‘This Is Us’ EP Dan Fogelman on What All Those New Faces Mean Moving Forward

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Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 4 Premiere of This Is Us, “Strangers.”]

For some shows, adding new characters could take away from the overall feel of the show or take you out of what you loved about the series in the first place — but not NBC’s This Is Us.

In the Season 4 premiere, the Emmy-winning drama continued exploring the saga of the Pearson family over various timelines. It also took a lot of time introducing several new characters and, as the show likes to do, kept us guessing about how these new faces would figure into the Pearsons’ lives. [Read our recap from last night’s episode for more details.]

Now that the premiere is behind us, it was a good time for executive producer/showrunner Dan Fogelman to explain some of the decisions and also tease what’s coming next.

Fogelman fielded questions from reporters who had seen the episode early. Here are some of the highlights of what he had to say:

Who is the new Jack?

In a future timeline (Fogelman says it’s about “10 plus years” after that season 3 finale scene where we say an 80-something Rebecca (Mandy Moore), we meet Jack (Blake Stadnik), who is an aspiring singer/songwriter and also Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) grown son. “We’ve known for a while now that Kate’s son was going to be born prematurely and blindness retinopathy is a very common thing that would come from that,” Fogelman explained.”We’ve always known that this was where we were heading. It wasn’t a debate about what type of thing may or may not happen [but] was always part of the character and the story that we were planning on telling. But certainly music has always been a big part of this family’s story generationally, and obviously continues on down the line.”

Blake Stadnik as Jack (Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Fogelman also explained that Stadnik, is blind in real life and, primarily a theater actor, this is his first television acting gig. “We’re kind of in love with the actor that we found,” he said. “Right now we’re telling stories in the beginning half of this season that focus a little bit more on the present day stories, but it is a place we’re heading towards again, multiple times. Especially because we had an experience with [Blake], who was acting on camera literally for the first time in his entire life that was so rewarding for us…sometimes those things happen and the parts get even bigger than you were planning on making them.”

The showrunner laughed as he added, “Blake’s first day of shooting was literally lying completely naked in the bed and then having like a six hour make-out scene with a young woman opposite him and then going onto the stage of the Greek Theater (in Los Angeles) in front of thousands of people during an intermission of a concert to perform a song. And so it was quite a trial by fire for him, and he just kind of blew us away in every possible way.”

(Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Jack vs. Rebecca’s father

One of the big surprises of the season four premiere was that it’s not Rebecca’s mother (Elizabeth Perkins) who will be an obstacle for Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) in wooing Rebecca in their early courtship but her father (Tim Matheson).

“I find it wildly visceral and engaging to see, okay, Jack and Rebecca’s love story had, for instance with Tim’s character, an obstacle and how did they overcome that? Did they overcome that?” said Fogelman. “You haven’t seen Rebecca’s father in their lives ever in the first three seasons of the show. Elizabeth Perkins has played her mother [before], but where’s her father? He’s been referenced a few times. Is there estrangement? What was the course of their relationship? Like we did last year with Vietnam, [there are ] such interesting places to return with Jack. You know how the man’s story ended, but how he got there is such an interesting thing for us to fill in as writers.”

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One storyline this season will focus on “Jack’s relationship with his soon to be father-in-law as he takes him to a country club to learn a sport Jack doesn’t know and is embarrassed by, and then [that story] plays in generationally with how fathers teach their sons golf.”

Those other new faces

Fogelman and his team of writers have big plans for incorporating the new faces – like Jennifer Morrison, Nick Wechsler, Omar Epps, Tim Matheson and When They See Us‘s Asante Blackk. “It’s fair to say they’re massive parts of this season,” he explained. “They’re not just in a one off episode as the person who was in a room when Nicky threw a chair through the window, or to meet Deja at a party. It’s going to go far beyond that and it’s a slow build.”

Asante Blackk as Malik (Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

He also added that meeting the characters on their own first was all part of his master plan. “Now you really are kind of inside of these characters stories and you know them and now we slowly start building them into their worlds and see how they kind of effect and really change their lives.”

The showrunner also said that adding these new faces was always part of the plan. “We had always talked about in the middle of the series to do this episode to start a season with these characters who were going to come in and kind of change the course of people’s lives,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that we can all go about our lives for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and there’s a person who will enter your life via work or you’ll meet them at a bar or a coffee shop, and you’ll end up marrying that person or working with that person for the next 30 years. Or that person will hit you in a car accident, and that will kind of alter the course of your life.”

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He also wanted to reassure fans that these new faces won’t take away from our core cast but “these stories are really about Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate, and Jack and Rebecca, and so these characters are servicing them while also rounding out our world. But I think by the end of this season you’ll really see that, the effect that these new characters have had on the lives of the people that we really know. This is just the starting point.

More answers to big questions coming

Fogelman, aware there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the Pearsons journey, has plans to pay some of them off this season. “We’re going to get a lot of answers, especially by the end of the front half of the season,” he said. “Right now by having shown the full end game of where we are without giving all the details, we’ve kind of set ourselves up to start the slow process of telling the story of how we get there. Now it’s kind of the fun of filling in those details [and] also to have a little bit more information that informs those future scenes without kind of jumping all the way to it and showing everything.”

Jennifer Morrison as Cassidy (Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC