Mandy Moore (‘This Is Us’) on what makes Rebecca Pearson ‘special’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Mandy Moore just earned her first Emmy nomination for playing Rebecca Pearson on “This Is Us.” She has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards alongside her castmates on the NBC drama series.

Moore recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about finally getting that Emmy nomination, what makes Rebecca a special mom and what’s ahead for Season 4 of “This Is Us.” Watch the exclusive video interview and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Mandy, first of all, congrats on your Emmy nomination. Talk us through the morning of.

Mandy Moore: Thank you so much. I had the day off from work so I went to exercise, to just get out of my head and not think about the morning. I mean, we’re 54 episodes in, three seasons in, so what was top of mind was just my fingers crossed for the rest of my cast and for our show to get some sort of recognition ‘cause it’s such a fun party to be invited to, the Emmys. So I went to this exercise class and by the time I got out, I waited until I got to my car to look at my phone and I had like 65 text messages or something. My immediate instinct was, “Oh no, did something happen?” I also thought, “Maybe the show didn’t get nominated, which his fine but what a bummer. Maybe it’s just people reaching out to say they were sorry or something.” And the first message that I happened to look at was from my husband and he said, “You did it!” And I literally couldn’t compute what that meant. So I called him and was like, “What’s the text message about?” He’s like, “You did it!” I was like, “Did what?” He’s like, “You were nominated!” I’m like, “Wait, the show was nominated?” He’s like, “No, you are!” To say it was unexpected is a massive, massive understatement.

GD: I had the pleasure of talking to you last year and thinking, “Mandy Moore, she’s a shoo-in for a nomination,” and then, unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It’s one of those ones where I was thinking, “That really sucked. It didn’t happen but oh well. It’s not the end of the world.” So this year for it to happen just a little delayed must have felt really nice, right? What’s been the feedback on the set? Seven actors from the show have been nominated, some guests but that’s incredible.

MM: I know. It’s unheard of. Honestly, this stuff is never expected. I don’t care what people say. It’s so crazy. I’ve been in this business for 20 years. This is not something that I ever expected. It’s not ever something I was working towards. Like you said, seven actors and last year it was similar, and the first year. I think it just speaks to the remarkable elevated writing that we have. A show like ours is able to attract incredible guest stars like Phylicia Rashad and Gerald McRaney and Griffin Dunne, the likes of these remarkable actors who wanna come and play with us. I hope that will continue. We’re Episode 3 into Season 4 already and I feel like we’re just continuing along that trajectory.

GD: Yeah, it’s really nice. Just in case anyone was wondering, it’s Milo [Ventimiglia], Sterling [K. Brown], Chris [Sullivan], Michael Angarano, Ron Cephas Jones and Phylicia Rashad. That’s a really nice group of people to be nominated. You know what else, you guys keep winning the SAG Ensemble prize as well so there’s obviously an affection that actors for this show. Why do you think that is?

MM: Oh my gosh. It’s pretty mind-blowing. The SAG Award two years in a row is just a beautiful thing to be able to share as a cast because with a show like this, it is truly an ensemble. I feel like as an actor you have no choice but to step up. Every actor that you’re in a scene with is raising the bar and you’re just clawing your way to try and keep up with them. I hope that it’s a message of our peers in the industry appreciating the work we’re lucky enough to get to do. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this is absolutely the best job I’ve ever had and I recognize it will probably be the best job I ever have in my career. I’m appreciating every second of it. It continues to be soul-fulfilling and a challenge every day. We are truly a family, as we have been from the jump. It’s such a treat to continue to go to work but also, you’re never asleep at the wheel with “This Is Us.” None of us are. We have to constantly show up. I feel like the specific challenge I have playing Rebecca and jumping from every single decade, I think, in Season 3, I played her from 16, which was insane, to 85. I constantly am just churning in the work, not to get too heady about it. It’s a constant challenge and I’m delighted by it every day.

GD: I don’t think many people fully appreciate that you are playing her in different time periods. You get to put on the makeup and you have the costumes and the hairstyling but a lot of it is actually in your performance, which I was actually noticing, in particular, this season. Is there anything that you can point to that you’re doing to be the different Rebeccas?

MM: I think most specifically for me is the physicality of present-day Rebecca, who’s about 68, 69 at this point. It’s just a slight hunch, which I kind of already have naturally. There’s a little bit more grounded-ness to her. When we first started Season 1, Episode 2 where this iteration of Rebecca is introduced, the very first scene they made me shoot was opposite Ron Cephas Jones, which was not kind. I was so nervous. I worked towards it and thought a lot about the physicality that a woman at that juncture of her life would have, having gone through losing a spouse, losing a child in childbirth, being remarried, having grandchildren, having adult children, every different color that infiltrated her life. There’s a grounded-ness. There’s an ease of relaxing into it. I also think about the weird things. Maybe she’s got a little arthritis in her hand. Maybe it’s not anything that anyone picks up on but the little things I’m thinking about, like her physicality, her body, where things hurt, where she carries some of her emotions, the things that have burdened her in life. At this point, it’s like slipping into an old pair of comfy shoes. When I go through that makeup process and I slap on the wig and I have her clothes and little cardigans and stuff on, I’m immediately transformed. My sense memory is, “Oh, I’m working with Justin [Hartley] or I’m working with Chrissy [Metz].” I only know them as Rebecca in the present day as their mom. That helps, too.

