After an uneven third season, This is Us rebounded with a compelling and dynamic fourth season of television. Many of the NBC drama’s most touching moments come to us courtesy of Randall Pearson, both as he is portrayed in his adult years (by Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown) but also as an 18-year-old teen, played masterfully by actor Niles Fitch.
This season saw young Randall balancing college, the grief of his father’s death, and a new romance. Fitch is pitch perfect in his ability to bring both the vulnerability of a grieving teen to life as well as the joys of a young man experiencing a first love.
Brown and the adult actors of This is Us are deserving of the accolades and praise. But, it’s about time we show appreciation for their younger counterparts as well who are equally good at giving our tear ducts a workout every week.
I spoke to Fitch about his big season and what to look forward to ahead of the March 24 season finale.
Awards Daily: I was doing some research in preparation for our interview and one thing you have said is that you, Sterling K. Brown, and Lonnie Chavis talk about how you’re not playing each other. You’re all playing Randall Pearson. I thought that was really interesting, tell me a little bit more about that and what those conversations are like between the three of you.
Niles Fitch: I’d say there’s little to no conversation between all of us. You’ll see in episode [“After the Fire” that aired March 17], this was the first time I had ever seen Sterling on set when I was working. I had a scene coming up in that episode, and he just showed up out of the blue [and said], “I just want to come check you out.” But other than that, there really has never been any working together or any type of communication.
I think there’s more communication between us and the writers. In talking with [creator and executive producer] Dan Fogelman and some of our other writers, that was really where we were able to establish the Randall character and how we were [going to] playing him. There doesn’t really have to be much communication between Lonnie, Sterling, and I because of the fact that I’m not going to be the same person I am at 18 that I’m going to be at 36. For us, it’s always just been about bringing what the writing to life. And I think we are just lucky that it comes out so seamlessly.
AD: When you guys are at the SAG Awards or at the Emmys together, you don’t ever find yourself checking in with each other?
NF: When we do see each other, It’s honestly more just checking in on life. I think when I see Mr. Sterling, that’s what I love. Every time I see Mr. Sterling, it’s rarely about the show. It is always, ‘How are you doing?’ How’s life? How are you handling things? How are you transitioning? Because I’m an 18-year-old trying to balance college and work life. And Mr. Sterling, he’s been in college while also pursuing acting, so he also has an understanding for that. When I see him, and I see Lonnie, that’s usually what our conversations are about. Especially with Lonnie, I’ve been in his position. I’ve been, you know, young and trying to make it in the business at 13 like him. So, when we see each other, it’s really about making sure that we’re good, mentally.
AD: You’ve mentioned in your interviews that one of the things that you really like about This is Us is that it does show us that Randall’s experience is different from the rest of his siblings because of the fact that he is African American. The show doesn’t try to say that The Big Three’s experiences are all the same simply because they’re raised by the same parents. I wanted you to talk a little bit more about that aspect of the show.
NF: Yeah! I am glad that we’re getting to show not only a black man that’s different from the stereotypical black man, but a black man that’s also struggling with having to live in society where you are demonized if you do such and such thing. I feel like we are seeing that with how Sterling is playing his mayoral campaign right now, or his being a Councilman. We are able to see his challenges being that strong black man. And taking care of his family, but also, we see him having to protect his family. We see him creating that boundary, protecting Deja. I love that we’re getting to see such a real portrayal of what it means to be a black man in this generation.
AD: And within that depiction, what other aspects of the African-American experience are you hoping to explore? Is there anything that you want the show to touch on that you all haven’t already?
NF: You know, I don’t know. I mean, one of the main things that I was really looking forward to was exploring [the] counseling and therapy that Beth is trying to push on Randall throughout the season. That was something that I was really looking forward to because I also went to therapy and counseling when my father passed away and that helped me. I was glad that we tackled that this season. Honestly, the writers are going to think of something, and I trust where they are going to go.
AD: This has been such a big season for you. So, let’s talk about the anxiety first because that’s been one of the main storylines that we’ve seen from [teen and adult] Randall this season. Talk about tackling those scenes and showing Randall’s anxiety. And where do you think that anxiety comes from?
NF: This season tackling the anxiety was different. For me, the past three seasons playing Randall I had never dealt with anxiety in real life. I felt like this year I had a lot going on with acting, and trying to balance school, and I felt at times like the pressure was getting to me. I’d be in my room just sitting in silence, taking deep breaths. I feel like I saw a different side of Randall even though I’m playing him. I had a different understanding of the level of pressure that we put on people nowadays with social media, work, and your social life through social media. It creates a world where we’re afraid to make mistakes. And I think that’s Randall’s problem.
I think that’s many, many peoples’ problem. That’s what I realized through my experiences this past year. There’s so much pressure put on us to not fail because we want to make everybody around us proud, and that’s a great thing to have, but you have to learn how to balance that. And I think that’s what Randall’s still learning to deal with. And I think that’s why counseling and other things where you get to talk to somebody and relieve that stress is such a good thing. Because if you don’t, it really builds up.
