostering, and for kids who think that maybe they won’t have a chance later in life.