‘This Is Us’ cast knows how you’ll react to the series ending. They did it too

From left: Chrissy Metz, Susan Kelechi Watson, Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Jon Huertas, Chris Sullivan and Milo Ventimiglia.
(Dylan Coulter / For The Times)
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On an early April day, the main cast of “This Is Us” — Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan and Jon Huertas — are doing what they’ve become all too skilled at doing in recent years: jumping ahead.

“The last day of shooting — I don’t know what’s scheduled as of yet, I don’t know who’s filming last — but I want to be there,” says Ventimiglia. “Whether I work or not, I feel like I want to be there with the group — just to turn the studio lights off.”

“When is that, anyway?” Hartley interjects. “We only have, like, a month, right?”

“I think I have something on that day,” Sullivan deadpans.

“This Is Us” premiered on NBC in 2016 and quickly became a breakout hit, one that demonstrated broadcast television could still launch hits even as streaming continued its dizzying expansion. Created by Dan Fogelman, who guides the series with help from co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the drama revolves around the Pearson family as its members navigate the joys and challenges of life, including death, family tension and addiction — all while jumping backward and forward across decades in the telling.

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The series concludes its sixth and final season on May 24. We spoke with the cast about the looming end of the family drama that’s kept viewers guessing — and if Moore’s reaction to what’s ahead is any indication, you might be reaching for more than a tissue box.

The twisty, tearjerking family drama’s sixth and final season premieres Tuesday. Re-live all your favorite moments with our guide.

Production wraps the first week of May — how are you feeling at this stage of the farewell?

Brown: It’s really starting to hit now. We’re starting to do the last scenes and locations and stuff like that — like we may or may not have finished shooting at the cabin. And I was like, “Oh, we’re not going to go back to the cabin? I’ve been coming to this cabin for six years, and now it’s like almost done?” It’s a little much for me. I’m sad.

Metz: Everybody knows that I cry all the time and I always get emotional, but I’ve been trying to open the lever a little each day. Yes, I cry on my way home; yes, I cry on my way to work. I’m already getting teary. It’s becoming really real, really real in a way that snuck up on me. I knew it was going to be emotional, of course, but yeaaaah.

Mandy Moore as Rebecca in the final episode of “This Is Us.”
(NBC)
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There aren’t many episodes left to shoot. How are you approaching the ending? When will you get the script for that final episode?

Brown: Dan told us that he finished writing the last episode last night. A lot of it has been shot. So I wonder, how much did he [already] write — he probably had about 20 more minutes to throw in there, something like that. So let me preface this by saying I have not read Episode 6.17 [the penultimate episode], but pretty much everybody else has.

Ventimiglia: Oh s—, Sterling.

Brown: That’s pretty much everybody’s response. Mandy, every day, is like: “Have you read it yet?”

Moore: I’m like: “Text me a picture of your face once you read it.”

Brown: Because evidently 6.17 is that s—. It’s that penultimate joint where, like, it all comes like [mimics a collision with his hands]. I’ll say this because I haven’t even read it yet — and somebody who has read it can comment — but I actually told Dan, “Look, we can’t finish like ‘Game of Thrones.’ We gotta finish strong because, during the pandemic, I would have been watching ‘Thrones’ all day, but I knew how it ended and I had no desire to watch it.”

Huertas: Mandy should answer this. Your reaction to reading it is so good.

Moore: I was so upset and sad that I threw up. It caught my breath. My husband kept checking in on me, like, “Are you OK?” I’d be on page five, like, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” And he kept checking in on me, and then it finished and [mimics vomiting] — Chrissy, I think you’re the same reaction, not the getting sick part, but just like the inability to breathe. I was so congested from being upset that it wasn’t good.

Metz: Yeah, it’s like you can’t blow your nose, but you can’t breathe. It’s the feeling in between that.

Ventimiglia: I couldn’t talk. I just couldn’t. We’re seeing these characters that we’ve lived with for so many years, experienced these things, and they’re slowly wrapping up. And then to know another wrap up or wind up. It was pretty overwhelming. That whole six years of experience just grabs you.

In a special episode of ‘The Envelope,’ Moore explains why Rebecca’s choice made her ‘so nervous’ and teases what’s coming in the series finale.

Looking back, is there a memory that stands out from those early days of shooting the pilot, or the time before the show premiered and blew up?

Moore: I remember at Upfronts [the industry’s annual sales pitch to advertisers], we made a deal — do you remember this, Mi? We were at this party, and it was weird and I had never been to Upfronts because I’d never been on a show that’s been picked up. We made a pact to like be in it together no matter what, to have each other’s back.

Ventimiglia: They were our TV-wife-and-husband wedding vows. And I think that really set things in motion, and I think it, ultimately, landed onscreen where you were able to see what felt like a real-life married couple, good and bad. In the early days, that’s what I remember the most is the pre-work to the scene work with Mandy — knocking on her trailer door and saying, “Hey, you want to sit and have lunch and talk about this?” Or she’d knock on my trailer and we would hammer out scene work like we were theater students. I’ve been going through thousands of images that I’ve taken in six years — holy God, it takes me right back to the moments of the experience of it. And I can remember it so clearly.

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“We’re seeing these characters that we’ve lived with for so many years, experienced these things, and they’re slowly wrapping up. And then to know another wrap up or wind up. It was pretty overwhelming. That whole six years of experience just grabs you,” Milo Ventimiglia, center, said.
(Dylan Coulter / For The Times)

Looking back at the whole series, are there choices that surprise you or developments you didn’t see coming?

