Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The moment I saw the trailer for this show I was hooked and that was months ago. If you don’t know anything about This Is Us (and shame on you for that, really; it was an internet sensation), here’s what you should know before you watch:
Sometimes life will surprise you. Starring Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown, this refreshingly honest and provocative series follows a unique ensemble. As their paths cross and their life stories intertwine in curious ways, we find that several of them share the same birthday, and so much more than anyone would expect. From the writer and directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love. comes a smart, modern dramedy that will challenge your everyday presumptions about the people you think you know.
If the trailer doesn’t convince you that this show needs to become a Tuesday night staple in your TV consumption, the EP and cast’s lively Q&A during the Summer 2016 TCAs definitely will. Full disclosure: I did edit a MAJOR SPOILER out of this discussion. It’s a big twist and you’re gonna wanna watch the premiere live because everyone you know will be talking about it.
Dan, so the Modern Family pilot is notorious for being built around a surprise. At the end, and this pilot functions somewhat similarly, but in the case of Modern Family, ABC gave up the go and started promoting it based on the connection that was made. I’m wondering how you decide to leave and how we keep it a secret necessarily when we’ve all seen it.Â How much do you want it to be a secret and how do you want that to play out in terms of leaving it out of the marketing where you could have placed it?
Dan Fogelman: â€œMarketing is not in my control. It’s in NBC’s control. So far so many people, like yourselves, have seen it, and it feels almost like people are collectively holding hands and talking about the show in a way that doesn’t give anything away for the others. Our hope is that the audience, when the show premieres, can experience the show the same way as somebody who popped in a screener and had no idea what it was about.Â
So I think NBC’s done a really great job of obviously making a sell that is intriguing people without ruining the experience of the pilot. As a group collectively, hopefully we can all do the same so that we can talk about the show.â€
Mandy, you’ve been trying for a series for a while. For this to be the one and for this to be getting the kind of initial reaction it’s getting, can you talk about that a little bit?
Mandy Moore: â€œSure. It was a soulcrushing thing to be a part of pilot season for year after year and for things not to move forward. Not to sound cheesy, but I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and I could not be more thrilled. I read this script in October of last year. Immediately it was like, I would do whatever I can to be a part of this. So, yeah. I’m thrilled that this is the one and it’s moving forward and I get to be part of this incredible cast.â€
For the producers, the scene about TV being such a source of shame for so many people. Did you think that was going to be a sell on the room when you first presented it to the network?
Dan: â€œWell, the whole show is hard to sell in a room because it’s hard to explain what the show is about, so it was the script that sold. The network knew what it was when they bought it. But I think it’s not television just as a source of shame.
Hopefully that moment with Justin where he stands up with his bosses, whether we’re accountants or doctors, we all feel, at times, undervalued or underappreciated or underutilized. It’s taking place in a TV world. Hopefully it’s about all of us, that moment that we all talk about it to our wives and husbands at home where, â€˜Tomorrow I’m gonna tell him this,â€™ and we never say it and this is a character who finally stands up and says it in that way.â€
I found the pilot really compelling, but I also had a hard time figuring out what the show was going to be going forward. It seems like once we know these people are connected the way they are that the show is gonna be something different. So can you give us any sense about what the storylines are going to be going forward and how we are going to see these people move in and out of each other’s lives?
Dan: â€œIt’s a fair question. When we sold the show, we had a whole plan for the series. When it was written, it wasn’t like we are just going to make the pilot and then figure it out if we get lucky enough to get on TV. John Glenn and I describe it as a dramedy version of Lost where you have to understand how everyone’s connected and then explore these people as they move forward.Â
So they’re interconnected. Milo and Mandy’s storyline jumps around in time. You can see that. There’s going to be different looks we play with. And the only way I can describe it is I sometimes think about the fact that I have a great-great-grandfather out there somewhere who I never met nor do I know his name. But in his own way, he’s kind of affected my life because he raised my grandparents who raised my parents who have raised me.Â
I think that’s what that show is. It’s still going to operate the same way. There’s these four interconnected storylines that will all get equal time. And one of the stories is really going to be informing the others, and you’re going to be seeing a growth of these people as we jump around in time. It’s really ambitious, and I think, for network TV, a really bold, hopefully somewhat groundbreaking attempt to explore the condition of the human family.â€
For Dan, much has been made about what a strange phenomenon the trailer has been for this. I was wondering if you guys had any takeaways from the trailer other than more strategic nudity for Milo.Â
Dan: â€œThat’s it. We’re showing his ass in every episode is what we’ve decided.â€
Milo Ventimiglia: â€œI’m just an ass.â€
Dan: â€œHe doesn’t even have lines in the-â€œ
Milo: â€œNo.Â Just wait until my ass starts talking.â€
Dan: â€œThe trailer, I don’t know. You guys can tell me. I think we saw the trailer and we thought NBC had done a great job and it obviously has connected with people. I think the actors have connected with people. I think the world has grown more cynical. Our art has grown more cynical I’ve been saying a lot.
I watch the movie screeners at the end of every year.Â It’s a treat for my wife and I to sit and catch up at the movie theaters and it’s become a slog for me sometimes. It’s all so dark and so cynical and I think there’s something about not just the trailer, but these actors and the show that maybe it’s the right place/right time for a show that has a little bit of hope and optimism and can make you cry, make you feel, but also make you feel good.Â
I didn’t get in the business to work on something that people turn off their TV and they feel worse than they did an hour ago, nor make movies that make people feel worse. I think the goal is to entertain and explore people and hopefully uplift a little without it ever being soft.”
For Sterling and Ron, it’s so rare to see adoption portrayed on TV and even rarer to see the reaching out to the biological parent. Can you talk a little bit about playing out that storyline and finding that connection as actors?
Sterling K. Brown: â€œSure. For me it’s very interesting because I lost my father when I was ten years old, so I’ve gone a long time without him and that void of having things going well in your life. I have two children. Randall has two children.Â Been happily married for quite some time, but there’s still, â€˜If my dad was here to share this with his grandchildren, to see this moment of my son saying this phrase or whatnot.â€™ Like, that’s something that I feel very much in my soul that helped me to connect to Randall in the first place, that I get a chance to explore it throughout the course of this first season of the show that I’m looking forward to.â€
Ron Cephas Jones: â€œFor me it was about the fact that it wasn’t clichÃ© and the fact of also that I’m a father who is playing a father in this and touching base with those feelings and the journey that this character is about to take.
I’m really excited about it because it could go so many different ways socially, medically and just making connection generationally, so that’s what really I’m so excited about, that I get an opportunity to do a character that’s not just clichÃ©, but has some depth and be able to extend the storyline in so many different ways that he can go. So I’m really excited about the challenge.â€
Milo and Mandy, you guys have so many high emotional moments to work out fast in the course of this pilot. I believed in your intimacy. I believed in your connection. How did that happen so fast? How did you make that work?
Milo: â€œIt was the director.â€
Glenn Ficarra: â€œI’m glad you said that.â€
Milo: â€œI think it was just one of those things that it just naturally fit. It’s an odd thing as an actor to play intimacy of a couple that has probably been through their ups and their downs in an immediate moment of being on camera. Sometimes you’re saying, â€˜Hi. How nice to meet you.â€™ But it was a very natural thing.Â It fit. It worked from the moment that we met.â€
Mandy: â€œWe met during the audition process. We had a callback together. I felt this way immediately, like, â€˜Okay.â€™ Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. As an actor, it’s your job to dig a little deeper and find that intimacy and try and make that connection. But then sometimes it’s just right there on the surface.â€
Milo: â€œI think also it’s a commitment to the work. I know Mandy and have had a bunch of conversations about Rebecca and Jack as a couple and our commitment to them. I’d said to her basically, â€˜From action to cut, you’re my wife, so let’s make something beautiful and hopefully entertaining and something people can connect to.â€™â€
Without giving away the ending of this pilot, you guys know that you have a very interesting life ahead of you.
Milo: â€œVery interesting life, yes.â€
Do you know much about it?Â
Milo: â€œYeah. Dan was so gracious to give all of us the road map. I’ve been on shows where we’re kept in the dark and the mystery of what happens is left behind the closed doors of a writers’ room. But Dan is incredibly inclusive to all of us to help us to understand where our characters are going, what they’re doing, what they’re experiencing.â€
Mandy: â€œI think as Dan mentioned, the trajectory where everybody is, what path they’re on. Milo and I, we are jumping around different time periods, so it’s important for us all to have sat together and just understand this timeline of the family and milestone events that happened in their lives, because it affects everyone on the stage and we have to know before we start where we’re going.â€
Is [Gerald] McRaney gone? He was sensational in this. Or will he be part of their lives?
Dan: “No. He’s going to come back and he’ll be part of their lives. We’ve been lucky, I think honestly, because of this cast and because of the quality of actors we had and then the pilot turned out and got the reception, not only Gerald, like, in the first episodeÂ really the first episode after the pilot we’re shooting right now, already Katey Sagal and Brad Garrett are doing parts where they get their monologue.Â
Katey Sagal is playing Justin’s most high-powered agent in Hollywood, her take on Ari Emanuel and Brad Garrett’s playing a powerful network president who Justin is going to have his moment of direct conversation with in the episode. So we’re getting a really high caliber of actors who are wanting to come in and play with these other actors, which has been a really neat surprise, that people are contacting us and saying they want to be a part of the show and they haven’t even seen it yet.â€Â
For Mr.Â Ventimiglia and Ms.Â Moore and anybody else who has timelines that require you to appear at extremely different guises. Do you feel like you are almost playing multiple characters or are you simply going through various stages of maturity and wardrobe?
Milo: â€œI think it’s different iterations of life, you know. I can honestly say, at 39 years old, I’m different today than I was at 37 or 35 or 30 or 21. You change as a human being. But, at your core, who you are, as a human being should ultimately be, always the same.Â
If you’ve got a golden heart, you’ve got a golden heart. It’s never going to go away or be sullied. If you are inclined to be a bad person, there’s not too many good things you can do to hide that. I think it’s just different iterations of the same human beings. We are going to see the variations of it.â€
Mandy: â€œIt’s hard to answer right now considering that we are just in the middle of episode 2. But I imagine, just to piggyback on what Milo said. I feel like it’s just incremental, little nuances that are going to shift.Â
But what I find so compelling and exciting is being able to explore, again, the trajectory of this marriage and having children and the toll that it takes on them both as individuals but collectively as a couple. So that will be fun to balance back and forth and see where their marriage is seven years in and then maybe going back in time a little bit before they had the kids. I think it will be really beautiful to flesh all of that out.â€
Milo: â€œAnd like Dan said, the impact, generational impact, of how their decisions as a married couple are impacting their children.â€
For Chrissy. You have the opportunity to tell a story with this show that we don’t often see on television and I’m curious if you could speak about what it means to you to be telling this story and what you hope. AndÂ do you feel a lot of excitement about being the one to get to do it?
Chrissy Metz: â€œWell, first off, I feel incredibly lucky, a, because there’s probably, I mean, I don’t know many plus-size women who are starring in a television show on a network that is going to be seen by so many people who are affected by being overweight; or even if they are different in some capacity, whether it’s their status or their race or whatever, anyone that feels discrimination, I think, can really relate to the character.Â
So I feel so lucky that I get to be the different one, but I’ve been different all my life. So I’m, like, â€˜Yay, I get to be me, but not me, and me.â€™ So it’s wonderful because, obviously, it’s a life that I’ve led. And I’m not exactly like Kate, but I’m a lot like Kate.Â So I’ve already had people reaching out to me, like, â€˜Oh, my God,â€™ like, the fact that they are addressing, being plus-size or being overweight and still being attractive and still finding yourself through the story. Women, men have reached out to me. So it’s a sense of responsibility and I’m really grateful for that because, I mean, I hope to bring hope.Â
The trajectory of my character, a lot of people are body positive and I’m not saying that I’m not happy with who I am, but a part of me is like I do want to change. I do want to live a healthier life. And so I get to do this in life on the show and itâ€™s, I mean, it’s tenfold of incredible luck and opportunity. It was difficult. I know that you’ve seen the scene where I was, like, â€˜Oh, yeah, I’m not going toâ€¦ I’m just going to have underwear on?Â Okay.â€™â€
Milo: â€œI didn’t even have the luxury of having no underwear on.â€
Chrissy: â€œIf I had a butt like yours, I wouldn’t wear underwear. [Laughter.]Â I’m just saying. I wouldn’t.
So that was a really, it was difficult, but it was also really wonderful because there are people who aren’t courageous enough to do that and for me to be able to do that and on screen and have people support me and women who are perfect, wonderful, beautiful women who are, like, â€˜I could never do that.â€™ And I’m, like, â€˜Well, you need to.â€™
These are our vessels. It’s not everything that we are. I’m not just my body. So it’s been amazing. And I could go on forever but I’m going to stop there because it’s amazing. So, in conclusion, I feel wonderful to be doing this.â€
A question for Justin. Can you talk about your character and what attracted you to this script when you read it?
Justin Hartley: â€œSure. Thanks for the question. I actually got word of the script through a friend of mine who had read it and wanted to know — Dan, I don’t know if I ever told you this or not. He wanted to know if Dan and I were, like, friends that went way back. He goes, â€˜Do you know Dan Fogelman?â€™ I said, â€˜Yeah.â€™ And he goes, â€˜How long have you known him?â€™ I said, â€˜I know of him.â€™ And he goes, â€˜Because I just read something. I think he wrote you in a script.â€™ So then I, which was great because I thought this is going to be so easy. I’ll just waltz in there and be me. But I know what he meant by that.Â So that attracted me to it.
I read it and I thought, â€˜Well, hell, I can do this.â€™ It’s very funny and very touching and then every single other character and story in the script is just so, it’s so beautiful. I mean, the character development throughoutÂ even the first episode is just gorgeous writing and then it just kept getting better and better and better. So I just feel lucky, luckier than you, to be here and happy to share the stage with these fine people.â€
One of the things that was really interesting and moving about the pilot is that there’s the sense of the uncanny. There’s a lot of coincidences. Like, triplets show up in a couple of different places and you have the sense you might be in a slightly magical universe where everything is meant to be and then there’s this twist at the end of the episode. So I was curious how that feeling is going to keep going, if that’s important to the show to continue this sense of interconnected fate or intertwined destinies.
Dan: â€œI think there is. It’s a good question. There’s a romantic melancholy to the entire thing, like a romantic optimistic but melancholy-an that feels lifelike, but a little bigger than life.Â It’s because of the actors. It truly is because the guys killed it directing it and make it look so beautiful. That’s not something you notice when you are watching it, but it’s part of the palette.Â
It does live in this beautiful, heightened, cinematic space, I think, as a look. And, then, the actors and their performers are so grounded. Mandy and Milo shot yesterday, a scene that happened seven years from the pilot. It’s one of the first things we shot from the second episode. I love this show. I love this show too much. I love it so much it scares me, but they were doing, they each did a scene yesterday. I mean, they were both in the scenes, but each of them carries it and I genuinely started tearing up behind the monitor, not because it’s my own show, but because the performances were so affecting. And it felt larger than life and it felt about humanity and this thing that we are all trying to waddle through together the best we can.Â
So I don’t know how you do that. I think we have the right team in place. I think we have the right actors and directors. We have the best people working on this show in every department and I think it will feel in that special zone even without giant twists and things. I just feel it in my bones that it’s going to feel like that as it moves forward.â€
Do you believe in destiny or fate or things like this?
Sterling: â€œTell him, big guy.â€
Dan: â€œI don’t know about the rest of you. I’m not a super spiritual person. I think sometimes things happen in your life when you look at the big picture of your life and you break it down to the 20 moments or the 50 moments or the 100 that you are, like, â€˜Wow, this was a big, gigantic thing I was a small part of.â€™ And I think that’s part of what we are trying to sell here.Â
It also sounds a little highfalutin and artistic-y. And that’s not what we are, but I think that is part of it. It’s romantic and I think life can be romantic when we are not waddling in the shit. Do you know what I mean? And so I don’t know. Am I allowed to say â€˜shit?â€™
There’s a glorious scene in the pilot where there’s a round about mediocre and terrible television. Was there a particular incident in your past that prompted that? And, Justin, can you speak a little bit about filming that round?
John Requa: â€œWe’ve been researching that speech for the length of our careers.â€
Dan: â€œMy first pilot, it didn’t get made, I don’t think it did. I remember the whole thing was rewritten without me, I think, at one point. My tooth fell out. I was so anxious. But I’ve really had blessed television experiences. This one here has been the best experience I’ve ever had in terms of the network.Â
Bob and Jen really trusted us, and they said, â€˜Go make this thing that you feel so passionately about,â€™ which it doesn’t often happen just artistically in any art form when you are talking about big business and it did on this one. And they were there to guide and shepherd if we were going way off the rails, but they really trusted the three of us and the cast. I haven’t had that terribleÂ experience. I don’t know if you guys have.â€
Glenn: â€œNo, no. I mean, not to that extent, no.â€
Dan: â€œÂ It was more the myth of what I’ve heard from others. Everyone I’ve worked with has been perfect. [Laughter.] Justin?â€
Justin: â€œNo. I have. I’ve only had those experiences. No. I’m kidding. I haven’t really had that experience either, but I can say that in television, I certainly haven’t, but in life, I have when you reach that age where you realize you are grown up now, and it comes probably in your early teens or maybe even before that. For me, it did, where you realize you really can’t throw tantrums anymore or do all that nonacceptance. And so it’s nice to beÂ able to, whether it be anything, a job at the mall or a relationship or whatever, it’s nice to be a grown man and be able to throw a controlled tantrum and have people be, like, â€˜That’s funny,â€™ as opposed to â€˜That guy is a real jerk.â€™ So, for me, I wanted to do, like, 10 or 12 more takes.â€
Dan: â€œIsn’t that a great scene in Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks where he’s practicing what he’s going to say to his boss to tell off his boss with his wife and then he goes in and immediately accepts the offer? It’s the difference between what you want to say versus what you do say in the work environment.â€
Edited for space and content.
This Is Us premieres Tuesday, September 20th at 10/9c on NBC.
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