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It’s been an emotional year for Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) on NBC’s This Is Us. Between her twin brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) leaving her in L.A. for a theater career in New York, her decision to have surgery and finally lose weight and her break-up with Toby (Chris Sullivan), the character has had a lot on her mind.
Unfortunately for Kate, things are not going to get any easier when the NBC hit returns Tuesday with its winter premiere, “The Right Thing To Do.” When the Dan Fogelman-created family drama returns, Toby’s fate following his heart attack in the fall finale will be revealed. And to hear Metz tell it, it’s going to be yet another emotional episode that, yup, requires tissues to watch.
“There are some unexpected scenes, and things that no one is going to be ready to see,” Metz told press during a recent This Is Us TCA screening. “You should have some tissues ready.”
Whether Toby survives and what that means for Kate remains to be seen, but considering that her weight loss journey is an ongoing one for both the character and Golden Globe nominee Metz, it’s something that will continue to come up in the weeks ahead — especially as Kate re-evaluates her decision to have gastric bypass surgery.
THR caught up with Metz ahead of Tuesday’s return to delve deeper into how the weight loss storyline has unfolded thus far, her chemistry with Sullivan and Kate’s tumultuous relationship with mom Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
How do you balance and manage Kate’s weight loss with your own and how could Toby’s fate influence that?
The trajectory is that Kate will be losing weight just as I will in real life to reflect the character in her arc and her journey. That’s exciting for me, especially because losing weight is something I’ve struggled with and contemplated. I have lost weight and I’ve gained weight back. I wouldn’t have this amazing role if I’d already lost all the weight. So I have to believe that everything happens for a reason and I do feel that way in life. The weight loss is definitely going to happen. When Kate starts to realize it’s more about how she feels about herself and not necessarily a number on the scale, that might take a backseat, but right now she has been obsessed with losing weight to make her happy. I have friends and I know that when you do lose weight, you’re happy and it’s exciting but there are other things going on. There are other things that make us want to eat or overspend or fill a void with something. And so as she loses the weight and puts the food down a lot of other things start to come up, which happens in real life. It’s going to be really fascinating to watch that unfold on a lot of different levels.
Had you and Chris had conversations about losing weight together, or is it something you discuss with Dan to stay on the same page?
Sure, and yup. It’s real. I’ve been in relationships where the man loses weight super fast and you’re like, “But you didn’t even want to lose weight!” Men lose weight quicker, their bodies and metabolisms are different. There is that dynamic shift when there’s this understanding and jealousy even — not intentional — but just the way that we’re made and that definitely affected Kate and Toby’s relationship. That put a little monkey wrench in where their heads where. It’s why the writing is so wonderful because it’s so real. It happens in real life and for that to be imitated onscreen is so relatable. We saw with Toby’s backstory why he is overweight and what caused that. It’s super exciting because it’s somewhat more acceptable for men to be overweight, but we don’t necessarily talk about men’s feelings. That to me is really important for men and for women and for relationships on this show. So they’re doing such a wonderful job.
What kinds of reactions do you have watching a younger Kate interact with her mom about her weight?
I’ve been chubby all my life. I was born chubby and as I got older at different times in my life I was thinner or more active or playing sports but I was definitely always a chubbier kid. My friends could eat whatever they wanted to but I knew that as a kid if I ate certain things I would totally gain weight. I had to be really cognizant of what I ate. My dad was in the Navy; I don’t necessarily remember being told what not to eat, but I know that it was an issue and it was something that was kind of whispered about because not everybody wanted to really hurt my feelings. Food in my family was loved. When we’d get home from school my grandmother would make grilled cheese and it was a beautiful bonding time for me. So I think as a parent that must be really difficult. You want your kids to live their happiest, healthiest lives. But you also know that they’re their own people, they have their own body and chemical makeup, so there are different things going on.
To read those scenes can be heartbreaking because going through puberty I was like, “I want to be skinny like my friends. What should I not eat?” I remember going to Weight Watchers when I was like 11. I was the youngest person in the damned room and it was awkward. My mom was trying to figure it out, but it’s a process. Kate wants her mom to be happy with her. She doesn’t know how to do that because she has this issue. Rebecca just wants her daughter to be happy and of course not be made fun of and just live a normal life. No matter what somebody is going to pick on you for something. It’s a complicated dynamic and it is heartbreaking.
Did you watch Mike and Molly?
I did, I actually auditioned for it, obviously years ago and I thought, “Oh wow, this is cool. They’re talking about a weight loss support group, aka Overeaters Anonymous.” But you know we can’t talk about that. It was pioneering television because we don’t have the knowledge to understand where these people are coming from. We just want to criticize and generalize and say they’re lazy. All they do is sit around and eat. People don’t realize that food is a symptom; it’s not the issue. Just like any other way that we fill the void. That has to be addressed. When they put a comedic spin on it I thought, “This is great. They’re so hilarious together.” But people are like, “Oh my gosh you and Toby are like Mike and Molly.” And I agree with that in some regards, but also it’s so very different in that this isn’t glossy. We definitely deal with things in a comedic fashion but we get to the core of what’s going on.
Have you seen viewers respond to that, showcasing how hard it is for some people to lose weight?
Oh it’s a lot of work. I know women who have reached out to me with thyroid problems, and they say they work out every day and watch what they put in their mouths and they still can’t lose weight. But then for some people the weight just falls off them. It’s difficult when you’re doing everything in your power to change or better yourself and think you’re doing great. But then meanwhile someone like Toby is just dropping pounds like it’s his job, even though it was Kate’s idea and she wanted to do it and it would mean more to her than anything. I have friends that lose weight quickly so I can relate to that, when you’re doing everything you can and it’s just not working. You get frustrated. Not that it’s a positive way to counteract the lack of weight loss by binging or having a little snack, but at some point you just can’t beat yourself up because it’s counterproductive. You know that one drink or a night of doing chips and salsa and guacamole or whatever can put you off the rails. It’s a work in progress; nothing is ever going to be perfect. We have to learn to celebrate the victories but not hold onto the shame that we have of not doing something fast enough or quickly enough or the right way. Everything in life has its flows and ups and downs. It’s important to see that she’s really trying, but she’s going to have a fall or two. She has to keep charging and that’s what I think a lot of people need — inspiration to know that we’re all in this together. We’re all works in progress and not everything is going to be perfect all the time. It’s important to show that.
How instant was your chemistry with Chris Sullivan?
I tested with other gentlemen before I even knew Chris as a person. Publicly I knew him from The Knick and other projects but the table read was our first reading together. I remember sitting next to him and it was instant chemistry. He’s so open and hilarious and charming. What you see on the screen has only been cultivated since we met each other. It’s so easy with him, we’re just on the same wavelength. We did have conversations. He said, “I’m on your team and we’re in this together and partners.” It was such a special conversation for him to go out of his way to have with me, and it meant a lot, because you don’t always get along with your costars. Then sometimes you just hit it off instantly and it’s like a freight train. That’s how it is with Chris and I, even in real life. One of the makeup artists who is a day player, we were heading to set and she goes, “How long have you guys been together, are you married?” And I said, “No, Chris is actually married to a wonderful woman named Rachel (Reichard) for six years. I am not his wife. That is the nicest compliment, however not true.” But that’s how instant and easy and magical and really wonderful from the beginning.
This Is Us returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.
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