'This Is Us' Star Talks Foster Parent Hurdles and Meeting Beth's Family

"It’s just a completely different dynamic," Susan Kelechi Watson says about the latest addition to the present-day Pearson family.
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of NBC’s This Is Us, “Deja Vu.”]

Viewers may have been abuzz about Sylvester Stallone’s anticipated guest-star appearance on Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, and those same viewers may have been shocked to see Kevin (Justin Hartley) pop prescription pills by the episode’s end as Kate (Chrissy Metz) mused to her twin on the phone how he was just like dad.

But elsewhere in the episode, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) finally went through with fostering a child: a troubled, 12-year-old girl named Deja (Lyric Ross). The girl came to the Pearson household after her single mother was arrested again, with more serious charges than she’d had in the past. The result was a rough night for the entire household, as Randall attempted to bond with their new guest, Beth tried to set some ground rules and both foster parents realized that Deja has been through more than most girls her age.

By the end of the episode, it seemed as though Randall had perhaps gotten through to the girl, only to have her storm off in a temper tantrum upon realizing her mother wasn’t coming to get her anytime soon. The final scene paved the road for a rocky road ahead, proving that Beth and Randall had indeed gotten a troubled child as Randall had worried.

To break down the Deja of it all and preview more of what’s to come for Beth, THR caught up with Kelechi Watson. Here, she discusses meeting Beth’s family, fitting in with the Pearsons and what to expect following the family’s latest expansion.

What kind of input did you have on Beth heading into the second season of the show?

I’m always curious as to her background and what makes her tick as an individual, so I was excited to see more of her perspective and point of view in terms of how things directly affect her. [Creator] Dan [Fogelman] did fill us in on the trajectory of what’s going to happen over the course of the season. I knew about the fostering storyline; I knew Beth and Randall would be on two different pages about that. I also knew they’d explore more about her family. It helps us shape and mold the character, just to know where the character is going.

How do those conversations happen? Are they individual or informal chats or more scheduled talks?

They invite us in probably mostly two-by-two. It’s Noah’s Ark-ish because we all have our scene partners. Sterling was in L.A. and sat down with them and I was in New York and conferenced in. They just talked about our storyline with us, and then they’ll do the same things with the others. There might be some individual stuff there, but with Sterling and I, we do it together. It’s the writers and Dan and they just lay it out as far as they know. It takes maybe an hour or more.

What is it that anchors Beth? She’s working, she’s a mom, her husband is forcing his family on her as he’s having anxiety attacks and now this adoption storyline. How does she keep it together?

The words that they’ve written? (Laughs.) There’s a sense of patience that she has, and a willingness to be in the moment. Those are the things I latched onto. I try not to enter into anything with a pre-judgment. It’s open for discussion. She sees everything with fresh eyes and then has a sense of patience about it. They’re simple qualities, but for a lot of us in real life, we don’t do that so much. We want something to happen quickly. We want to pre-judge a lot of the time because it’s just easier to do. She’s very much someone who goes from moment to moment. That means there’s not a sense of a whole lot of baggage with Beth. But things do get to her, as we’ve seen. She has to find her way through it, too. She has to fight for that as a character.

Other than Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Beth and Randall are the main couple on this show. Are you able to compare and contrast those couples at all?

Not at all, not for one moment. They’re four different people and I see them as different couples. If anything, I look at Rebecca and Jack to see how Randall grew up, which also allows me a certain amount of patience with Randall. Because as the actor and an audience member, I’ve seen what he’s been through all his life. So there’s a sense of an understanding there that probably informs that patience. Their adoptions go very differently. Adopting someone from another ethnicity is very different than adopting someone from the same ethnicity, but also fostering someone with other issues, an older kid is different.

The fostering storyline with Deja obviously did not get off to a good start. What kind of an adjustment will it be for the family?

There are so many differences between them and Deja — socioeconomic differences, the family structure differences, since she comes from a single parent household. We’re going to find out a lot of things along the way with her. What she’s been through are things that a lot of little girls have not been through. It’s just a completely different dynamic. There’s a feeling that this girl is much more mature for her age. She’s 12, but she feels a little older than she is. What she’s gone through is going to stir them emotionally because a lot of it makes them angry and sad and disappointed that this is happening in this young girl’s life and no one is there to protect her.

Did you have any conversations with foster parents or do any preparation for this storyline on your own?

Sterling, actually — his mother fosters and has adopted I believe. So he has some direct relationships there. I have been friends with people who were fostered and I have friends who have taken in fosters and things like that. So I’ve seen the process, I understand what it can mean for the original family and how it affects them. But I’ve also seen the positive effect it can have on a kid. The sad part of it is the sense of stability. You want them to have that stability and a lot of the time kids get moved from foster home to foster home, which is a harder part.

You said this season delves more into Beth’s history. Can you preview what that might entail?

We see her family, or parts of her family, so that’s pretty cool. I don’t know that we’ll see her go to work. But maybe. I have heard talks of meeting her family and I know that she has sisters. Like three sisters and a mom and she’s probably somewhere in the middle age-wise. That’s as much as I know so far. A lot of it isn’t written yet. We’re up to episode 10 or 11. Some of that is going to come later in the season.

Given how well audiences seem to be responding to the Beth and Randall of it all, have there been conversations about going back and tracing the stories of their courtship and marriage?

It’s something that we talk about. People seem interested in seeing that, which is interesting to me because I hadn’t thought about it. But this is a story that can go back and forth in time anytime — that’s the really cool part about it. How far they’ll go back, I’m not sure. I know it’s an idea that’s definitely been tossed around. If it were to happen fans would really be excited because I almost feel like the first time I heard it was on Twitter. I have hope in the fact that we do go back and forth in time a lot. It’s definitely a possibility.

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