AD: I think Randall and his character bring up a really interesting nature versus nurture argument. Do you think that a lot of this pressure that he feels comes from the fact that he’s adopted? And perhaps he feels like he has to overcompensate in some way? Or do you think that it is just in his nature is to be a perfectionist and to want to get everything right?
NF: Well, I think there’s two different aspects to that question. I feel like when you have a lot of potential, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to achieve great things. I think the adoption does play a part in that. However, I think Randall would be like this even if he grew up with William. I think that’s just how Randall is, you know? That’s just the type of person he is, which is a good thing. He’s a high achiever. He’s just learning to balance being a high achiever with being able to accept when we don’t reach those high goals we set.
AD: Another thing that we’ve seen with Randall this season, and it especially plays out in your scenes in the aftermath of Jack’s death, is that Randall is really the one who feels like he has to take care of his mom. You know, he picks a college closer to home and he just really takes on that responsibility of looking out for her. Can you talk a little bit about that? And again, where do you think that that sense of responsibility comes from? What do you think is driving him to make sure that he is so close to Rebecca and taking such good care of her?
NF: We’ve even seen it with Justin Hartley in some of these latter episodes toward the end of the season, the connection that a man has with his mother, there’s nothing that could rival it. I think we’re seeing what somebody does when you lose somebody you love, you mature.
First of all, it’s a thing society pushes onto a young man once a father is lost. Once a father passes, another man steps into that role, that’s how society is set up. So, I think he’s just falling into that role that society pushes. He’s trying to keep his family together. That’s just the type of man Randall is, because he cares, and that’s best thing about him. If he wasn’t there, I wonder how that could have been [for his family].
AD: That’s fascinating. One other thing that we’ve gotten to explore with young Randall this season, which I just adore, is the beginning of his and Beth’s relationship. I would love to dig into that with you because Beth and Randall’s relationship is such a core relationship to the series, and so it is a lot of pressure on the two of you to try to convince us that this is a couple that’s going to fall in love and be together for 20 years. You know what I mean?
NF: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, when I’m working with such a great scene partner like Rachel [Hilson, who plays the young adult version of Susan Kelechi Watson’s character], I’m not worried whether it’s believable because of her amazing acting skills. The writers have given us such great things to be able to show Beth and Randall’s connection at a young age. it’s been, I’d say, easy because I get to see such great examples every time I turn on the show and see Susan and Sterling killing it on the stuff they do. It makes it to where Rachel and I, because of the writers, have some great examples in front of us.
AD: When you watch the show and you’re watching a scene with Susan and Sterling, how much of you is studying that scene as an actor who’s also playing the character? And how much of you is just a fan that’s watching the show?
NF: I’m going to tell you, honestly, I think I’m watching it 95% as a viewer. I don’t try to look at myself, and I don’t try to look at them, and act similar because they’ve been acting way longer. There’s no way that I would be able to do their performance. However, I’ve been doing this character for about four years, it’s gotten past the point where I’m having to study Sterling, it’s really just bringing what the writers give you to life. That’s how we all view it on set. We don’t try to compare or act like one another. I feel like that’s when it becomes unauthentic because what Sterling may bring to a scene, that’s not what I may bring to it. I’m not Sterling and Sterling is not me. You know, there may be something I may be able to do in a scene at 18 that Sterling is unable to do. And vice versa.
AD: One of my favorite little moments this entire season was when Randall gives Beth his lemon because he notices on their earlier date that she likes lemon in her soda. It makes me smile just talking about it.
NF: Yeah! [Laughs].
AD: I just love that scene so much. I’m just wondering, are there other scenes like that have stayed with you? Or felt really special to you like that one has for me?
NF: Yeah. I’d say the episode coming out March 17 [The penultimate episode of the season]. There are a lot of scenes in that that I think will forever stay with me. That was my favorite episode I’ve ever filmed, and that I’ve ever done in my time on the show. And the finale is even better. I’m just super excited for these last two episodes. All I can say is ‘movement.’ That’s all I can say and not give it away. Because then I’ll get a call from Dan. [Laughs].
AD: [Laughs]. Okay, fair enough. To wrap up, and we did briefly touch on this before, but what else do you hope we see from teenage Randall? What are you looking forward to and where do you want him to go?
NF: I’m just really excited to see more of the transition to him becoming a man. You know, I feel like I still see a teenager and I can’t wait to see how I become Sterling. I can’t wait to what else happens in my younger years to turn me into someone like Sterling as an adult.
And you know, there are a lot of people out there like teen Randall, so I can’t wait to keep showing that black men aren’t only thugs and stuff, you know?
AD: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed getting to talk to you and I wish you the best of luck with everything, with school, with the show, and can’t wait to see where it all goes.
The This is Us season four finale airs March 24. You can catch up with episodes on Hulu or On Demand.