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Mandy Moore reflects on the shocking Pearson family conversation in the latest episode, “Taboo,” and teases what’s coming up as the “This is Us” series finale nears. (Hint: Big Three trilogy episodes, Kate and Toby’s relationship, Rebecca’s final goodbye and a pastrami sandwich.) Plus, what you can expect from her directorial debut, her parting words for Rebecca Pearson and a blast from her past pop star life.
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from tonight’s episode of “This Is Us.”
Yvonne Villarreal: Hi, I’m Yvonne Villarreal
Mark Olsen: And I’m Mark Olsen. You’re listening to “The Envelope,” The L.A. Times podcast where we go behind the scenes with your favorite stars from TV and Film.
Villarreal: Mark, I can’t believe we’re already at the end of this season.
Olsen: I know! It went by so quickly. We are going to be back soon with a special Oscars episode, but, Yvonne, do you know the great thing about podcasts?
Villarreal: No, tell me, Mark.
Olsen: You can go back and listen to them whenever you want! If you haven’t already heard previous interviews — or even if you have — I would suggest Yvonne’s conversations with Issa Rae or Jennifer Coolidge, or my talks with Maggie Gyllenhaal or Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
Villarreal: Great suggestions, Mark. Today’s guest, Mandy Moore, is also nearing a season finale, but it’s a much more emotional one for her as it will also be the end of the road for “This Is Us.” Do you watch the show, Mark?
Olsen: I’m not a regular viewer of that show, but I know that it has a huge fandom, and this finale is much anticipated.
Villarreal: Yes. You should come over. We can cry into each other’s arms. The show was created by Dan Fogelman, and it’s well-known for its plot twists and tear-jerking moments, and tonight’s episode was no exception. If you haven’t seen it yet, I will just note that the first part of this interview will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Anyway, as “This Is Us” fans already know, the show’s plot jumps around in time to tell the story of the Pearson family, and the episode that just aired takes place over a few Thanksgivings. In the present day, Mandy’s character, Rebecca, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and reveals a bombshell. She and Miguel have started planning for her end-of-life care.
[Clip from “This is Us”: REBECCA: The one silver lining of this awful disease is that I have the opportunity to make a plan, to try and ease some of the burdens. So, first things first, no matter how this thing goes, no matter how slow or fast, if decisions need to be made for me, Miguel is the captain of that ship.]
It was such a touching moment and a great performance by Mandy, so we started there in our conversation:
Villarreal: Mandy, thanks so much for joining us.
Mandy Moore: Thanks for having me.
Villarreal: That moment with the kids and Miguel was so emotional. I mean, Rebecca’s confronting her fate and kind of just dropping this big news on the kids. What was it like for you to shoot that scene?
Moore: Yeah. In typical “This Is Us” fashion, Dan loves to write a monologue. And this was a doozy of a monologue. It was three or four pages. It was ironically right before our Thanksgiving vacation, and I remember just thinking, “Oh, I really want to nail this. I really want to get this off my plate. I’m so nervous.” There was just so much to say coupled with, obviously, the place that Rebecca finds herself in to have this particular conversation with her children. I think it’s something she’s been thinking about for a long time, and it’s not too often that they’re all sort of gathered in the same place.
So it was emotional knowing that the end is near in every way — for this woman, for our show, for us as friends and colleagues. And so it was pretty easy, and accessible to tap into the emotions of what Rebecca was dealing with. And I have the incredible opportunity and gift of looking at Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley and Jon Huertas in the eyeballs as I get to say these beautiful words. That makes my job exponentially easy.
I feel like this is the beginning of this last chapter for Rebecca. I think she is well aware of her fate, well aware that this is the moment to be very intentional with her wishes and with her kids. It’s a challenging conversation because she knows that she’s going to hurt the feelings of the two other children that weren’t chosen to be the executor of her estate, if something were to happen to Miguel. Namely, Randall. But luckily you’ll see in future episodes, they find a way to have a conversation and hopefully bring a little bit more clarity and understanding as to why she reached that decision.
Villarreal: Yeah. I wanted to explain to our listeners that Rebecca chooses Kate as the person to make decisions on her behalf if Miguel is no longer with us. Kate is very surprised and asks Rebecca, “Why me?”
[Clip from “This Is Us”: KATE: I gotta ask, why me? What? REBECCA: You are my daughter and my best friend. It was always you, Kate.]
Villarreal: For you, in what ways has it always been Kate?
Moore: I think the viewers of our series from the beginning have understood that Kate and Rebecca have always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship, and they’ve never quite been on the same page. Kate has had her own baggage along the way, and I think Rebecca, as a mother, has always been flummoxed by the fact that they just can’t seem to meet in the middle for most of their lives. And the irony is that this life-altering diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s happens to sort of coincide with Rebecca and Kate really finding their footing and finding this common ground. I think it’s pretty heartbreaking and devastating for both of them to recognize that they’re just finally understanding each other and getting along, and now this is what’s unfolding. This is what’s in front of Rebecca. But, I think Rebecca has always been a champion for Kate and even in the midst of not quite grasping why Kate is so angry, Kate has so much resentment toward her. Think Rebecca still, as most good parents are, just gonna sort of be on the sidelines waiting for things to sort of come around.
Villarreal: In the premiere of this season, Rebecca struggles to recall a core memory of her as a kid riding a train with her dad, and you can see she’s really sort of tormented by the reality of what’s slipping away.
[Clip from “This Is Us”: REBECCA: And then when we would get close to the city, he would walk me to the very front of the train, and we’d walk back through each and every car. All the way, all the way back to the…them um… the last car. No, no. Don’t tell me…]
Villarreal: What has playing this stage of Rebecca’s life taught you about memory, what we hold on to, and living in the moment?
Moore: Memory is the glue of everything. It’s the glue of our lives. It’s the glue of this show in particular, and I think the idea of staying present is one of the more difficult parts of the human condition for all of us. I love that this show is a reminder of that, of this most precious thing just sort of floating away, floating, out of reach. It’s beautiful to have that reminder.
Not to keep bringing it back to the show, and, selfishly, my experience as an actor on the show, but this has been the best job I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. This is an opportunity that never comes around for most people, to be a part of something that fires on all cylinders in the way that the show has, the connection that the audience has with the material, the friendships we’ve all made, the story we get to tell. It just checks every box. And in that sense, I think we knew how special it was and how important it was to stay present. It’s almost ironic, that lesson is something that we’ve all been sort of trying our very best to understand and to put into practice from the beginning.
Villarreal: Well, I’m sure you’ve encountered fans of the show who have known people with Alzheimer’s. What’s it been like to hear people’s stories and how the show has touched them?
Moore: Like many other subjects we broach on the show, people really feel seen. I think caregivers and loved ones who have loved ones living with this awful, insidious disease, it’s very buoying for them to see themselves and see their families, and not just what their loved one may or may not be going through, but the families as a whole. What they’re collectively grappling with, the decisions that they’re making, the differing decisions, that one family member wants to handle things one way and others are really interested in making sure that their loved one is enrolled in a clinical trial. Others want to sort of respect the wishes of the person who’s living with this diagnosis. It’s really tricky, and I think as the story goes on there will be a lot more of a focus on Miguel as a caregiver and how strenuous and stressful that is.
Villarreal: I know you weren’t a mother when you began your journey as Rebecca Pearson. I remember us talking and you sharing how Milo had to sort of teach you how to change diapers. But now you are a mother. Has becoming a mom enhanced your understanding of Rebecca? Have you noticed any shifts to how you feel her through your performance?
Moore: Yeah. I like to joke that I would love to go back to the beginning of the show now, because I’m like, “Oh, I have some inkling of what it means to be a mom, to love your kids with this ferocity.” I mean, I had some clue, but no real point of reference as to just the depths of the love and the loyalty and throwing yourself in front of a moving vehicle for your family. I have a deeper well to draw from. It’s not just my imagination. There’s a reality. There’s my lived life that I’m able to bring to the table, as you as a performer with any medium. You bring your life with you. You bring your experiences with you. And now I have a year’s worth of what it means to be a mom, and I’ll be able to carry that with me for the rest of this show and everything moving forward.
Villarreal: Now I’m curious, which moments in particular from the past seasons do you think you would have brought something different to?
Moore: You know, some of the decisions that Rebecca made that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Namely, let’s say Randall and William and keeping the two of them apart.
I was very steadfast in the idea of like, it’s wrong, and I can’t even imagine how this woman would come to this conclusion that this was the right choice. But being a parent now, and the idea that the abject fear in your child potentially not being yours anymore, it’s unimaginable. I think filtering in a bit more of the empathy and the compassion that I didn’t necessarily have for her in some of those moments that I disagreed with her on that I feel like it would just add a little bit of a different shade. I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t even be perceptible, but it would be for me when I’m bringing to the table.
Villarreal: Yeah. I get that. Well to transform into older Rebecca there’s hours worth of makeup and prosthetics that you have to sit through. I know it’s been some time since you’ve done it, but the first times that you did that transformation, did you notice any change in the way you were treated when you were in costume as older Rebecca?
Moore: Not so much in present-day Rebecca, but the few times that I have transformed into the future version of Rebecca, when she’s closer to the end of her life, people actually treated me like I was an 85-year-old woman. Everybody got really quiet on set, people were there to help shuffle me in, like I couldn’t get there myself. That was a bit strange to me.
I guess in the sense that I know Sterling and Justin and Chrissy, obviously, outside of work, but when I’m on set with them, they know me as mom. So I think it’s strange for them to see me outside of that makeup and cross paths with me on set, or in hair and makeup or something like, “Whoa! I don’t know this version of you.” So, there’s a relationship, there’s a language that we have as mother and child that’s kind of this unspoken thing that we built up over the last six years. So in that sense, yeah. I feel like they do treat me differently. I’m not five-years-younger-than-them Mandy. I’m like …
Villarreal: It’s still so wild that you’re like the youngest of the adult cast, but you’re playing the oldest. So bizarre.
Moore: Yeah. it is.
Villarreal: I imagine you’ve brought your son, Gus, to set. Has he sort of observed you in that stage of life as Rebecca? Is that weird for him? Like, is he just looking for your voice?
Moore: He recognizes my voice and my smell, but yeah, I remember him coming to set with me very early, like when he was a month old and I think to go through the makeup process. It was very confusing to him at first. Subsequently he’s gotten a bit more used to it, but all of the wigs are strange to him. But again, he’s sort of cued by my voice. So he’s like, “Oh, OK.” I joke that it’s like Grandma Mom when I’m in my aged makeup. And especially when I was nursing him, I was like, “This is definitely going to be cause for therapy somewhere down the road for him.” But you know, this is my job and I’m just grateful that he can come and visit me. But yeah, it was definitely weird at first.
Villarreal: When he’s older and finds those photos, it’s going to be a treasure for sure.
Moore: Totally. For sure.
Villarreal: The show touches upon some primal fears that we all have — or maybe it’s just primal fears that I have: the loss of memory, the fear of death. How do you feel about dying on screen? I mean, we didn’t see Jack die per se. We saw your reaction to seeing him. Do you have a sense of if it’ll sort of go that way with you or if we’re gonna see it?
Moore: I know how it’s all gonna happen, and it’s going to be a lot, but I think people will be very … ”pleased” is such a weird word to describe with like, “You’re going to be pleased with how she dies.” I think fans of the show, those who have been on this entire journey with us, will feel like it is a very fitting way to tell the end of that story, and the story, just in general, of the whole show.
Dan excitedly has been telling us from the beginning [that he] has chronicled every single chapter or exciting thing that happens along the way. And, we saw him maybe a week or so ago and he was like, “Here’s what’s happening in these last like three episodes” or something. And we were all sitting there crying and I was like, “It’s too much,” but it’s also perfect. It’s exactly what it should be.
Villarreal: Well, the upcoming three episodes are interconnected, and you and your co-stars, Milo Ventimiglia and Justin Hartley, will be directing them. What can you share with us about what’s in store with this trio of episodes?
Moore: So, we’ve done this twice before on the show. I think in the second and fourth seasons we’ve done these sort of trilogy episodes that all sort of point to a different character’s perspective. So, Milo’s directing Kevin’s episode, I get to direct Kate’s episode, and Justin directs Randall’s episode. And there are interconnected points of these episodes that have happened in trilogies of the past, which made it somewhat challenging to be an actor and a director in some of these scenes. Namely, there’s like a part of the episode that takes place at this pool that we’ve gone to as a family several times. So there’s the idea that Milo and I are in bathing suits with 7-year-old kids and like 80 extras all the way in Long Beach. It’s freezing. It was raining one day. We’re in and out of the water. It was like all of the most challenging aspects of being a first-time director were sort of thrown my way. But luckily we had Justin there to sort of keep a bird’s-eye view of like, “No, no. You got it. You can move on,” because our show, we just don’t have time to do a scene and then step aside and go watch playback on the monitors. So we kind of had to rely on Justin and rely on yourself like, “I feel good about my performance. I think we got it.”
Villarreal: What was it like to direct your cast mates who you’ve been acting alongside all these years? Who was the clown?
Moore: Well, my episode is primarily Chris and Chrissy, and I knew that Chris is, you know, he’s one of the funniest people that you will ever meet in any walk of life. So, I knew I was in for it with him.
But I feel like what was really revelatory for me was — I know how great everybody is on our crew. We’ve retained most of our crew, I’d say like 98% of our crew from the very, very beginning. I knew how good everybody was at their job, but I didn’t know the extent. And I think as a director, having the process of going through prep before your episode, shooting, and then going through the editing process and the post-production process. Everybody on our show is just so exceptional at what they do.
And as an actor, I will never ever take for granted anything from locations to transpo, to background actors and props. And you sit as an actor, and you’re eating a pastrami sandwich and I’ve never really taken the time to realize like there are seven meetings that go into “What kind of bread is it? Is turkey pastrami? Is it regular pastrami? Is it toasted? What kind of deli? I mean, just like every single possible question you could have about a pastrami sandwich, like has been answered, has been addressed. “..the logo of the deli. Are there potato chips on the side? How many patrons are in there?” There’s so much groundwork and legwork that goes into it that you think about, but until being in the director’s chair, I really just couldn’t totally accept and process.
I feel like in a way, every actor should at least have the opportunity, not necessarily to direct, but at least shadow the director’s process, because it opens up a tremendous groundswell of respect for every single crew member and what they do and what they contribute to make a show what it is.
Villarreal: So are you telling me there’s a pastrami sandwich in your episode?
Moore: Not in my episode, but Justin’s episode. I eat a pastrami sandwich, and as an actor, I was like, “Oh, wow. There were probably several meetings that Justin sat in, where they talked about this pastrami sandwich.”
Villarreal: And I’m sure part of that is because viewers watch every part of this show for clues. They dissect everything. Maybe this pastrami is a clue for something, who knows? But could you see more directing in your future? What else would you want to direct?
Moore: If I should be so lucky. Absolutely. I think I would love to direct things again, that I have a personal connection to. I don’t think that I have this skill set to just be a director who onboards a show that I’m not necessarily familiar with. I had the advantage of working on the show that I know intimately. I know these characters intimately. I know these actors intimately. I don’t have the experience, at least at this point, to jump onto something that I feel like I wouldn’t have that same connection to. You just have to care so passionately.
I heard someone mention “The director’s job is throwing the party, whereas an actor’s just an attendee.” You’re just attending the party, and you can leave at any time. But the director has to pay attention to all the details. You’re there to the bitter end. So it would have to be something that I feel so drawn to, so compelled by. Hopefully that’s something that I personally work on next, but being able to work with these actors is kind of like cheating as a director.
I had this crazy, crazy epiphany watching Chrissy and Chris, in particular. In this episode, there’s a lot that sort of happens. I’ve worked with them for six years. I know how extraordinary they are at their jobs, but there was something different about sitting behind that monitor and not being in a scene and not just sort of connecting with them and their eyeballs in the moment. Just watching the work from that vantage point, from that distance that blew me away. They are just so truly good at what they do. And again, it just didn’t feel fair to call myself a director because I’m like, I didn’t I really do anything.
Villarreal: I feel like that’s going to be quite the episode if I assume it’s going to go where I think it’s going. So, what an episode to direct.
Moore: Yeah. it’s starting to explain things to the audience, to all of us, like what happens with Kate and Toby. It’s a really beautiful one, and Chrissy co-wrote it. So it’s even more special that I got to be a part of helping tell this story. So much of it is from Chrissy’s heart and brain.
Villarreal: OK. I want to take things back a bit. Your introduction to acting really began with your music videos back when MTV was the go-to destination for that sort of thing. And they are stored in my memory, but I did rewatch a lot of them.
Moore: Oh no.
Villarreal: I mean, you were 15 when you did “Candy.” What do you remember about being on the set of your first music video?
Moore: So excited to go through this silly process of hair and makeup and wardrobe. All the girly things, because as a 15-year-old, what’s more exciting than a rolling rack of clothes that aren’t yours and an array of glittery eyeshadows and sparkly lip glosses. All of it was just like a shopping spree at the mall come to life.
I’d never been a part of something where things were sort of catered to me. I had been in theater productions where I was a member of a troupe, a cast member of a show telling a story, or in a commercial where you’re one cog in the wheel of the machine of what you’re trying to sell. It had never been about me and being the center of attention was hard to get used to, but also just tremendous. Again, as a 15-year-old, it’s like, “Wow, I got to live out my dreams of fake driving a car and having a cute boy look twice at me,” like things that weren’t necessarily happening in my real life.
But I don’t know how I knew what to do, necessarily. I guess you just sort of mimic what you saw in other music videos and on MTV. Again, I was a 15-year-old girl singing about missing someone like candy and I had never French-kissed a boy before. So it’s strange to think I’m singing about things and trying to sell something that I really knew nothing about.
Villarreal: You had never missed someone like candy yet.
Moore: Correct. Unless we’re talking about actual candy, like SweeTarts, then sure. I could tap into that.”
Villarreal: Well, it’s funny, you brought up sort of mimicking or looking at other things because, as I said, I rewatched them and I couldn’t help but notice how much sass and confidence you are giving in that “Candy” video. How much of that was what you felt like you needed to deliver versus what the director was maybe explicitly telling you he wanted from you?
Moore: I don’t remember the director telling me that he wanted anything from me. That I feel like that all just came instinctually, which again is strange, because it’s not who I am just naturally as a woman. I’m quite shy. I’m quite introverted in my real life. But I guess, as a fearless young person who feels like they have nothing to lose and you don’t know what you don’t know — I think the same thing about that time period of performing, of being on stage and opening up for the Backstreet Boys or Nsync with a sea of 20,000 girls with glow sticks. And I never really was nervous. I was just excited for the opportunity.
Now I would poop my pants. I would completely lose myself. I would be so nervous. So I think that the sass and the confidence just came from like owning the moment and owning the opportunity, and again, mimicking what I’d seen in other videos and like, “This is how you perform in a music video. This is how you sing to the camera and lean in.” And I really didn’t know what I was doing quite frankly.
Villarreal: Well, like, as you mentioned, you came of age at perhaps one of the hardest times for teen girls in the media. You arrived on the pop music scene at 15 years old in the late ‘90s, and your contemporaries are Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson. At that age, did you have an awareness that you were expected to sort of take on a sex symbol persona?
Moore: I knew that I was obviously like my record label’s answer or a version of those other women, but I also was aware that nobody was pushing me to be somebody that I wasn’t. I was allowed to kind of just be a 15-year-old was actually a 15-year-old girl, and I wasn’t trying to act older than I was. I was still very much allowed to be a kid. When we would perform at theme parks, I’m like, “Ooh, can I go on some rides?” If we’re performing at a mall, like, “Do I have time to go to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and go to Claire’s and look at jewelry?” I wanted to go shopping. I wanted to go to the mall with my friends, go see movies and go out to dinner. The typical things you would be doing at 15, not kind of leading a more mature life than would be appropriate for someone my age.
Villarreal: A lot of people are revisiting the unhealthy treatment of women in the media in the early and mid-2000s, and that obviously overlaps with your time in the music industry. How does it feel to be part of that conversation or to even see that conversation happening?
Moore: Well, I’m happy that the conversation’s happening. I feel oddly excluded from it because my time in the music industry or at least feeling, even a part of that conversation or somewhat relevant, feels so fleeting. We’re talking about women who had just exponential success, success I could never fathom or wrap my head around. And therefore the consequences of the choices that they’ve made or people around them made for them, on their behalf, I quite frankly couldn’t imagine and I have so much empathy for [them]. I’m glad we’re able to talk about it now and talk about why it was so wrong and misguided, and hopefully how that will never happen again.
Villarreal: To get back to what you mentioned earlier, it wasn’t long into your music career that you branched out into films. You made your debut in “The Princess Diaries” in 2001. How did that come about? Was that your team trying to find ways to distinguish you? Were you finding that maybe this is something I want to pursue? How did it start?
Moore: I always knew that I wanted to try my hand at acting. I had grown up as a theater kid, kind of doing a little bit of both. So when the music stuff took off to a varying degree, it kind of opened doors for me to try my hand at acting. I had gone on several auditions and had been meeting people, and I remember reading the script for “The Princess Diaries” and going to meet dear Gary Marshall at his theater in Toluca Lake, and I had just a fantastic meeting with him. And then getting the word that they wanted to cast me as Lanna, Lana, whatever her name was and that film.
That was sort of a lightning bolt moment for me. Like, “Wow, I love this. I love this way of storytelling. I love that the onus isn’t solely on me.” I was around a bunch of other actors my age, and it felt like summer camp. So again, that kind of opened the door for more opportunities. Then I remember reading the book for “A Walk to Remember,” and then getting the meeting with Adam Shankman and then eventually kind of doing a pseudo chemistry read with Shane West and with Adam, and eventually getting cast in that project. I kind of got the ball rolling from there, I guess.
Villarreal: 20th anniversary for “A Walk to Remember” this year.
Moore: So crazy.
Villarreal: So crazy.
Moore: I remember, I think Jessica Simpson auditioned for it. You’d have to ask Adam as to why I was the one that got cast, because I didn’t know what I was doing, truly. I didn’t know how to hit a mark. I didn’t know what a mark was. Poor Shane was really having to sort of hold my hand and guide me around. I didn’t know what I was doing. I look back and I’m like, “Ay, ay, ay.” It’s probably a hard one to watch. But, I was so sad when it was over and just thought I’ll never, ever have an experience like this again. And it kind of was true. Maybe it’s just because it was the first of its kind, so it always would hold a very special place in my heart. It really wasn’t until “This Is Us” that I was like, “Oh, I feel like I’m tapping into a very similar vein there. I remember what it’s like to be a part of something where you’re like, ‘Oh, this is special.’”
Villarreal: But why does it always have to involve you dying, Mandy?
Moore: I know, and crying. No more. This is it. This is the end of crying for me.
Villarreal: But back to those early years of acting, how into it were you then? Did it create confusion for your own goals? Like, “Wait, I wanted it to be this music star. Is this keeping me from giving it a more concerted shot?” Were you ever worried you were not feeding the other passion by feeding the other one?
Moore: Oh, no, I never felt that way. I loved that I somehow was allowed the opportunity to do both, and I think other folks in my position weren’t afforded the same opportunity maybe because of the level of fame that they had achieved. I think it allowed me to kind of go under the radar a little bit and for people to perhaps buy me on screen or in character, because they didn’t know as much about me and my life and all of the trappings of being a megawatt celebrity.
So, I loved doing both and I loved that a lot of the projects somehow allowed me to still dip my toe into music, or there was some sort of relationship to music. Whether it was “A Walk to Remember” or even “Princess Diaries,” I got to sing still. I always found my way back to music. I’d find a way to make a record at the same time.
I never really got to tour or do anything, to that degree that I probably would have liked or sort of thought at the beginning of things, but I was having too much fun. I loved that one job led to the next led to the next led to the next, and it allowed me, you know, 20-some-odd years later to still be doing it.
Villarreal: Well, you’ve acted alongside some heavyweights like Diane Keaton in “Because I Said So” and Robin Williams in “License to Wed.” When you got to that stage in your career, did you feel that people started to take you more seriously as an actress, or started to think of you as an actress rather than a pop star?
Moore: I’m not sure those films in particular made people take me seriously, but I think that people did view me — strangely, probably after “A Walk to Remember,” as silly as it sounds, because of the story we were telling the fact that I colored my hair brown from being a blond, you know, those things, allowed me to sort of seamlessly transition to that side of my job a little easier. It did allow people to see me in that light, and I don’t think that I really ever had the difficulty of trying to explain to people moving forward, like, “No, no. I’m not just a musician or a singer. I’m also an actor.” I think people sort of started to see me in both of those roles.
Villarreal: What about yourself? Did you have any sort of impostor syndrome? I feel like all of us do, but how did you sort of work your way through that?
Moore: I still do. I still have impostor syndrome. I don’t know if I ever want to get to the point where I don’t feel like I don’t belong or I’m not trying to fake it. I never want to get too comfortable. I’m happy to sort of be kept on my toes. I’ve never gone to work in these last six years on automatic pilot. I always drive through those gates of Paramount thinking, “I cannot believe this is my job. I can’t believe someone’s letting me do this. I can’t believe I’m about to go work with Sterling, and I’m in a scene with him playing his mother and I’m 37.” It’s just never lost on me that this is wild and impossible, and “how did I get here?” and “How do I keep this going” and “This is going to be the last time I ever work.” I mean, just a million things, but I’m kind of fueled by that. So I hope that’s always the case.
Villarreal: Well, when “This is Us” came along, you were at a crossroads, at a turning point in your personal and professional life. You had done a few unsuccessful pilot seasons and you were at the end of a relationship that you described as one that damaged your sense of self. With a bit of distance, how do you feel you’ve changed since starting the show?
Moore: Yeah, my life looks impossibly different now in every way. it’s unrecognizable. I think in all the ways that I just mentioned. I have better boundaries. I know myself better. I’m more apt to say “no” and be less of a people pleaser. I think especially becoming a parent further instills all of that. You are so happy to do whatever it takes to protect your child to protect your time and your energy.
I feel like having the incredible fortune of being a part of something that you are so deeply moved by and challenged by in every way has helped me think about the future and the kinds of things that I really want to dedicate my time and energy toward, in terms of the professional side of things. I think there are different qualifications now, and I understand the privilege that comes along with that. And maybe at some point I’ll have to sort of toss a lot of that to the side and just go, “I’m happy to take any job,” but I feel lucky to be in the position where I would love to wait for something that feels right to come along instead of just jumping at any opportunity just out of fear of not knowing when the next thing is going to come along. Because being with my family’s too important, being a part of something that really fires on all of those cylinders, that challenges me emotionally and physically as a human and as a performer — like I want to work with great people. I want to do things that scare me. I want to keep raising the bar for myself. so I don’t know what, what that is and what that looks like necessarily, but I’m excited to see it through and figure it out.
Villarreal: Well, related to that, “This is Us” is undoubtedly a pivotal landmark moment in your career. I mean, you’ve earned a Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, as well as two Screen Actors Guild awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I know we were talking about impostor syndrome, but what have you learned about what you’re capable of from doing this show?
Moore: Along the lines of what I was just mentioning, it’s good to scare yourself. It’s good to sort of put yourself in a position that you don’t necessarily know if your capabilities will lend themselves to what’s expected of you. And I just remember thinking when the show eventually got picked up for the first time and we were going to be doing 13 episodes of television, as an actor who had done failed pilot after failed pilot after failed pilot, I remember being overwhelmed and so daunted by the idea that we’re going to do 13 episodes of television. How do you do that? How? Physically, how do you do it? Emotionally, how do you do it? How do you tell the story? How do you stay engaged?
And here we are. At the end of the run, we’ll have done 106 of them. It still boggles my brain. It’s still really challenging to completely digest what we’ve done as a group and as individuals. I would say have a lot more confidence that I can undertake things that do terrify me, that are completely unknown. I’m more capable than I give myself credit for.
Villarreal: I’m not sure if the writers have started actually sort of breaking the finale. Do you have any sense of when you’ll start shooting that?
Moore: Yeah. They have. I think Dan is almost done writing. so we have 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. We have six left to shoot. I think we’re supposed to be done at the beginning of May, and I believe the finale airs May 24th. So we’re always cutting it close, but that’s the trick of network television and COVID.
Villarreal: I just can’t believe it’s over. It feels so weird. I still remember talking to Sterling as he was working on “The People v. O.J.” and he’s like, “I just did this pilot, and it’s so crazy. People are going to have their minds blown.” And I was like, “I don’t know about that. Network TV? Does that still happen?” Like, “Sure. Sure, Sterling,“ and sure enough.
Moore: Here we are.
Villarreal: How are you feeling? Is it hitting you yet, or still not totally?
Moore: Yes and no. I feel like we’ve so much work ahead of us. I just got done reading 15 before I talked to you and it’s an incredible episode. I was crying and I’m just like, “Ah, I have three more of these scripts to read, and that’s it.” So those are the moments where I think I’m hit with the reality of what’s to come and the finality of this all kind of wrapping up and ending. It’s really bittersweet. It’s mostly like, yes, I’m going to miss this job in every aspect, but I’m really going to miss my friends. I’m gonna miss seeing every one of these faces every day. Since 2016, I’ve been able to rely on the fact that I get to see these people for the foreseeable future, who knows how long. But, the fact that everybody’s already starting to talk about what they’re doing next and where they’re moving on to, and I know before the end probably some crew folks will start jumping ship to go onto the next jobs because that’s just what you gotta do. I’m trying to really hold on to all of it and savor all of it, but still wrapped up in the idea of like, “Ooh, we have some of the hardest work ahead of us.”
Villarreal: If you could wager, how many boxes of tissues should we come armed with for the finale?
Moore: I don’t know. I would say let’s be environmentally friendly. Let’s just use a towel. Let’s just use a hand towel or a washcloth. Obviously you’re not going to want you to blow your nose like that. But I think sop up the tears, let’s use a washcloth. I’ll put it that way.
Villarreal: A washcloth and maybe like a weighted blanket for the comfort, something like that. Yeah.
Moore: Yes. A nice cup of tea, a candle. You want to have all of the creature comforts surrounding you for the end.
Villarreal: Well, before we leave, I would love to know what your parting thoughts are to Rebecca. What would you say to her?
Moore: I am so grateful to her being this beacon of what it means to be the matriarch of a family. She set the bar so high for me, even though she’s a fictional character. I often think about her and I think about this fictional family, and it’s so strange that — I thought about it a lot — the specificity of this family and the choices they make and the stories we’re telling, and yet everyone is able to see themselves in some way. I mean, I guess that’s just the trick of any art. But, I’ve loved being a part of telling these stories and having this barometer of what it means to be a family and what a family looks like. It’s really just been the greatest gift and honor to be this woman. I appreciate her and I’m sure I will carry bits and pieces of her for the rest of my life.
This episode was produced by Tarkor Zehn and edited by Heba Elorbany. Our engineer and composer is Mike Heflin. Special thanks to Jazmin Aguilera, Asal Ehsanipour, Shani Hilton, Clint Schaff, Tova Weinstock, Amy Wong, Chris Price, Ross May, Patricia Gardiner, Geoff Berkshire, Elena Howe and Matt Brennan.