This Is Us star Hannah Zeile on playing Teenage Kate in the hit NBC show.
Without fail, social media lights up every Tuesday night with viewers in tears over the latest episode of the Emmy-nominated NBC drama, This Is Us. This season was exceptionally tearful as viewers finally found out how family patriarch Jack died. And yes, it was a tearfest. Hannah Zeile plays the younger Kate, throughout this season we got to see her bond develop with her father and a highlight was hearing her hero admit he was an alcoholic.
I caught up with Zeile to talk about how she landed the role and what it means to play Kate on the series.
You were working at Chipotle when you got the call for This Is Us, talk about receiving that call.
I was working at Chipotle and hadn’t been auditioning for four years because I’d been taking a break to go to high school. I just had the realization that that was wanted to do with my life. I met with my manager and got new headshots. This was my first audition back and I was at my shift as a cashier. I had done my first audition and knew that it was pinned, but I didn’t know when I’d hear back.
I was on my shift and had my phone in my back pocket. It started ringing and it was my manager saying, “Dan Fogelman wants you to come down to Paramount and meet with you.” I knew that meant immediately and it was an opportunity and that I had to seize it. I went to my manager and told him that I was leaving and that I had to go. I left and on the drive home from that meeting, I got the call that I had booked the role.
How much did you know about Kate going in?
Two episodes had already aired. I knew a little bit, but not too much .Teenage Kate is a lot different to adult Kate. She’s in a different place in her life and there’s a lot going on with her and I really just started to grow with the character. I learned more about her as each episode came.
We finally found out how Jack died, but we also learned more about Kate and who she is. It was a great season for her. What’s it like playing this character?
Kate is a really cool character and I’m similar to her in a lot of ways, but I’m also different from her in a lot of ways. We see all through childhood and teenage Kate, she’s really bonded with her father. Losing her father in her pivotal years definitely shaped the making of who she is as an adult and that’s what’s cool about how the writers have completely linked all three versions of the Kates.
The other tearjerking scene is when Kate is told her father is an alcoholic. Talk about shooting that scene.
It was cool. There’s not much you can do to prepare for scenes like that. You can do all the preparation you want, but it’s in the moment. The thing that was so beautiful about that scene was that Milo delivered something so beautiful and my only job was to watch and to listen and to be there as a daughter who is receiving news. Jack is her hero and you hear him admit he’s not perfect. That’s her saying,without words, that it’s OK.
Kate is positive because she’s not your size zero teen in a world where zero is perfect and there’s body shaming. How is that for you as a teenager?
I think it’s more than just the weight issue. It’s also about a self-confidence issue and I consider that to be something pertaining to everyone. Everyone has insecurities and struggles with self-confidence. When Kate meets Madison who has the “perfect body” but then you find out she has bulimia and she doesn’t feel good about herself. I definitely have my days and think of this role as a blessing. Anytime I have insecurities or confidence issues, I just push through it even if it’s uncomfortable. Kate let them stop her from living her life and she let them get in the way. That’s a lesson I’ve learned from her.
What was a season highlight?
One of my favorite scenes was the one with Milo and going to the Alanis Morrissette signing. It was so back and forth, it was so natural. It felt like the real relationship we had.
The fire scenes were of course, unforgettable.
What was that day like shooting that?
We knew we had been building up to that for so long. That’s the pivotal arc in the storyline. There’s before the incident and there’s the after. We took it seriously. It was cool doing the stunts and sharing that with everyone.