At Deadline’s Emmy For Your Consideration event last night for NBC/Fox’s This Is Us, creator Dan Fogelman and cast gathered to provide more clues about season 3 as well as look back at their eight-Emmy-nominated second season.
Less than an hour before the panel discussion began, Fogelman had proudly screened the first episode of Season 3 for his writing staff—an episode he considers “one of our best.” Season 3 (Sept. 25) opens on the Pearson siblings’ next birthday, their 38th, as it has the previous two years. To date, three episodes have wrapped production for season 3
Deadline broke the news atop the session that Michael Angarano is set to recur next season as Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) brother Nicky. As has been suggested in the series to date, Jack’s younger brother meets his end overseas—though we don’t yet know how this plays out.
With a Vietnam shoot planned—involving Jack, Kevin (Justin Hartley), and potentially other characters across the show’s timelines— This Is Us season 3 should reveal Pearson family secrets that have not been outed up to this point.
“I think that’s the plan. With Milo’s character Jack, it’s always been clear that there’s something underneath this guy that we haven’t learned about—what happened to him, what happened in his backstory,” Fogelman said. “So a big part of our season, particularly for Jack, is learning that story.”
“Justin’s heading there. Milo’s potentially heading there, maybe some of our other cast members,” Fogelman said about who is headed to Vietnam. As we saw in the season 2 finale, Kevin is flying to Vietnam with his new girlfriend, Zoe, who is sister-in-law Beth’s cousin.
In addition, audiences last night received a sneak peek of episode 1 of Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) on an awkward first date. In the scene, Jack, a recently returned Vietnam vet, drives Rebecca home after a rain downpour. He tells her that he decided not to buy an umbrella, since he only had $9 in his pocket, so she could play games at the carnival. “You don’t bring a girl to a carnival and not let her play any games,” Jack tells her. For Rebecca, the first date wasn’t a misfire as she was smitten with Jack just by the way he looked at her, and so, kisses him.
Also in season 3, we’ll see the first meeting between Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) Pearson with further expounding on the back stories of newlyweds Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz). Remember in the season 2 finale we got a glimpse of Toby suffering a bout of depression (Episode 4 is titled “Toby”). In addition, Fogelman, revealed that we’ll learn about the woman who older Randall and grown-up daughter Tess were talking about in the season 2 finale (there’s been buzz that they’re possibly referring to Beth on her deathbed).
Apart from these revelations, last night’s wide-ranging conversation offered some insight into the creative process of putting the family drama together.
“Our office is across the (Paramount) lot, and we do a process where, when we write a script, all of our writers gather and we do a page turn on the script, where we beat up the script and, no matter who wrote it, the other writers get to kind of crap on it,” Fogelman told Deadline’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Nellie Andreeva.
“Then we change it and adjust and fight, and then we do the same thing when we have a first cut. We bring it to all the writers and we watch it collectively, and then we talk for a while,” the creator added.
Addressing character arcs in Season 2, a major topic of conversation among the cast was the death of Jack, memorably presented in Season 2’s “Super Bowl Sunday”, and the process of bringing this painful moment from the Pearson family’s past to life.
Asked whether any co-stars regretted not getting one final scene with Jack before his demise, Ventimiglia felt his character’s death was handled just as it should have been, singling out a final, beautiful moment shared between Jack and Rebecca, before the unimaginable transpired. “The scene previous, where [Jack and Rebecca] are sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, just having a conversation, and there’s gratitude for just both being there, and being alive…You never get those moments in life; you don’t know what is going to happen,” the actor said, reflecting on the human condition, to audience applause. “So god**mmit, you better live your life, you better love deeply, and love fully, and love as hard as you can. Because you may not get the moment.”
For Ventimiglia, who received his second lead actor Emmy nod for the drama series this season, Jack’s death presented “one of the hardest scenes I shot all year, laying as still as I could, listening to one of my closest friends just completely break. That just hurt.” Echoing her television hubby’s sentiments, Moore explained why this moment was difficult for her. “I think it’s because there was so much expectation that I had sort of placed on myself. Like, ‘This is the moment!’ Everything sort of hinges upon this for this woman; it’s like life before and life after this moment, as it would be in real life,” she said. “I just really wanted to make sure it delivered properly—and my job was made easier, obviously, by what Dan wrote. Because it was all on the page.” The actress also explained her method in working her way through taxing scenes of this nature. “I’ll sit in like a fetal position and listen to the same song over and over again, that I’ve designated will elicit some sort of reaction on that day for me,” she explained.
Sitting next to Moore, Brown was able to testify to Moore’s commitment to her craft, in even the most difficult of moments. “I can remember Dan coming up to set and talking about Mandy because she had a run of episodes—like 14, 15, 16—where she was just dealing with the grief of losing her husband. He’s like, ‘I think I’m going to kill Mandy Moore. I think she may die from just tear exhaustion, and breaking down,'” he remembered. “You went through the gauntlet, and you did so exquisitely.”
For his part, Hartley reflected on actor son Kevin’s emotionally difficult second season, which saw him abusing painkillers as he tried to cope with the pain of his father’s death, still present after all these years. “I look at it like this whole time, he’s never addressed it. So he’s literally opening the book, turning page one, trying to figure out how to deal with this thing,” the actor said. “There are things in his life [that] are triggering memories in his past that he has suppressed, or maybe remembered a different way. He’s starting to put all those pieces back together, and he’s also just fresh out of rehab, too, so he’s teetering.” Hartley added that Kevin isn’t out of danger when it comes to his problems with drugs and alcohol, “and I think he’s aware of that.”
Additionally, Brown discussed Randall’s drive to adopt—to become a father once again—following the loss of his own two fathers. “I think we start off the season with Randall on fire with this idea of wanting to adopt, [wanting] to complete the circle of what Jack and Rebecca did for him. He has this very strong idea that he doesn’t necessarily talk through with his wife… and then she has her ideas that are slightly different,” Brown said. “It forces him to recognize that one, my marriage is necessarily different than that of my parents. My parents had a loving marriage, but we have a marriage that is our own thing that we have to articulate and come up with the parameters for ourselves.”
“I love that sort of perfectly imperfect idea.” the actor continued, “We are both out in front, and we make our decisions together.”
For more from our conversation with the creator and stars of This Is Us, take a look above. You can listen to the night’s panel in its entirety by clicking below.