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‘This Is Us’: Mandy Moore on the ‘Gut Punch’ of Jack’s Death and Funeral

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Car,” the 15th episode of the second season of “This Is Us.”

The Pearsons may have held a funeral for Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), but he wasn’t the only family member celebrated.

After a tough love pep talk of sorts from Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) at the memorial service, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) pushed back her own sadness and grief to put her family first in “The Car.” She reassured a teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) that it wasn’t her fault Jack went back in the house and promised teenage Kevin (Logan Shroyer) and Randall (Niles Fitch) that they didn’t have to be the men of the house. She took her kids to the tree Jack told her would make everything OK and scattered some of his ashes with them there. She even convinced them to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert — with tickets Jack had purchased as a surprise.

But in true “This Is Us” form, the episode didn’t just stay with the family in the days after the fire. It also flashed back to see Rebecca and Jack first buying their well-worn Wagoneer and to reveal Rebecca once had a cancer scare — that thankfully turned out to just be an inner ear issue.

Moore talked with Variety about the emotion of filming the funeral and if those new layers to Rebecca’s past are just a glimpse at what’s still to come.

Milo said the hardest thing for him to film was the scene where he’s in the hospital bed with you crying over him. What was the most emotional scene for you to film?

That one was pretty gut-wrenching for me! Pretty much all of [episodes] 14 and 15, save for the happier moments, was a challenge — just because I feel like there has been so much build up that I wanted to honor these moments. I felt a tremendous responsibility to do that. I think I was just nervous. I wanted to make sure I could properly pour myself into those moments. And I had no idea that [Milo] was going to be in that bed. There was that sort of bittersweet scene in the hospital where the doctor’s checking him out and we’re talking about smoke detector batteries, and it was sort of like taking a deep breath to really realize what we just went through. We filmed that scene, and then he was done for the day, obviously, because then he died. So I just was in my own frame of mind and had my headphones on and was preparing for that scene with the doctor and the candy bar and going into his room, but I was just preparing for an empty hospital bed. So I was shocked. He was laying there, not moving, and it was very, very disturbing. We built this beautiful relationship, and we have this shared history now for the past two years, so it was a gut punch — both of these episodes.

How do you prepare for these intense emotional episodes? What gets you through them?

I think it’s just about quiet and stillness. Everybody is tremendously respectful to all of us when we all have scenes like this. This is certainly not the first or the last time we’ll have to experience these scenes. We have the best crew in the whole world — everyone is super respectful and super quiet and knows that when we have these scenes it’s not the time to be loud or joking around. Everyone’s there with you, which is so appreciated. But that’s it. I think I wake up on those days knowing this is what I have to do and [I’ll be] quiet and reflective in my own head. And once those moments are done and you shake it off, it’s such a good feeling. Because it’s no fun. Filming the funeral and the Dr. K scene — I love Mac, and I would work with him until the end of time; that’s been such a treat and an honor, but having to be in that frame of mind of utter grief and the loss of a husband, it puts your stomach in knots.

Was the conversation with Dr. K enough to push Rebecca through the fear of being without Jack, or do you feel doubts will creep back in and she’ll struggle in subsequent episodes?

All of the above. I think [her] frame of mind was just survival — putting one foot in front of the other. I felt like Rebecca, up until then, was just floating and trying to get through the day and put it behind her. I feel that it wasn’t until that conversation with Dr. K — because you have to remember this man was a tremendous part of really monumental moments in this family’s life and they’ve experienced s— together. His arrival at Jack’s funeral was a shock and a surprise, and I think that’s why she was really able to show some emotion because she was so taken aback by this sweet gesture that he would show up. And then their conversation served as a reminder but also a catalyst for her [that] you can step up and be the type of parent that you think only Jack was. He reminded her that she has this quiet strength and she had it all along. You maybe aren’t the superhero parent that Jack was in a flashy sense, but I think she was really able to match him in terms of what they brought to the plate at parents. They just had different styles, and I think he reminded her of that. And I think that’s what really pushed her to go to the tree and bring the kids [there] and step up and make that speech about them just being teenagers and “I’m here for you. I’m going to be here to walk us through these moments, and I know we’re going to be OK, and you need to trust me.” It was a huge moment for her, having that conversation with him. It was almost like Jack sent him for her and for the kids.

The audience learned Rebecca once thought she had cancer. Is this foreshadowing anything we may see come up for her in future episodes?

I never know on this show. I don’t think so. It just more served as a greater example of the kind of husband and partner that Jack was — in the scariest moment for both of them that he was able to put that aside and step up and try and alleviate that fear and be, again, a superhero. I don’t think that’s going to factor in. You never know with this show, but I just read it as to show the symbolism of what that tree was. He found this monument that he had no idea would end up serving as his de facto grave.

Dan Fogelman has said he finds a sadness to present day Rebecca, yet she has grieved and moved on enough to get remarried. How do you see her?

I think there’s still a hole. Like most people, when you experience such a tremendous lost, it never gets filled. Of course you’re able to move forward and celebrate the beautiful moments in life — she’s a grandmother, so there are certainly these beautiful things that bring her a lot of joy that she chooses to celebrate. But I think this was a huge marker in her life and for the whole family, and it’s something that they get past to a certain degree, but it’s such a loss. And as an actor, that’s what’s most interesting to me.

What else are you excited to explore about Rebecca?

The 10 years that we haven’t seen on-screen yet, from just after the funeral to what we saw earlier in the season when she reconnects with Miguel and Tess is born — that 2008 period. I want to know all of the life that’s lived between in those 10 years.

“This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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