This Is Us enters its fifth season this fall on NBC and continues to captivate and move its viewers to the highest emotional mountains possible week after week. Susan Kelechi Watson has become one of the breakout stars of NBC’s hit drama series for her honest and relatable role as Beth Pearson. Even though the NBC drama primarily focuses on “The Big 3” Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), Beth has an interesting backstory of her own.
Last season we got a glimpse into Beth’s childhood and what it was like living with her cousin Zoe (Melanie Libard) and navigating a tough relationship with her strict mother Carol (Phylicia Rashad). This season, Beth branches out a bit from the Pearson shadow to take a chance on herself by taking a leap of faith and opening a dance studio.
“Beth was advocating for herself so she could feel like a whole individual” said Kelechi Watson.
I spoke to Susan Kelechi Watson on the impact that This Is Us has made in the television landscape, her relationship with her on-screen husband, and Beth finally spreading her wings outside of her role as wife and mother.
Awards Daily: This Is Us means so much to viewers across America. In the age of streaming and watching TV on your own time, This Is Us is true appointment television. Tuesdays 9/8c on NBC people know to tune in, and that’s a testament to the quality and content of the show. How does that make you and your co-stars feel being a part of such a special piece of television?
Susan Kelechi Watson: This Is Us is a chance to reflect the culture that’s going on right now. A lot of it that people may not be privy to because people go on living their own lives. In some ways it makes complete sense we get wrapped up in our own journey, but this show is really an opportunity to walk into someone else’s living room and watch what life is like for other people.
One of the things I’m most proud of is how we’re constantly on the hunt for the most relevant to what’s close to our hearts and to who we really are as individuals, and the times that are found in the minutia of life that we seem to want to skip over. It may seem small or uneventful, and those are the events that This Is Us holds a microscope up to and I think that’s why so many people get attached to the show they way they do. It makes their life feel important and it gives it that validity that even in the smallest of moments, they feel important. Those are the things that shape our lives and make us who we are. Every now and then, you have these events, but the majority of life is a series of small events and we aren’t afraid to shine the light on those smaller events and make a big deal about them.
The ride we’ve been on has been a crazy one and sometimes I try to remember it all. This weekend, I was specifically trying to remember what it was like when we first started because it was such a whirlwind. I remember how much fun I was having, particularly with this cast. It was great how warm and welcoming everyone was to us because not all of us were well-known at the beginning. The first episode aired, and I was going to a press event and I was crossing Melrose in Los Angeles and a guy yelled from his car and yelled out, “We love your show!” Only one episode aired at the time and I’m like, “Wait, you recognize me already?” It was the first time I was shouted out for This Is Us. We were in this bubble for so long not knowing how people were going to receive it, but we were really liking it. We were liking the scripts we were getting and having fun with the community we were building. Once we released it into the world, it was this joy in knowing people were enjoying it and feel the same way we do. It became this parallel relationship with our audience. We were enjoying doing it, they were enjoying us doing it, we were growing doing it together. You learn that it goes by so fast and you have to enjoy it in the moment, and I know I did that, and I continue enjoying it going into Season 5!
AD: I can relate with you on saying how time flies and enjoying in the moment. I remember watching the pilot and being amazed and I became an instant fan. Fast forward four years and we’re winding down on the final two seasons!
SKW: I know! It’s kind of unbelievable.
AD: Beth is Randall’s rock! I love the relationship that Beth and Randall have, and it’s reflective on screen that you and Sterling K. Brown have a trusting, honest, and genuine relationship that radiates through your characters. How do you and Sterling prepare for your scenes together?
SKW: Sterling goes home and does his homework, and I go home and do mine and we come to set trusting that we’ve both done that. We allow whatever happens in the scene to organically come together and not being afraid to change it up. You may have been home rehearsing one way but once you get with your scene partner, they give you something you weren’t expecting! We make the choice to go along with anything that gets thrown our way. So, it’s a bit of a freshness in our organic nature to which we allow ourselves to work and not get caught up in getting anything necessarily right or hit a certain note. The most important thing is to stay honest and to allow the person you’re working with to be honest. Sometimes that means you can’t do things the exact way you thought it was going happen but that’s life, right? That’s really our thing. There’s really a trust that we’ve had with one another, and we continue to have and develop. We just allow for whatever happens in the scene to happen and unfold, and to trust that he’s being Randall’s biggest advocate and I’m being Beth’s biggest advocate. We both take that very seriously.
AD: This season we saw the journey of Beth opening her own dance studio! I loved this storyline because we finally got to see Beth finally take her own journey away from the Pearsons and do something joyous, positive, and beneficial just for her. How excited were you when you found about Beth’s journey this season?
SKW: It was great! It’s so great that Beth just keeps unfolding season by season; there’s always something new and fun to tackle. I love dance, and the fact that it was dance was something very personal for me. For that part of her journey to open up was also so important to see that she loves being a wife and loves being a mom, but she was also advocating for herself so she could feel like a whole individual. She allowed for her feelings to be valid and not just dismiss them, like “I want to do these things, but I have to dedicate my life to this family that I have.” She allowed these urges to be valid and engage them in the same way that Randall does with this new career path. There’s a beauty in seeing a woman do this, and it doesn’t make her a bad wife or a bad mom, it makes her a human being. I like I get to play her that way.
AD: I was very excited last season when it was announced the legendary Phylicia Rashad would be joining the cast as your mother, Carol. She made her return this season when Beth was slated to open her dance studio. What was it like having Ms. Rashad on the set and playing her daughter?
SKW: One word, it was just perfect! They got it so right, I’ve always told them. They didn’t even ask me, and I already had a relationship with Phylicia. She was already my mentor in so many years before This Is Us, so for her to be cast on the series just kind of happened unexpectedly. So, it was extremely perfect. She loved being there as well, which we were happy about! She liked coming out to play with us and that was great. But I’m telling you, I was so excited about that announcement. I was as excited as everyone else, if not more!
AD: So, they had no clue you had a previous relationship? This all happened organically?
SKW: They didn’t actually! A lot of the writers and EPs said they didn’t even know. When I asked people, they would say they had no clue. It was incredibly perfect and shows how smart they are, right? She’s just so perfect and fantastic in the role.
AD: Yes, she is! She brings such an energy to the show. We saw in her episode, during a flashback, that she wasn’t too fond of Randall from the start of them dating back in high school. She didn’t think the relationship would work because Randall came from a “broken home, he’s not good enough for you.”
You can see the animosity between Randall and Carol during her visit this season, and it’s great because we usually see Randall in the perfect mother/son relationship with Rebecca. How do you think their rocky dynamic affects Beth?
SKW: Interesting! I think there’s always a pressure when you feel that two people don’t get along in the way you’d hope they would. There’s a pressure to try or make it better or keep them apart. I love the fact that they’re starting to figure it out on their own. One of the moments I really loved is when Randall really stood up for Beth before the opening of her dance studio. Of course, there were some dead possums smelling up the place and Randall is having to have Beth’s back when standing up to her mom. I just think that was an important moment in terms of changing the dynamic, you know. And so, I think there’s hope there. Honestly, I kind of want to see the drama play out a bit more! I don’t think it all got solved there, but I do think they’re off to a start there.
AD: Beth’s dance studio is clearly a success as we see in the flash-forwards into the Pearsons’ timeline, but we don’t really see that much of Beth and Randell together, so we don’t see what’s happening with their relationship. I know you can’t give anything away, but This Is Us is full of clues and Easter eggs. Is there anything we should be looking for to piece anything together regarding Beth and Randall’s future together?
SKW: No, I think we’ve pretty much ended it last season letting people know we are together. It’s pretty much R&B to the end! I don’t think we’ll open that can of worms again! People were pretty upset when they thought it was over!
AD: I’ll admit, I didn’t like being on edge for a while! I’m wondering what’s going to happen, they need to be together!
SKW: People can breathe easy for a while! I think they’re figuring themselves out and it’s going to be okay!
AD: Thank you so much Susan for doing this interview with me! I wish you and the entire cast and crew of This Is Us luck moving forward entering your fifth season!
SKW: Thank you, Jordan!
This Is Us can be streamed at NBC.com.
ICYMI: Awards Daily also has interviews with Chris Sullivan, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley