This Is Us broke the mold of family dramas with its clever way of playing with time in order to tell the Pearson family story. In any given episode we can visit the family in up to four different time periods, from the years when Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) first met, up to the birth of their great-grandchild years after their death. As it hops around in time, This Is Us shows us how this family’s precious memories become relevant to the present-day events in their lives.
Memory being a central theme to this show only makes it that much more tragic to learn that Rebecca has developed a cognitive condition — most likely Alzheimer’s Disease — that is causing her to slowly forget things. While Season 4 dealt mostly with Rebecca realizing she had the condition and her subsequent diagnosis, we were given enough to know that this is going to be a long, heartbreaking road for the family. Rebecca’s ability to remember important events and members of her family is going to fade as the series progresses.
TV Guide spoke to Moore about what it’s like to take on the central role in the family, and what it means to play someone forgetting her family’s past. She took us inside that journey and explained why Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is leading the charge to give Rebecca as much time as possible, why Rebecca isn’t exactly on the same page, and what’s next for the Pearson family matriarch.
This was obviously a big season for Rebecca and the progression of this disease. How far in advance were you were aware that this is where she was going?
Mandy Moore: I’ve known for quite a while that, at least for present-day and I guess looking into the future, how Rebecca’s story sort of ends — not to put too fine a point on it or to get too melancholy. So I knew that this was this season, we were going to start to sort of understand Rebecca’s cognitive condition. I just didn’t know when until maybe an episode or two before. I was like, “Oh, this is it. We’re starting now. Where this is, this is our entry point into things sort of really taking more of, you know, a distinct turn. A noticeable turn.”
For a show that sort of plays in time, and with memory, and it being sort of about those two things, it’s the most heartbreaking thing for a family to be missing the patriarch and for so much of their lives to be hinged on trying to move forward beyond losing their dad and their husband. It feels like the cruelest thing of all then for my character to, you know, very slowly but surely know and have to reckon with the fact that she’s going to lose all that she has left of [Jack] and their time together and their family’s time with him.
It is becoming more and more obvious as we head into the tail end of the Pearson family story that Rebecca is actually the central figure of the story. Has that pivot changed how you approached her?
Moore: It really hasn’t changed the way that I’ve approached the character. I mean, like selfishly, there’s a little bit of gratitude. I think for a while some people really had it out for Rebecca. They didn’t like the choices she made and I can totally understand that but, you know, it really was sort of this superhero dad who could do no wrong in anyone’s eyes. And that often is the case when someone passes away. They’re put on a pedestal and there’s no way to sort of humanize them. They do become this sort of otherworldly existence. And so it’s been interesting for people to come around to Rebecca, and to recognize that she has been the glue and her sort of strength, her quiet strength and grace and determination to sort of keep the family together in the wake of losing Jack, this central figure in all of their lives, is really remarkable and commendable. I’m glad that she is a character starting to get the credit that I as an observer, and someone who cares about her — I’m glad to see. I love her, a lot.
Vince Gilligan Says El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Balanced the ‘Scales of Justice’ for Jesse Pinkman
We got a whole episode this season that showed Randall is not over Rebecca keeping William a secret. That felt surprising for fans who might have thought he was over it. Was Rebecca also thinking that this was something they had gotten past?
Moore: It’s interesting because I don’t think he necessarily reveals anything. I think he just comes out of the blue with this assertion that he’s been a good child and he wants something from me because he sort of let me off the hook for something that maybe he shouldn’t have let me off the hook for. I think she was so confused as to where he was leading the conversation, and then for it to sort of end with “I need you to do something for me, I need you to do this clinical trial.” She was surprised that he would leverage that amount of guilt that she continues to feel, absolutely, but I think also assumed that maybe they were beyond it. Maybe they had reached an understanding, or maybe once a little bit more time had elapsed, they’d be able to have a more distance conversation. It wasn’t like as close to the bone. But I don’t think she’s fully aware of like the work that he’s doing on himself, that he’s in therapy, and all of these issues are coming up and bubbling up. I don’t know if she really understands the root of it. I think it takes her by surprise and it’s truly her Achilles heel, with him specifically. She knows that she can’t deny him this request, because it’s true. He really did allow her a lot of grace when it came to this insane secret that she had been keeping from him and from the whole family. It’s a lot. It’s a lot to unpack.
Randall made a huge assumption that the first thing Rebecca would tell Jack if he survived the fire was the William secret. As Rebecca, do you agree that would be the first thing she’d tell her husband?
Moore: I don’t know if it would have been that secret…On one hand, it’s like it’s easy to recognize, “Oh yeah, you just been through this harrowing life-threatening situation. What is something that like, you feel like I would be devastated if things had turned out differently and I hadn’t told you this?” But for me, as an actor in the way I’ve sort of always carried Rebecca, that secret is so buried. I really don’t know even in spite of him having perhaps in an alternate universe surviving the fire, I still don’t know if she would have revealed that. In Randall’s perfect world, clearly, mom is guilt-ridden, and that would be the first thing she would spill her guts about. But for me, I think it’s too deeply ingrained into the very pit of who Rebecca is. I just don’t know if she would ever, ever reveal that. I don’t know what it would have taken, minus her child hiring a private detective and finding his birth father, and her being confronted face-to-face with him. I think she really has always assumed, beyond that, that was something she would take to the grave.
This Is Us Season 4 is now available to stream on Hulu.