Huertas: When I joined the show, I didn’t see or know that Miguel was going to be married to Rebecca. I got a call that I had to go get like a head cast, a life cast for something, and I was like, “Why are we doing this?” And they said, “Because when you’re married to Rebecca, we’re going to age you.” I was like, “No, Jack’s married to Rebecca. You guys didn’t talk to the showrunner?” And then they told me, and I had an “Oh, s—" moment because, at that point, I had seen the pilot and I knew what kind of relationship Jack and Rebecca had, and I just knew that everyone was going to hate Miguel. And so [in] the beginning they did, they hated Miguel. And I remember having a conversation with Dan and Isaac and Elizabeth at the beginning because I was like, “Guys, they hate me. What are we going to do?” And Dan was like, “Trust me, Jon, trust me. I’ve got this plan. It’s going to be great.” And he was right.

Three months. COVID delays. A ‘stupid pool.’ Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore and Justin Hartley explain how they pulled off their interwoven episodes.

Can we talk about the kids for a moment? Every single one of the young actors has been so crucial to the magic of the series, from the OGs to the recent additions.

Ventimiglia: Mandy and I, having had the most kids — well, it’s tough when you got a lot of different kids because that means you’ve got a lot of different personalities. And you also have to develop a bond with all of them together, collectively, but also individually. I remember Mandy and I being like, we’ve got work to do, we’re sure that’ll get done, but it’s like, how do we have fun with these kids? How do we communicate with them when they have something that maybe they’re unsure about talking about? I remember sitting around and doing homework with Lonnie [Chavis] and Mackenzie [Hancsicsak] and Parker [Bates], and then there’ll be a flip and “action” is called, and you just see them snap into those moments of being your child.

I’m one of the ones here that doesn’t have kids, so I don’t understand that; I just have to believe in it. They’ve all been so remarkable. Even the ones who aren’t children — Logan [Shroyer] and Hannah [Zeile] and Niles [Fitch] — every so often Niles calling me like his dad and being, like, “Hey, can I talk to you about this girl? Hey, can I talk to you about college? Hey, can I talk to you about a camera?” or whatever. The tough days, you know, they’re kids and they don’t want to be on set, and they want to be doing kids stuff.

Brown: We’ve had one set [of kids] that we’ve had the whole time. That’s the part that will get me misty — watching them grow up. I don’t know who starts it, but there’s a circular sort of energy where it can’t help but be anything but fun. I don’t think I’ve had more fun as an actor than when I’m in the presence of those ladies. And they’re all special actors. There’s moments when Eris [Baker as Tess] came out to us, and she was so nervous about it, she just brought it and just destroyed. Lyric [Ross] has been here before — she’s older than everyone, and I’m like, “All right, let me just sit and listen and take it in because this young lady has something to teach me.” And Faithe [Herman] on the low end is a scene stealer — everything she does, she’s just so adorable and her timing is so right on. It has been such a joy to be in their presence.

Justin Hartley as Kevin, left, and Sterling K. Brown as Randall, center, and Mandy Moore as Rebecca in the final episode of “This Is Us.”
(NBC)

What will stand out to you about this experience?

Watson: I think one of the biggest things, because it’s one of the things that I’ve heard the most, is the opportunity to represent my culture in the way that I’ve been able to — through Beth, through her relationship with Randall and her kids. I’ve always known how normal it is to be a Black woman in America, as a human being, but for other people, it’s been eye-opening to see that representation and how much they can connect to it. And also for people of my culture to know that normalcy and see it reflected in something back at them has meant a tremendous amount to them. And I don’t take that lightly at all.

Sullivan: This is what I will take away and what I hope others do too: Zoom out and know that everything will be OK. From Episode 1 of this television show — tragedy. And the show gives us the ability to look into the future and see these children, and they’re OK. Our fathers pass away, our mothers will die, there will be addiction, there will be tragedy, there will be loss, there will be pain, and it will be OK. All of these things and it will be OK. Zoom out!

Metz: For me, personally, I’m so grateful that the executives, the network, the studio and Dan took a chance on a woman who didn’t look like everybody else, who had her own real food issues, and looked at how she navigates them. And now we get to see average to plus-size to just normal people on television, and I think that was a huge catalyst in many ways — that I am forever grateful for because somebody has to take a chance on someone at some point, someone has to give somebody an opportunity.

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NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ is renowned for its twists and turns, uncommon in a family drama. Creator Dan Fogelman and the stars explain how they make the mysteries.

Are you ready for life after “This Is Us”?

Hartley: I don’t have a choice. Here’s the thing about it: It’s been so satisfying that, yeah, it’s sad and I wish it could go on forever; I would gladly do another six seasons of this show. But at the same time, it’s not lost on me that I was lucky enough to experience those moments — most people don’t get one. And I got friends that I will hold dear forever. Without getting too personal, I have been through some things in my life, just like everyone else, and there are moments where you see other people smiling or laughing or holding hands and you don’t know how that’s even possible. How could you ever be happy? Ever?

And so when you are, you realize that “oh, my gosh, OK, so all these moments are fleeting.” And it’s sad that I won’t have this. So am I ready for life after that? Yes. Because I have learned that you have to hold on to those moments because they can live however you want them to live with you forever. I will be fine. I hope that we do a reunion thing. It doesn’t have to be filmed. It doesn’t have to be for anybody but us — I’ll host it.

So, Mandy, is it safe to say fans should be asking for two personal days in May with these two final episodes?

Moore: It just depends on how you’re able to function and if you’re super dehydrated.

Sullivan: “Mandy Moore says, ‘Stay hydrated’” — I think the title of [Episode] 18 is called “Stay Hydrated.”