GD: Is there a particular time period that is your favorite, that you’re most comfortable with or are you happy just to do whatever the writers tell you to do?

MM: I kind of love them all. I would say Milo and I always laugh because the easiest, relatively speaking, is when the kids have been eight, nine, 10, now they’re 12, that time period because there’s a little more levity. Jack and Rebecca are, for the most part, in a really good place in their marriage. Their kids are growing up and they’re starting to get into the preteen years, which are maybe a little messier for them. It’s easy in hair and makeup. It’s not a ton to think about in that regard. The ‘70s are also that way too ‘cause it’s young love and it’s just a woman who is on the brink of figuring out who she is and the world is her oyster. I’d say what is not most difficult but certainly not the most exciting place to live is Rebecca post-Jack’s passing, which is where we spent a lot of last season. Her grappling with life as a single parent and having lost the superhero parent and picking up the pieces of her life and trying to step up and be there for her kids while she’s dealing with her own enormous grief.

GD: That’s actually critical to how we follow her journey last season because Jack was the super dad and Rebecca then had to come into her own as a super mom. What I found really interesting was she became quite the grounding presence in the show. I don’t know if that was intentional but that’s how I felt her journey progressed over the season. I’m wondering, given that that’s like a lot of mothers in families, tend to be the grounding presence, did you draw from your own life or any other inspiration to try and create that vibe?

MM: Sure. I’m really happy that Season 3 allowed everyone to come to the realization, most of all her adult children, that Mom really was and is the glue of this family. Speaking in generalizations, moms often are the unsung heroes of the family and don’t get all of the credit that they deserve. I definitely draw inspiration from my own mom and other mothers that I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by in my life. I think in that sense, and it’s what the appeal of the show is, is Rebecca is not an anomaly. She’s all of us. She’s all of the moms out there. There’s nothing innately special about her necessarily but that is what makes her special. She’s everything for her family. Her family is always first. People really dogged her for the first two seasons and I have such affection for who she is and the fact that all of these characters are human and they’re fallible and they make mistakes, and she’s certainly made choices that I don’t agree with personally but she’s trying her level best as we all kind of are in life. I think that’s what, again, is the trick of the show and it’s why people continue to have such affection for these characters and this story.

GD: Absolutely, and the thing is, there’s not a lot of shows like “This Is Us” that make you feel. It’s a very feeling type of show and I think that’s another reason why the actors branches of whatever academies and so forth have really taken to the show ‘cause actors are people and they have feelings so I just think that’s been the hit. That’s why this show is such a hit for people ‘cause it makes us feel. We’ve talked about that before how we cry at every episode. I cry all the time watching this show, I’m thinking, “My god. What is going on here?” I usually don’t cry but this one kills me. It brings me to this. I’m told that the episode that you’re choosing as your submission to the Emmy voters is Episode 14, “The Graduates.” It’s a really good one. Obviously, that is key to Rebecca coming to terms with her place in her kids lives as they start to move on. Is that why you chose it? What were the reasons for why you chose that one?

MM: It’s difficult. There are so many episodes that I’m a fan of, just as a fan of this show ‘cause I get to watch my friends and their incredible performances. Lots of times I’m not around to see them so I watch the show giddily like a fan does. I chose “The Graduates” because I think it was a real turning point in the life of this character, of Rebecca, and therefore the life of her kids. She, I think, really allowed herself to finally recognize that she had not been grieving properly and not acknowledging it and just continuing to trudge along and her kids were calling her out for it. I think the juxtaposition of seeing where she is present-day and had it not been for the choices that she made in the past storyline, 1998, ’99, right after Jack has passed, it just is a good counterbalance for each other. But also just to see this woman at two very critical junctures of her life I thought was interesting and there aren’t necessarily a ton of episodes this past season that really highlight both ages.

GD: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. As a parent, it actually does hit a nerve and I think a lot of Emmy voters might feel the same way. It was a good choice. I think it was a really, really good choice. Thinking about another highlight that I remember from the season, particularly after I spoke to the show’s composer, Siddhartha Khosla, a really amazingly talented composer, he wrote a song with your husband that you were able to sing in one of the episodes when Rebecca and Jack go on that road trip. Can you talk us through that whole sequence and how special it was for you?

