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While the former looks to remain unresolved, at least for the immediate future, the actor promises some movement on the latter in the season premiere.
“[Creator Dan Fogelman] is going to give an answer, but it’s going to beg a lot more questions,” Ventimiglia told The Hollywood Reporter at the ATX Television Festival.
Questions have swirled about the Pearson family patriarch’s demise since it was first revealed in the fifth episode that he had died years before the present-day storyline. While fans seemed primed to finally learn what caused his death in the final two episodes of season one, the writers had another idea in mind. While Jack was seen in the penultimate episode driving drunk to talk to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) amid growing distance between them, he ultimately made it to her in one piece, but they had a huge fight. The season ended with Rebecca telling Jack to move out of the house and stay with Miguel for awhile.
“There needs to be some kind of resolution or conversation or a whole bridge to be built that got shattered at the end of last season,” said Ventimiglia. “There’s a lot of work to be done there.”
Because This Is Us jumps between so many different timelines, what’s next for the couple in season two is a complicated question to say the least. “That will be explored, where we pick them up and then where we go back to,” said executive producer Ken Olin, who also directed the finale. “We’ll go back to certain things in their lives as well, and go, ‘Wait a minute, we know that happens but we’re watching a scene before that happens and they don’t know that’s where they’re going.’ There’s a lot of territory there.”
While the season one finale didn’t reveal how Jack died, the episode revealed other pieces of new information about Jack, most notably that he had fought in the Vietnam war long before meeting future wife Rebecca.
When asked how such information affects his performance or interpretation of the character, Ventimiglia said, “The lead time of when I get to discover something about Jack is only a little bit quicker than the audience so when the sum total starts to add up to understanding a bit more of this man’s history or where he’s going or how he’s getting there, I just try and collect it all like someone trying to catch fireflies. Keep ’em in a jar and try to understand that it’s all going to add up to who this man is.”
Olin sounded optimistic that the show would again touch on that part of Jack’s past. “It was a significant part of Jack’s character, his life,” said Olin. “We have introduced it and we don’t introduce things that are not going to play a role in these people’s lives. The things that resonate in our characters’ past lives, we honor and we’ll pay attention to at some point.
“If that was part of Jack’s life and in some way was formative, that will be worth exploring,” he continued. “Things like that just start to push against the seams of the show, which is a good thing.”
The finale, which also saw Jack take part in an intense poker game with some less-than-savory characters and nearly rob the same game after losing his hard-earned savings, will also influence the scope of season two.
“I think next season the show will get a little bigger,” he said. “By that I mean that there are going to be events in these people’s lives that involve things that take place outside of their family and in the world at large in a way that’s a little different. Everything that we did for the first year up until mostly the finale – it all stemmed from an internal life and then this internal life of all of these characters and how those internal lives interacted.
“And then in the finale, it was like, wait a minute, we’re introducing guys that are thugs, and we’re talking about having been vets in the Vietnam war. Those things, I think, are what make the show feel bigger. I think we’ll just continue to try to do them in a way that feels authentic and intimate.”
There will also be a change behind the scenes in season two. Writers and exec producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger were upped to co-showrunners alongside Dan Fogelman for the second season.
“I think they’re only going to add to the perspective that we’ve already explored,” said Ventimiglia. Although there are new showrunners taking part of the reins, the star isn’t worried about Fogelman’s level of involvement going forward. “This show is 100 percent Dan Fogelman, and I think he gets as much out of being a part of it as we all do,” he said.
Added Olin: “Dan has a really large plan. He knows as much as any showrunner and creator I’ve ever worked with in terms of an extensive knowledge of where these stories are going. He’s not making it up as he goes along.”
This Is Us returns Tuesdays this fall on NBC.
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