As teenage Kate on NBC family drama “This Is Us,” Hannah Zeile is one of a trio of actresses who portray Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) only daughter. But Zeile has found ways to make the role her own, both in the heavy emotional moments where she is dealing with guilt over her father’s death, as well as the lighter times when she is exploring her burgeoning singing talent. In “The Car” she seamlessly moves between the two as she not only grieves her father and scatters some of his ashes, but is also seen in happier times with him in their beloved family Wagoneer.
Zeile: “This was my first role back since I took a four-year break from acting to go to high school. So, coming back to set I sort of felt like a fish out of water. I had to be told where I was supposed to be, I didn’t really know the routine of everything yet. I was a little bit nervous because I knew I was going to be working with Milo and Mandy, who are obviously really talented and have been in the business for a really long time and I looked up to them. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had no lines that day so I could just kind of watch them, and they were both so welcoming and kind.
“Coming back for season two was so different because now I’m a series regular so it really feels like I’m part of the family. I have my own chair with my name on it, and I knew where I was supposed to be and all of the people that I’m working with, and I just felt so much more comfortable.
“I learn different things from everyone. The whole cast is super, super talented. I really love the scenes when I get to work with Mandy. [In] that scene in the hospital waiting room where Mandy does a monologue about what it’s like to be a parent, it wasn’t written in to cry, but through watching her, we connected on a different level. I feel like that was a huge teaching moment for me.
“There are definitely a lot of really emotional and important scenes, but my favorite was one of the more lighthearted scenes — where Jack took me to the record store for the Alanis Morissette signing. When Milo and I filmed that, it was so natural. We only did a couple of takes, and there were a lot of ad-libs — it was super conversational.
“My goal is to make it as natural as possible. When it comes to doing the emotional scenes, I will bring headphones to set, and I will kind of be in my own private space and just zone out and get into character. Everyone kind of heightens each other’s emotions.
“My acting has definitely grown just by working with people who are pushing me all of the time, but playing Kate has affected me a lot personally. Kate is very insecure, and unfortunately she lets her insecurities get in the way of her doing things that could be great. She’s really passionate about music, as we see, but she’s so insecure about herself she doesn’t want to put herself out there, and she never thinks she’s good enough. That’s been a lesson for me because I know that I, along with a lot of young girls, have struggled with self-confidence issues — and it’s definitely something to think about — but you only have one life, so why not let it be great?
“I love that when I meet [fans] they’re often these women who say they relate so heavily to Kate and that they were Kate in high school and that my storyline is totally in line with how their lives have gone. That’s really cool. It really feels like the work I’m doing is important.”