MM: Oh man, I’m so happy that Sid got recognition. I feel like he is the heartbeat of our show. He’s almost like another character. I feel like if you like our show to any degree, a great deal of that could be owed to the beautiful score he created for us. He really sets the tone in every way. Sid met my husband and they just became instant pals and he asked Taylor to help him write the song for my character which was odd because Taylor started asking me questions. It was the very beginning of the last season. He’s like, “So where is Rebecca at this phase of her life, 23 years old. Let’s say she goes out to California.” He had more information than I did. “Say she goes out to California and maybe she has an audition for a record label. Do you think it’s in the vein of Joni [Mitchell]? What do you think she knows about life and would be singing about?” It was really interesting to let him dig into my brain and share that process with him. The song, I think, is so beautiful. It was one of my favorite moments of the season because it’s so intimate. Sitting in an empty car after just facing immense rejection, essentially Rebecca’s gotten to California, she’s sung for the record label and they’ve basically told her that she’s not good enough and to go back home. She gets in this car with Jack and he asks her how it went and she doesn’t really wanna talk about it and he asks her to sing it. So she’s singing this quiet song a cappella in the car and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen Jack shed a tear on the show, which I thought was really beautiful because the rest of the series he’s so stoic and manages to hold it together. I thought that was a really profound moment for Milo and for his character, just a really beautiful intimate sequence and I think really cements what Jack and Rebecca have found in one another without them even necessarily acknowledging it in the moment. The song ends and they look at each other and decide, “Let’s go home.” And that’s it. It’s sort of like the permission to live the rest of their life and who knows where it goes from there. It was certainly a real highlight, that moment last year.

GD: Given your musical background it allows you to sing on the show. Would you like to be able to sing more on the show if possible?

MM: I mean, I’m gonna leave it up to Dan [Fogelman] and the writers. I don’t necessarily want to sing just for the sake of singing. I have my own music coming out that I can satisfy that desire in me. I think only if it makes sense in the storyline and perhaps there’s some singing in the next season just a little bit. But again, I think it makes the most sense in the early years of Jack and Rebecca and Rebecca figuring out what she wants to do with her life. I have a hope that Rebecca finds music again after Jack’s passing. I don’t know when but I just have this hope that I wanna see her happy. Obviously we know come 2008 she meets up with Miguel again and hopefully, they’re able to have some sort of companionship and find love again to a certain degree. I also hope that that includes a bit of a musical journey for her too.

GD: Yes, and that would be emblematic of her happiness and so forth but I’m really keen to find out more about the Miguel relationship and I’m hoping that that’s where we’re headed. What do you reckon?

MM: Me too. I say that there’s definitely going to be more Miguel and Rebecca post-Jack, like ’98, ’99, that era, and him stepping in to fill Jack’s shoes and being there for the family as a best friend would. I think the more interesting storyline of learning just how Rebecca and Miguel find their way together a decade later is probably gonna be more of Season 5, what I’ve been told from Dan Fogelman.

GD: Speaking of Season 4, you’re up to Episode 3, you’ve mentioned it earlier, but do you have a sense of where the season’s going to go for your character? Are you excited? What can you tell us, if anything at all?

MM: I do know where the season is going for Rebecca and most people. It’s funny, you walk into the writers’ room for the show and it’s like “Homeland.” There’s, like, whiteboards scribbling everywhere, it’s practically on the ceiling, taking over the entire room with story ideas and pieces of paper. I’m excited because like usual, we’re jumping all around. Starting in the immediate aftermath of Jack and Rebecca getting home from that infamous road trip out to California and how they’re going to proceed in their life together and potentially Jack meeting her parents and then we’re kind of jumping into some time with the kids at 12, the pesky preteen years where maybe Jack and Rebecca aren’t as successful with helping the kids out of certain predicaments in their life as they had been when their kids were younger. It’s recognizing that the kids are starting to grapple with these big issues in their life that are going to lead to bigger issues as they continue to grow up and Mom and Dad aren’t able to reach them in the same capacity anymore. Again, I also know that we’re going to be visiting Randall in college and hopefully Randall and Beth and potentially her mom again. There’s all kinds of stuff. You know with our show. We have a new baby, too. We have little baby Jack that was born last season. The present-day story is gonna focus on him coming home and Rebecca and Miguel have moved out to California to be closer to Kate and Toby and Kevin, a closer happy family with a new baby. There’s so much to explore. I’ve said this a couple times before already to some press but the first episode, I feel like we all have carte blanche to ask the writers anything and we know what’s coming for the most part but this first episode, in particular, is so beautiful and really cracks open a different dimension, almost, to our show. It’s really elevated. I’m so excited to see it again as a fan. There are multiple storylines that I have no involvement in and I’m so excited to see it myself and with the world to see it. I can’t believe that Dan Fogelman and our writers just continue upping their game.

GD: I’m really looking forward to that. It’s therapy for me, it’s therapeutic that show and I’m looking forward to it returning. Speaking of looking forward to it, we look forward to the Emmys, seeing you in that room. You’re nominated, congratulations. You might win. Thank you so much, Mandy, for your time today. We really appreciate it.

MM: Thank you so much. Have a good one.

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