'This Is Us': Mandy Moore on Adoption, Singing and Balancing the Gut-Wrenching Past and Present

This Is Us - Kyle Episode 103 - Mandy Moore  -H 2016
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode three, "Kyle," of NBC's This Is Us.]

One of TV’s most compelling adoption storylines just took a massive turn.

During Tuesday’s This Is Us, the NBC drama went back to the day Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) took their babies home from the hospital and followed the couple as they adjusted to their new life. Meanwhile in the present day, Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) prepared for a move to New York, as Randall (Sterling K. Brown) filled his mother in on how he had found his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones).

As the story unfolded and present-day Rebecca seemingly met William for the first time, the storyline unraveled a deeper history between the two when viewers learned that Rebecca had tracked William down shortly after the babies were born and she spotted him lurking outside the hospital.

It turns out that it was Rebecca’s call to not let the then-drug-addicted man into his biological son’s life and she held on to that secret for decades. To find out what went into shooting that heartbreaking episode and what it could mean for Randall and Rebecca’s future relationship, THR caught up with Mandy Moore. Below, she talks about playing Rebecca through the ages, her new relationship with Miguel (Jon Huertas) and whether she’ll ever sing on the show.

Were you block shooting for this episode?

Yes, we did block shooting [shooting out of chronological order] for three and four. In episode four we’re back to where the kids are 8, so I was jumping around from newborns to 8-year-olds to Rebecca in the present day. That was a really challenging three-and-a-half weeks. It was a lot to keep off the top of my head, but that’s the nature of this show. I would approach each day day-by-day as not to overwhelm myself too much.

Do you have any tricks for jumping into Rebecca’s mindset during each age?

I worked with a physicality coach for present-day Rebecca because I don’t know what it’s like to be 66. Although that is not old at all, physically there would be a slightly different walk. The way she carried herself would be quite different than Rebecca at 30 or 38. I wanted to work on that. As silly as it sounds, it’s really focusing on where your energy emanates from. As a 30-year-old or 35-year-old mother, I decided my energy would emanate from my heart and my hands because I’m a mother and I’m giving to my family. As I get older, this 66-year-old version of Rebecca and the wisdom and clarity that comes with age and time, I imagined my energy coming out of the top of my head, like a lamp where the light just shines on the ceiling directly above you. Imagining the grounded feeling that comes with age and the way that I walk is so much more purposeful; almost like you don’t give a f—.

What do you think gives Rebecca that experience?

This is a woman, not that she raised these kids by herself, but she did a great deal of the parenting on her own, at least emotionally. There’s a real confidence and sense of purpose. This woman knows who she is. I also tried to remember that present-day Rebecca is not moving around and trucking along as well as she was maybe in her 30s. So she’s a little slower, but not too much. I know I was looking at my parents, who aren’t quite that age and friends’ parents who are that age. It’s just not what you imagined when you were a kid. It’s not so old, so I didn’t want to play her as like frail and falling apart.

Can you compare filming the two confrontational scenes with William in the past and present?

I didn’t think moving forward on the show that there would be any possibility of me working with any of the actors outside of Milo. I’m so excited at the turn of events that now allows me to work with Sterling, Chrissy, Justin, Ron and everybody. It was funny because I shot the scene with Ron before I shot the scene with young William (Jermel Nakia). That made it a little trickier. I had to decide where I was going to sort of ideally go with when I made the deal with young William back in 1980. That helped inform what I would be saying to him in the present day. I had to keep in mind this is the child that I’m closest to, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear yet. But I imagine this is obviously something that she’s kept a secret her entire life and it’s something that she’s shared with William. But also the idea of having a child his entire life ask those same questions: Are you sure you don’t know who my parents are, where they come from? We have no information of me as a baby? Being asked that at every juncture of Randall’s life and not telling him and holding on to that secret, I could only imagine the guilt, shame and fear that Rebecca felt. Coming face-to-face with William, someone that she never imagined she’d ever see again … it’s so palpable to her and there’s so much at stake. The stakes have never been higher. Obviously the last person on earth she wants to hurt is Randall, but also the fear of it impacting their relationship and this is the child she’s closest to and the fear of anything interfering or ruining that relationship is off the charts.

Why do you think Randall is her favorite?

I don’t entirely know the reasons yet, but I believe there is a monumental event that happens in the lives of this family that drives Kevin (Hartley) to move away from home. Obviously he moves across the country to try his hand at [theater] acting, but emotionally something happens within this family and I have a vague idea of what but nothing super fleshed out. We all had to be on the same page with these milestone moments. I do know that from a young age Rebecca felt a responsibility to shower Randall with love and affection and to make sure he didn’t feel different because the twins are so bonded and they were this couple’s biological children. She feels it’s their duty as parents to make sure he doesn’t feel different and maybe in trying to show him as much love and affection as she possibly can has maybe shown him too much. Like she’s showing him some sort of favoritism over the other kids. That’s an integral part of the relationship between Randall and Rebecca; it manifests itself in different ways. But as adults he and his family live in New Jersey and I think Rebecca and Miguel have chosen to move closer to them to be near the grandkids.

What was your initial reaction to Rebecca being romantically paired with Miguel in the present day? 

I knew that was going to happen, we all sat down and [creator] Dan [Fogelman] walked us through each critical juncture that this family takes together. The kids needed to know what happened in their lives as well, because it informs who they are as adults. So I knew that happened at a certain point in the life of this family. I didn’t know it was something that was going to be revealed in the second episode. But that’s just the nature of this show because it is out of order and you’re finding out all of these mismatched puzzle pieces and how they fit together. I’m sure there will be little clues in this season and if we get a second season there will be more that unfolds but you’ll find out more as to what happens to Jack and Rebecca and why in 2016 they’re no longer together. What happens to them, what breaks them apart … it’s pretty heartbreaking. So I read that and I was like, “Oh people are not going to be happy because I love Jack and Rebecca too.” I inherently root for them and I’m a hopeless romantic. That relationship typifies everything I want to believe in about true love and soul mates. So I was pretty devastated to see they don’t end up together.

How will Jack and Rebecca’s relationship continue to be tested until then?

What we saw in the second episode continues. She’s very disappointed that she and Jack were endeavoring to do this parenting thing together and she feels like the primary caregiver and doesn’t have the support that she needs and wants and knows that he’s capable of. That definitely takes a toll on their relationship and on the relationship that they have with their children. They’re not an anomaly, this is what happens in the course of marriage and having kids and how it directly affects everything. People get caught up in their lives and their expectations being met or unmet. Where they chose to put their energy and Jack feels a real responsibility to his family and providing for them and Rebecca wants more emotional support from him. She feels resentment that she sacrificed her career, which we’ll find out more about, what she was doing with her life when they first met and got married before they had children and I think she really tabled a huge part of who she is to be a mother. She doesn’t resent that or regret it; I think she feels like there are unmet needs in her life and she’s not able to address them because she has to be this mother. It’s a much bigger, fuller plate than she ever thought she’d have in her life.

There are hints of postpartum depression in this episode. Will that continue?

As far as I know, at least in the episodes we’ve shot so far, this is sort of where they find themselves after they bring the babies home. This is the last episode really with the infants that we’ve shot, but that’s not to say we won’t go back and explore more of that. But that’s why I really appreciate this episode, because so many people were writing and asking if that is an issue that will be addressed. A lot of mothers who had stillborn children or who lost children were really curious to see how the show handled it. Who’s to say that we won’t go back to it, but it was a great way to tie up everything that happened with Jack and Rebecca in the pilot. People were curious what happened directly afterwards and episode three does a great job of addressing that.

Now that Kate has had a singing bit in the show, is there a possibility Rebecca could sing as well? Perhaps a duet?

I would love to sing together, her voice is unbelievable. I don’t know about that but it would be fun. You’ll see in the next couple of episodes that music was a big part of Rebecca’s life as well and it’s something that maybe Kate got from her. Although she’s far more talented I think. So I get to sing as well and it’s so fun to be able to incorporate that part of my life into Rebecca’s story. I’m really glad that that is the case — it’s really cool that we get to share that bond and that love of music.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC. What did you think of the episode? Sound off below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling