NBC’s This Is Us centers around the Pearson family and the drama that ensues around twins Kate and Kevin along with their adopted brother Randall. Switching between the present and flashbacks to the past, the comedy-drama is one emotional moment after another as the family struggles to overcome various issues with each other and with the situations around them. We sat down with Susan Kelechi Watson to talk about the show, her character, and what audiences can expect from the second half of the season.
This Is Us has turned out to be one of the best new television shows of 2016, as evident by its three Golden Globe nominations including Best Television Series and Best Supporting Actress. Watson knew she had something special in her hands when she read the first script.
“That was a wow factor kinda script,” she recalls. “As soon as I got to the end of that script I knew I had to go and test for this series.” Her reaction was further confirmed when the initial trailer for the pilot aired and was well received by viewers. “We got over 100 million views or something, and I thought, ‘Wow. Really?’ And then after it aired. Because when it first aired and the amount of viewers that stayed with it and really were interested in it and loved it.”
Watson stars as Beth Pearson, the wife of Randall and mother of two daughters who all have to adjust when Randall’s biological father, William, comes into his life for the first time. When it comes to the show’s ensemble cast, Beth is the strong voice of reason who is often able to wade through the drama and get her husband to see clearly. On the surface they appear to have a secure marriage, but this season has put that to the ultimate test according to Watson.
“I think they’ve had a pretty healthy relationship,” says Watson. “It’s not that they don’t go through things; you actually see more of that as the season unfolds. You start to see some of the cracks and the wear and tear of all the drama that’s been happening. In a way, they’re still at a young stage in their marriage. They’ve been together for a long time, but in terms of how long they’ve been married it’s only been eight years. Then they have kids so there’s this whole aspect of family they’re still figuring out. But I feel like they had it pretty under control until everything else started happening. Now they’re trying to figure that out. I’m really interested in myself and seeing how we handle some of the stuff that’s going on because you do start to see Beth feel the weight of it.”
In addition to William’s unexpected arrival into their lives, Beth goes through a pregnancy scare in Episode 5 that causes her and Randall to think about the possibility of having another child. Watson imagines that Beth was definitely not in favor of adding a third kid’s seat to the dinner table, but believes that Randall would have made it work. “His point of view was that he could have done it,” she says. “He would have figured it out. He could work. For women it’s different. I think life stops in a different way, or pauses in a different way for women. And then it’s about trying to play catch up to get back to where you want it to be. And she didn’t want to go through that. She was like, ‘I think I like where things are now.’”
Now is a very different place than where the two were at the beginning of the season, however. Watson tells us that the second half of the season will see more of how their family deals with William’s impact on them all.
“William had sort of come out of the closet in a way about his bisexuality so we’re going to see how we as a family deal with that new piece of information and also deal with how he wants to spend his time outside of the house a little bit more. We kinda vie for his time in a way. And then the next one is going to be as William’s health deteriorates how does she sorta monitor Randall as he has issues with things being really stressful. We’re going to start to see how she deals with all those things, because right now she is the one who, because of her position, tries to hold everything together and make sure everyone is okay. Then what happens if she isn’t okay?”
There is still lots to be learned about Beth. So far we’ve discovered that she grew up in a Caribbean household living with 14 people in a three bedroom home and that she didn’t originally want to get married. “I keep calling her like a slow peeling onion or something,” she explains.
“There’s all these layers that slowly get to unfold where I feel like the rest of the family had to give a lot their story upfront. It gives her the opportunity to have a slow burn, but it’s definitely something they’re exploring and talking about even more fully as the season goes on. Every episode now you learn a little bit more about her family. You learn a little bit more about where she’s come from and sort of what has made her her.”
Watson has been able to provide input on her character as well. Beth is still forming she says. When she reads scripts, she likes to use a technique Ron Cephas Jones taught her. “He makes a mini-script,” she says. “He’ll pull out his sections and bind it and arc out his story in a way. And in some ways I kinda do the same thing. I kinda go into the script and go, “Okay, where is Beth?” and map out her journey so that I stay in my lane so that whatever else is happening outside of what’s happening with her is fresh to me so that things happen in the moment because, true to life, we wouldn’t know what’s happening in somebody else’s life journey. We wouldn’t know it so specifically. We would literally just have to respond in the moment and it would have to meet me where I am on my journey.”
No doubt Beth’s journey is far from over. This Is Us returns to NBC tonight, January 10th, at a special time at 10pm ET.