'This Is Us' Star Mandy Moore on Harnessing Grief and Focusing on the Future

[This story contains spoilers from the Tuesday, Feb. 6, episode of NBC's This Is Us.]

Milo Ventimiglia warned viewers that the episode after This Is Us' post-Super Bowl installment would be even worse than the one that revealed how his character, family man Jack Pearson, died — and as far as co-star Mandy Moore is concerned, he's completely right.

"I think it's because people didn't know what to expect," she told The Hollywood Reporter the morning after the Super Bowl follow-up showed Jack's funeral and his family grieving in the immediate aftermath of the patriarch's long-hinted-at death. "You were anticipating what Sunday was going to be, but I think last night came a little bit more out of the blue."

It might be good, then, that viewers will have two weeks after the tear-jearking episode — so NBC can air the PyeongChang Olympics — to recover before the final three installments of the second season. And instead of showing Rebecca (Moore) and teenage kids Kate, Kevin and Randall (Hannah Zeile, Logan Shroyer, Niles Fitch, respectively) grieving in the aftermath of Jack's death, Moore said the episodes will focus on Jack and the Pearson family before the fateful house fire that led to his heart attack, and they'll also focus on the show's newest timeline: the future.

Below, Moore talks with THR about the difficulty of harnessing her character's grief, the return of Gerald McRaney's Dr. K and what to expect in the show's upcoming (and previously announced) third season.

What was it like getting into the headspace of a grieving mother for these episodes?

It was not fun. I would say that the last six weeks of my life have been super draining, emotionally. The mantra that I kept thinking while I was shooting last night's episode was just, "Keep putting one foot in front of another." I just kept imagining Rebecca floating above her life and observing it from that vantage point. She was merely existing, and barely at that. She was disconnected, floating above, just completely an out-of-body experience. It was a week later, and I just don't think she's had time to come to terms with what's going on. A lot of stuff was cut, so it was interesting to watch the episode before it aired — like literally right before it aired last night — because there was more storyline of [Rebecca] not participating in life. The kids were taking care of things — not taking care of her, but taking care of themselves and the world around them for the time being. I love that towards the end of the episode is where she really snaps into place and recognizes, "He is gone, and now is my time to fill that void and be the parent that these kids deserve. I have to be both of us now, Rebecca and Jack, for them."

Jack's death was a real turning point that showed why Rebecca is so guarded in the present day. Have you known that from the very beginning?

I think I did. I think I just would have known from the pilot, even before I knew all the details and specifics of things and how it all unfolded. I knew what a once-in-a-lifetime relationship this was and what these two people meant to one another, so clearly losing one half of this duo would impact the other's life forever. And even though this is a woman who goes on to get remarried and is a grandmother and seemingly has all these beautiful moments to celebrate in life and I'm certain that she does appreciate — people do move on and we are resilient human beings, that's just what we do — but I believe with any great loss that is a hole that never gets filled. You just figure out a way to move around it in life, and I think that's what Rebecca has done.

Dr. K coming to the funeral with his new wife also seemed to show her that eventually it would be possible to move on.

He was a real catalyst for helping her moving forward. I don't think she would've been game enough to go to the tree and take the kids and the urn there and eulogize Jack to that degree. I think she just acknowledged his wishes and had his service outside and at some point they were going to spread his ashes outside. I think the surprise of seeing Dr. K show up at the funeral and what he represented in their lives — he has been a part of these two really major milestones in the life in this family, not just the first but Kate being there with her appendix and him having been in this accident and almost dying and Christmas Eve — he served as this emblem, the face of tragedy and adversity in the life of this family and him showing up there was obviously no coincidence. It was like Jack sent him there. And him speaking to her and reminding her that she is stronger than she gives herself credit for and was a real catalyst for her picking up the pieces and going, "You're right. He was a wonderful parent. He was a superhero in every way, but I have my own well of undeniable strength and I'm going to tap into it and be the parent that these kids deserve."

Will he return in the future?

I hope so, because I sure do love working with Gerald McRaney, and he is just stellar. You've got to raise your game working with him. It's so easy and it's so effortless for him. I feel like I'm getting in the ring with the champ. I have to bring my A-game — that's how I feel when I'm working with Mac. So I hope so, but I understand that his character is getting up there in age so there's not a ton of time left. We'll see. Anything is possible on This Is Us. We could move to the future and be talking to his ghost.

Speaking of the future, will Rebecca be in any flash-forwards?

I don't know. Anything is possible! Somebody asked me if we'll get to see Rebecca's death and how Rebecca dies, and I sure do hope so! I'd love to see the whole run of this woman's life. As an actress, that's a juicy proposition.

A lot of feedback from the Super Bowl and funeral episodes has been building award buzz for you. What's it like to hear that?

It's unbelievable to me. I'm completely scratching my head. I couldn't find a job two years ago. I mean, I got this job two years ago, but right before that I was desperate to find something. The fact the conversation is even happening is so mind-boggling and so humbling to me. I don't even know what to make of it. We all feel so lucky to be a part of this. Being at the Super Bowl with the whole cast the other day and walking around that football stadium and people on both sides, Patriots fans and Eagles fans, everybody was just as excited about our show as they were about that football game. It was mind-blowing. Every day brings a new wave of disbelief that we're a part of this and that people are so deeply connected to these characters and this show. The messages that I get on Facebook and instagram and Twitter of people — it makes me cry, people that are so moved by what they see and what it brings up in their own lives and what loss they've experienced and what joy they've experienced, it's like they're able to grieve right along with us. It's the greatest honor, being a part of something like this.

Will upcoming episodes see a continuation of Rebecca grieving Jack and learning to live without him, or will they hop back and forth in time?

I think we're going to hop back and forth. I can tell you for the rest of the season we are going to go back and not stay in this moment. For the time being, I think we've really put a pin in saying goodbye to Jack. And now, as the show does, I think we're going to hop back in time a little bit — which to me is even more bittersweet because now you have all of those answers and I think it makes those moments all the more poignant, when you look back at the sweet gestures and the time with his family. I know that we're going to hop back and then hop forward. But I've been told, and who knows, but I think season three we're going to spend some time exploring Jack and Rebecca pre-kids and Jack's life before Rebecca knew him and that whole storyline, and then I've heard echoes of exploring how Rebecca and Miguel came to be as well. But who knows. All of that is the rumor at work. There's no real confirmation, but I feel like all of that sounds really exciting.

NBC's This Is Us is set to return Feb. 27 after the Olympics.