'This Is Us': Sam Trammell on the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Being the Other Man

The 'True Blood' actor previews the "more intense" love triangle to come and reveals his real-life parallels with the show.
Courtesy of Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This article contains spoilers from Tuesday’s episode, “Jack Pearson’s Son.”]

Ever since jazz keyboardist and singer Ben (Sam Trammell) hit the scene on NBC’s This Is Us, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) fans have been on edge over the potential love triangle. Although it’s obvious who Rebecca ends up with in the present-day storyline thanks to the Miguel (Jon Huertas) reveal in episode two (and the subsequent revelation about Jack’s death), whether the show’s central marriage broke down before that and how it could have all unfolded remain big series questions.

Viewers got a little more insight into Jack and Rebecca’s relationship (along with Rebecca and Ben’s past) in Tuesday night’s Valentine’s Day-themed installment, when in the past storyline, Jack and Miguel went to the band’s gig and Jack learned that Rebecca and Ben dated briefly in the distant past.

By the episode's end, Jack and Rebecca had had a huge blowout, and the episode ended with Jack downing a Maker’s Mark at a diner, effectively ending his sobriety right before Rebecca was scheduled to go on tour.

THR caught up with Trammell to chat all things music, his real-life parallels to Jack and Rebecca, and whether this is the last viewers will see of Ben.  

Did you have a musical background heading into this?

I had never sung before. My agent called and asked if I could sing. I said, “Well … no. Not really. I’ve never done it.” And then I felt like, “Oh, man. I would be singing with Mandy Moore. We should maybe call back and I could give it a shot.” [Executive producer] Ken Olin called me and asked if I wanted to just give it a shot. And if I sucked then they would just dub my voice. So I said yes, because I had meant to call them back. I had a reaction after I said I couldn’t. So I took some singing lessons and discovered that if you have a good singing coach you can kind of sing, or work on it. Then I met the composer and we figured out a harmonizing thing that I could do in the song and I went into the booth with Mandy and recorded it.

She went into the booth first and I was just sitting there watching her just destroy this song — she was so incredibly great. I was just thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going in next.” And when she came out of the booth I said, “Mandy, you don’t have to wait for me. You can go. I’m just going to be in there singing.” And she says, “No, that’s OK, I’ll stay and watch a little bit.” And you know what? Somehow it all worked out. We even took it up a few steps because she wanted to sing it in a higher area. But thank goodness the singing lessons paid off because I was able to follow along.

Do you play the piano as well?

Yeah, I do play piano so that wasn’t too big of a deal. You sort of fake it anyway, since you’re not using the actual piano sound from the keyboard. It was a challenge, I was singing and pretending to play the piano … and looking at Mandy at the same time and trying to be in the scene. It was pretty awesome. I have to say it was a total blast.

You’re a family man yourself, was that part of the appeal coming onto a family-centric show?

I have 5-year-old twin boys. It’s so nice. I empathize and relate to Jack and Rebecca’s family. They’ve got these three kids and they’re always trying to keep track of them. In one of the early episodes where they’re at the pool and Kevin is in the pool I was just like, “No! No! You can’t leave your kid in the pool! Even if he’s just in the shallow end.” Oh man, it made me so nervous. This show doesn’t try to take a cynical approach. It’s very honest and leans into the heartwarming side of family and the beauty of really being in love with your family and your immediate family. I love that it doesn’t pull punches. There aren’t many shows like that.

Having twins, could you even imagine having three babies the same age?

No! No way. Having twins is having 10 times as hard as having one kid — it’s not like, doubled. Having triplets? That takes it to like 100 times. I can’t imagine it. Twins are really hardcore. It’s great, but it’s a lot.

Have you had reactions from other parents about Ben coming in between this fan-favorite relationship?

Yeah, I had a dad with a kid in our class come to me and say, “Listen, I don’t know what your character is doing on the show, but this could really affect our relationship.” I’m not kidding you. He told me he was such a huge fan of This Is Us and of Jack and Rebecca, so I was on notice.

What do you think Ben’s motives are? Is it all about the band or are there feelings for Rebecca still lingering?

I don’t see Ben as a bad guy at all. He’s not a bad guy, he’s a human being and it is one of those things where we used to date, but for like a short amount of time 20 years ago. We have a little bit of a history, and look — Rebecca is an extraordinary, talented and beautiful person. So a human being is a human being. There probably is a little attraction there, probably. But it’s definitely not a thing where I asked her to join the band because I wanted to hook up. It’s really about the band.

Twice now Ben has said the wrong thing, first about Jack really loving Rebecca and then to Jack about Ben and Rebecca’s history. Is he purposefully making digs or is he a little obtuse?

I think he’s obtuse. I talked to Ken about it because he directed the episode. We wanted to play it like Ben didn’t know that Rebecca didn’t tell Jack. It’s a really innocent comment. Hopefully it didn’t come across as a dig, but you never know about these things. He just keeps saying the wrong thing. ... It’s a little more interesting if he didn’t mean it and Jack takes it the wrong way. Or not the wrong way since it’s information he didn’t have. I’d be a little jealous if I were him, too.

By the end of the episode, Jack is back on the booze. Are you prepared for some residual hate from passionate fans that may feel Ben is the cause or do you think they should give the guy a chance?

I understand it. Jack is like the greatest dad ever, and the greatest husband ever. He does some things that are just insane. So I understand the concern. I don’t know how people will react and I haven’t really looked, but do I think they should give the guy a chance? I don’t know! We know how everything ends, kind of. We know she ends up with Miguel. Ben isn’t intentionally messing with them but then again she is a married woman so as a family man myself, I have to say … well, no, nothing has happened. The potential has just been hinted at. I’m fearful of everybody because I totally get that people might hate Ben.

Will viewers see Ben again this season?

Yes. Let’s just say things get more intense. The triangle situation becomes a little more intense. If you want to call it the triangle situation.

What about next season, now that the show has been renewed for two more installments?

I think so. With this show they’ve set it up in such a brilliant way that they can go in any direction. They can take just one day in the life of somebody and shoot a whole episode on that or they can go anywhere in time. So it is definitely possible you’ll see me again.

Would you be interested in doing a Ben-centric episode?

Of course! That would be great. Start the campaign.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

What did you think of “Jack Pearson’s Son?” Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling