NBC’s hit family drama This Is Us returns for its sixth and final season this month, and the decades-spanning saga about the Pearson clan is still packed with all the twists, tricky timelines and tears you’ve come to expect. If you’re a fan of the show, you already know the basics — and if you’re not, you might want to stop reading until you’ve caught up. There are spoilers ahead!
Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) are the parents of three children, named Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), who were all born on the same day. The show jumps back and forth through time, introducing us to pivotal Pearson moments from the past, present and future. In this feel-everything drama, the family is touched by tragedies and triumphs that include, but are not limited to, the Vietnam War, drug addiction, Alzheimer’s, emotional trauma, racism, miscarriages, breakups, drunk driving, rehab and a devastating house fire, but also healing, support, adoption, career success, humor, creativity, music and love. As we wind down to the series finale, it’s a great time to take a look back at some of the behind-the-scenes trivia and on-screen moments you may have missed. Break out your tissues!
1. Milo Ventimiglia is a father figure on set
As the actor who plays the Pearson patriarch, Milo Ventimiglia takes his duties rather seriously. Inspired by the way he saw Will Smith treat cast and crew on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when he was an upstart actor, Ventimiglia told The Hollywood Reporter that he studies the call sheet on every shoot day so he knows everyone’s name. When the cast returned to shoot the second season, Ventimiglia welcomed them back with trucker hats featuring the logo of Big Three Homes, Jack’s dream construction company. “I’m definitely the father, [Mandy Moore’s] definitely the mother,” he told US Weekly. “But I think we both feel protective of our group. Not just our cast but our entire group. There is a level of looking out for everyone. I know Susan [Kelechi Watson] has called me ‘Papa Pearson’ or ‘Papa Bear’ before. So if she says it, it must be true.”
2. This Is Us wasn’t always planned as a TV show
Before he created This Is Us, writer and producer Dan Fogelman — who also penned the scripts for Cars, Tangled and Crazy, Stupid, Love — envisioned this story as a movie with a sprawling ensemble cast. The big twist would be that, by the film’s end, all the seemingly unrelated characters would be revealed to be a set of octuplets. Later, when he finally decided to turn it into a TV show, the original title was 36, a reference to the age that Jack and “the Big Three” were turning in the pilot episode.
3. Chrissy Metz was an agent before she became an actress
Before her big break as an actress, Chrissy Metz was a Hollywood talent agent for nine years, and her clients included Ariana Grande and Dove Cameron. In a fun twist, Metz’s agency also represented Hannah Zeile, the actress who would end up playing her character, Kate, as a teenager.
4. Mandy Moore is younger than the actors who play her children
In this decades-spanning drama, Mandy Moore does the heavy lifting of playing different ages, channeling matriarch Rebecca Pearson from her 20s through her 80s. (Milo Ventimiglia only has to play young because of his character Jack’s untimely death, while the three Pearson kids are portrayed by multiple sets of actors at different ages.) Thanks to the Emmy-nominated makeup and prosthetics teams, you probably had no idea that Moore, at 37, is actually younger than the actors who play her children (Sterling K. Brown is 45, Justin Hartley is 44 and Chrissy Metz is 41). Moore told Variety that she relishes the opportunity to grow along with Rebecca — even if her transformation can take about three hours (it used to take five!). “That’s so unheard of,” she said, “so I don’t begrudge the process that comes along with it.”
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5. The series broke the network TV curse at awards shows
If you follow awards shows, you’ve probably noticed that network series can’t quite compete these days with streaming platforms and premium cable — with PBS’ Downton Abbey being a rare exception. When This Is Us picked up back-to-back best ensemble trophies at the 2018 and 2019 Screen Actors Guild Awards, it marked the first victory for a network drama since Grey's Anatomy won the award in 2007.
6. The SAG Awards proved how loyal the Pearson clan is — even off-screen
When the SAG nominations were announced in 2018, a few of the child actors who play “the Big Three” in their younger days hadn’t appeared in enough episodes to make the cut and thus weren’t included as part of the nominated ensemble. To remedy the situation, a number of the main cast took their younger counterparts as their plus-ones to the awards show. Say it with us: Awwww.
7. The score is Indian-inspired
Chances are good that Siddhartha Khosla has already made you weep — even if you don’t know who he is. The Indian-American composer is responsible for the heart-swelling score, as he is for the music in countless other shows, including Only Murders in the Building, Nancy Drew, The Royals and more. He also happens to have been Dan Fogelman’s college roommate! The singer-songwriter of his indie band, Goldspot, Khosla uses a wide range of instrumentation to get his signature sound, including Indian instruments (like the tanpura and harmonium), wooden tables, a Greek bouzouki and his own voice. Khosla told Insider that he was concerned his score was “too Indian,” but his three Emmy nominations suggest otherwise.
8. Moore’s husband is partially responsible for one of the show’s most touching scenes ...
In the Season 3 episode “Sometimes,” Rebecca and Jack take a road trip to Los Angeles, where she performs her original song “Invisible Ink” for record executives. After one of them dismisses her as “Pittsburgh good,” she sings the tune for Jack in their car, reducing him to tears as he remembers his time in the Vietnam War. In order to pen the Joni Mitchell–inspired song, Khosla reached out to a very special musician: Moore’s then-fiancé, Taylor Goldsmith, the lead singer of the folk-rock band Dawes. “It's funny to be aware of a song's impression, and then you have to write the song that's going to inspire that impression,” Goldsmith said during the This Is Us aftershow. As luck would have it, Moore and Goldsmith got married on Nov. 18, 2018 — five days after the episode aired.
9. … and Khosla and Goldsmith struck gold again with “Memorized”
Khosla and Goldsmith collaborated once again on the Emmy-nominated song “Memorized” from the Season 4 premiere. It’s the song performed by Jack Damon (Blake Stadnik), the visually impaired musician who is later revealed to be the son of Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) in the future timeline.
10. Sterling K. Brown is an awards-season trailblazer
From the start, Brown, who plays Randall Pearson, has been an awards magnet, and his achievements have been nothing less than historic. Already a 2016 Emmy winner for playing attorney Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, he picked up the lead actor Emmy in 2017 for This Is Us, marking the first time a Black actor had prevailed in that category since Andre Braugher won for Homicide: Life on the Street back in 1998. And when Brown added a 2018 Golden Globe for lead actor in a drama series to his mantelpiece, it marked the first time a Black actor had ever won that award. In his moving speech, he thanked show creator Dan Fogelman by saying, “Throughout the majority of my career, I have benefited from color-blind casting. … But Dan Fogelman, you wrote a role for a Black man that could only be played by a Black man. And so what I appreciate so much about this thing is that I am being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am. And that makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me, or dismiss anybody who looks like me.”
11. Ron Cephas Jones also broke an Emmy record
Ron Cephas Jones is a tear-jerking scene-stealer as Randall’s biological father, William Hill, and he picked up guest actor Emmys in 2018 and 2020. The second time around, he and daughter Jasmine Cephas Jones made history as the first father-daughter pair to win Emmys in the same year. Jasmine, who you may know as the original Peggy Schuyler in Hamilton, won her Emmy for outstanding actress in a short-form series for the Quibi show #FreeRayshawn.
12. We have two acting legends to thank for Susan Kelechi Watson
As a student at Howard University, Susan Kelechi Watson — who plays Randall’s wife, Beth — had the opportunity to spend a summer at Oxford studying Shakespeare. But when she and her classmates couldn’t pay the required tuition fee, they were sponsored by two benefactors: Phylicia Rashad, 73, and Denzel Washington, 67. It paid off, and last summer she starred in an adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor at New York’s Shakespeare in the Park.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.