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Susan Kelechi Watson cuts right to the chase.
In a June 13 talk-back at New York’s 92nd Street Y as part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV Talks series, the This Is Us star used her hour with THR’s East Coast digital lead editor Jackie Strause to open up about everything from her group chat with the series’ ensemble (Chris Sullivan sends the best GIFs), her experience working on Jay-Z’s Ava DuVernay-directed “Family Feud” video (her agent, manager, and even some of the crew on set weren’t told what she was working on that three-hour shoot day), and what she wants for her own future (her one-year goal is to have a film or pilot script of her own in production).
But the real juice came when Watson laid bare some of what’s to come for This Is Us’ anticipated third season premiering in the fall — particulary after the Beth-centered time-jump that ended the season two finale.
In the final sequence, a choice bit of editing seemed to imply that Watson’s character, Beth, could be headed for the same fate as Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Jumping 10 to 15 years into the future, an older Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his grown daughter Tess morosely discussed how it’s time to go see “her.” The moment caused the internet to catch fire with theories of Beth’s death being on the horizon. Executive producer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker later briefly assured viewers that “Beth’s OK,” and now Watson elaborated further: Beth is not going to die.
“I remember seeing stuff coming out online where people were saying, ‘We didn’t see a wedding ring on Randall’s finger,’ and, ‘He’s talking to Tess about something. Is it Beth? Is she gonna die? We’re not having it if Beth goes!'” Watson recalled of the viewer reaction. “So I watched the episode. I said, ‘What is happening here!?’ Because [the script] didn’t say all that.”
The original script didn’t reveal to Watson that the pan to Beth was being made, so she was as surprised as anyone by the cliffhanger: “Viewers were getting all hyped up and I was laughing, thinking, ‘This is hilarious — they don’t mean this. People who are writing this are being funny.'”
She continued, “But articles kept coming out and I thought, ‘Oh, we have no intention of killing Beth, as far as I know.’ So I was with Dan [Fogelman] and I said, ‘Dan — wasn’t that funny, they think we’re killing Beth. Right, Dan? That’s so funny?'” Watson’s voice pitched when recounting her attempt to coax a confirmation out of the show’s creator. Much to her delight, she said Fogelman responded by assuring her, “No, we’re not going to. Sue, it’s hilarious.'” Watson then exhaled, much like she did in that moment, and laughed about how she played along: “And I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s hilarious.‘”
It’s thanks to Fogelman keeping her and her co-stars somewhat in the loop about what the This Is Us ending looks like that she’s able to stay (mostly) level-headed when those moments arise. “He knows [the ending]. And to an extent, we know,” Watson said of Fogelman’s long-term plan with the series. “They’re generous about letting us know — they trust us that we keep those secrets.”
Though Fogelman has revealed that he has an end-game in mind, he has not said how many seasons it will take to get there. Watson said he doesn’t plan to let the show overstay its welcome.
“[Fogelman has] mapped out this thing, and he feels like it’s going to have a certain amount of time to run,” she said. “This show is not interested in 10 to 15 seasons; the show has an arc and has a story and they’re very clear about it. So he does know the beginning from the end, and it’s now about kind of painting in the rest of it.”
She also elaborated on who the “her” in question might be. Brown had recently said the woman is not who viewers might expect, and that it’s all tied into the series’ ending. Watson took that one step further to say that there are actually several options in play.
“I know a bit more [that time has passed],” she said. “They did some — in true This Is Us form — multiple ending kind of things. There are options so that we can kind of do whatever we wanted to, when the time comes. It’s a little up in the air.”
Watson said she knows that, whatever the choice may be, This Is Us is headed in the direction it’s meant to: “I [am] so grateful for the opportunity to be her — I think I’m with Dan, though. I think there is a story to be told, and I think she should live inside of that moment and I should give it everything I’ve got until the last script. I will be happy with that.”
Watson could not speak to specific plot points of what’s in store for season three (shooting begins July 10), but she did reveal that viewers will see “how Randall and Beth deal marriage-wise with the adjustment of Deja and how that puts them in a rough spot.” She promised that a divorce won’t be on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean viewers shouldn’t brace for more “Vegas, Baby”-level blowouts in the episodes to come. She also teased that thematically, the season will be touching on “depression, adoption, [and] what it is for a foster child to acclimate to a new family.” Viewers will also “see a lot of Jack in Vietnam [and] the early days of Jack and Rebecca,” she said of the characters played by Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, respectively.
Fogelman also recently said season three will see a deep-dive into Beth’s backstory to shed light on the younger years that fostered her strength and big heart. When given the early scripts of the series, it’s a given part of the actor’s job to fill in the blanks not found on the page. Watson developed, for instance, the idea that Beth is of Caribbean descent (both Watson and Beth are Jamaican-American) and since the pilot, she has had a hand in helping to paint Beth’s story by giving feedback to the writers.
When asked about any Beth-heavy episodes to come, Watson said she hopes to see more of her character’s family. “I want to see her family. I want to see their faces, and I want to see what they’re like because I know so much about the Pearson side,” she said. “I want to see what that side of the family is and where she came from because she’s interesting to me. She’s different from me in so many ways. None of my life as Susan resembles Beth’s, but I feel like there is something about where she came from that I’m familiar with.”