‘This Is Us’: Mandy Moore on Rebecca’s Health Journey & ‘Super Ambitious’ Season 5
This Is Us continues to take viewers on an emotional rollercoaster, and Season 4 definitely set a high bar in tear-jerking moments — particularly with the story of Pearson family matriarch, Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
Moore, who already has the challenge of portraying Rebecca across the NBC drama’s many timelines, had the additional task of diving into Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s journey. In the explosive fourth season finale, Rebecca decided to take part in a St. Louis-based clinical trail for her illness at the behest of son Randall (Sterling K. Brown)… and against son Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) wishes.
As fans wait to see how effective the trial will be for Rebecca’s condition, TV Insider caught up with Moore in the midst of Emmys season to discuss her Season 4 performance. The actress breaks down Rebecca’s big moments of the season, including when she told off Kate’s (Hannah Zeile) abusive boyfriend Marc (Austin Abrams). Plus, she opens up about being directed by costars Hartley and Milo Ventimiglia, who plays onscreen husband Jack Pearson.
And despite the ongoing delays in production, Moore says, “When we get the all clear, the writers are ready and the stories are there.” Find out what’s ahead for Season 5 and reflect on Season 4 below.
Rebecca really began her Alzheimer’s journey this season. What were the most challenging parts about exploring that Season 4 storyline?
Mandy Moore: We’re all incredibly lucky on the show, because it’s sort of an open-door policy in the writers room. Before each season, we sit down with the room and hear what the arc of the season is going to be. So I’ve known for quite a while that this is part of Rebecca’s story, but I wasn’t sure when it was going to be introduced. I felt like they were laying the groundwork for it. I remember running over to our showrunners, Isaac [Aptaker] and Elizabeth [Berger] and I was like, “Is this happening? Do I need to prepare for this?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s coming.” So I knew that the latter half of this season was going to focus a lot on this for Rebecca and it doesn’t make it any easier.
The most challenging part has been not letting Mandy’s feelings of what’s happening to Rebecca eclipse the characters, because [Rebecca] is so stoic and is handling it with so much grace, where I have to sort of disassociate my grief for her from the character. So having to hold that back has been really hard. I remember specifically when I tell Randall that I think something’s wrong and I want to go see a doctor, and he just squeezes my hand. We shot that scene two or three times, and I wanted to cry, but I held back, because that didn’t feel like the appropriate reaction for her on Thanksgiving Day with her entire family around. I remember when we cut, and the rest of the company moved on, I was done with work for the day and just started weeping.
We’re pretty conditioned at this point on This Is Us. We can take off whatever our costumes are and be able to move on with our day and not take home the emotional weight of the job with us, but this has been a real exception this season. I think it speaks to the way she is carrying this news and how it transforms her. She’s able to parse it out, and come to the conclusion that it’s always about family. And the idea that she wants to live her life to the fullest and be present for as long as possible with her family is the most beautiful sentiment. And I feel like it so typifies exactly why she’s the glue of the Pearsons.
The battle between Kevin and Randall over what they think is best for their mother was another big part of this past season. Does your opinion about Rebecca’s decision to go with the clinical trial differ from Rebecca’s own mindset?
Yeah. Luckily, I think Kevin and Randall do a good job of shielding their real animosity and the underlying anger, or resistance, that they have for one another. I know that she’s aware of it, but obviously, I didn’t bear witness to the giant blowout fight they had in the last episode. I remember reading that and I was like, “How you come back from this?” You never forget some of these things that are lobbed at you. I can understand both sides of the coin. I could understand a child trying to convince their parents, and wanting to do absolutely everything and exhaust every option possible to extend their time together. And then also, I can understand a child respecting the wishes of their parent.
I know it’s not a decision Rebecca made flippantly. She truly understood her options, and did her research, and knew that there were other options out there. But I think what made her feel most comfortable was this move to Los Angeles, and being with her son and daughter, and her son-in-law, and her new grandson, it gave her a new lease on life. It’ll be interesting to see how next season unfolds and the experience of going to St. Louis and doing the trial. Does it help? Does it draw a line in the sand in terms of the rift between the brothers? I don’t know, but I understand both of their perspectives, and wanting to cater to both.
We also saw Rebecca pull rank as the Pearson family matriarch in the storyline about Kate’s abusive relationship with Marc. How do you prepare for intense moments like that?
I don’t think that Rebecca gets to bare her teeth that often as mama bear, but I think there was so much wrapped up in that relationship. There’s a deep understanding and empathy for what Kate is going through, as a young woman who just lost her father. I think Rebecca really carried around a lot of guilt and shame that, had Jack still been alive, there’s no way Kate would have found herself in a relationship like [the one she had with] Marc. And being preoccupied with trying to get herself back on her own two feet, and finding them a new home, and starting a new job, she feels like she’s really spread thin, and there’s just so much dis equilibrium in her life at this point.
When she really is able to pin down the kind of emotional abuser that Marc is, she carries a lot of guilt about that, but I love any opportunity to be able to jump into showing that side of Rebecca, because she is fierce. I have this deep connection, and relationship, and history now with these kids. I look at Logan [Shroyer], Niles [Fitch], and Hannah [Zeile] and they are my children. Having been together for four seasons, it’s like you build this history with people and it makes it so much easier to jump into those moments realistically, because I do feel protective of them. I look at them and I’m like, “They’re my kids.” So it’s not as much of a challenge to jump into that kind of experience.
Your castmates Justin Hartley and Milo Ventimiglia directed episodes this season. What was it like being directed by costars who understand what it’s like to act in this series?
Milo and Justin came into this experience with very different point of views, but very specific point of views. Milo and I don’t even have to talk about what we’re going to do in a scene. At this point we’re just so comfortable with one another, but I really marveled at watching him in a scene with me, directing where the cameras were going to go and then we would do the scene, and jump out to watch a take on the monitor of himself and then go, “Okay, I know what I want to do differently.”
I loved Justin’s episode [“A Hell of a Week: Part Three”]. I really relish any opportunity to work with Chrissy [Metz] and have that much time together. I’ve also relished watching the relationship between Rebecca and Kate mend, and see them find common ground with one another. Mother-daughter relationships and dynamics are so complicated and complex to begin with, and watching them start to understand each other with Kate becoming a mom herself, that sort of softens her and her approach to Rebecca. Having that moment singing karaoke together, it was really such a joy. That kind of new energy from Rebecca is just really powerful to me. It’s so interesting knowing [Milo and Justin] as human beings and as actors, and watching them infuse that into their experience sitting behind the camera. I loved it and I can’t wait to work with both of them again.
Would you ever consider directing?
I would love to, yes. I think most of us have raised our hand in that regard to try the directing position. I would love to do that. It’d be so much fun to do with the well oiled machine in place, and the majority of our crew has been with us since day one, and it feels like the perfect training ground, more or less, to try your hand at it.
Whenever Kate and Rebecca share a scene, fans know things will get emotional. But beyond working with Chrissy, which of your castmates would you like to work with more that you don’t usually join on-screen?
I am in awe of Lyric Ross and Asante Blackk. I just think they’re extraordinary actors and they’re at the very beginning of their careers. I’d love to spend more time over in the Pearson households over on the East coast, even though we’re on the West coast now. I think that would be fun. It’s hard, because I don’t know what necessarily places me in a scene with them other than a family holiday. I think I’m most excited this next season, because I know it’s going to explore the Rebecca-Miguel dynamic, and how they found their way into each other’s lives 10 years down the road, and coupled up.
So we’re going to see the beginning of Rebecca and Miguel’s romance in Season 5?
Yes. We’ve been talking about it for so many years and I feel like this is finally the season. I know that that’s something that the writers are anxious to explore and I feel like that will be one of the greatest tricks of the show is getting people to get on board with Rebecca and Miguel (Jon Huertas). I know it’s always going to be “Jack and Rebecca,” but they deserve a new lease on life together, and I’m excited to see how they’re going to bring us together.
You’re a pro at this point when it comes to transitioning between Rebecca’s various timelines, but which shifts are the most difficult and which are easiest for you?
You would think that the present day would be the most challenging. They all have their own sets of challenges, but I would say the [timeline] I feel most emotionally burdened by is the one after Jack’s passing. When the kids are getting ready to go off to college and graduating. That’s always the hardest, because you have to carry around that fresh grief and it’s right under the surface. I think the immediate aftermath of his passing that year later is crushing, and I feel similarly to when the kids are little as well. Having lost baby in childbirth, you’re still carrying around that loss as well along with the overwhelming chaos of being a new mom and having three kids.
You’ve mentioned Rebecca and Miguel’s relationship as being part of Season 5. What else can you tease about the upcoming season?
I know the writers have been working for a while. They reconvened probably, six weeks ago, maybe a little longer. I know that Dan [Fogelman] has written the first two episodes of the season. I know it’s super ambitious, like our show always is. I am biased, but I feel like it keeps getting better and better. I marvel at how extraordinary our writers are, and how innovative and inventive they are, I am excited.
We’ve all had a couple of Zoom calls together and talked about what it’s going to look like going back to work, and what we’re going to be exploring. I think the writers are leaving themselves open to what is happening in the world right now, and whether or not they’re going to incorporate that is still a little bit up in the air. I think they want to give themselves the leeway and the freedom to bring some of that in, if it makes sense, but everything is changing so quickly. So I’m curious to see how we’re going to address that, because I don’t see how we couldn’t in some way.
This Is Us, Season 5 Premiere, TBA, NBC