In the flash-forward storyline in the third season of “This Is Us,” it was revealed that Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) worked in a dance academy, and on the 13th episode of the season, entitled “Our Little Island Girl,” her long-time love of the art will come to light. But it is far from the only new side to the character that will be explored.
“The Beth that we’e been seeing for the last two seasons she’s this strong woman — she’s funny; she’s witty,” writer Eboni Freeman said at a Television Critics Assn. panel for the NBC drama Thursday. But she added, “in her childhood she was a bit of a different person — a quieter person. She came from this ballet world that was mostly white. That was interesting to delve into.”
Freeman shared that a lot of Beth’s flashback story came from her own background and training in ballet. As a young child, Beth was given the opportunity to train in an elite academy, with the goal of getting a senior solo to then have the opportunity to get hired by a professional company. “It’s been full circle because I was a student at the Debbie Allen dance company and now Debbie Allen’s sister, Phylicia Rashad, was in this episode,” she said.
Freeman shared she gave up dancing as a teenager, and similarly, Watson, too, decided to focus on acting rather dance when she was in college. But, she said, she has been “dancing all my life” and the experience of diving back into that kind of physical training for this episode “was joyous because for me maybe the greatest form of expression is the physical expression — what can happen with the body.”
“It was such a great opportunity to combine the things I love,” Watson said.
Watson first found out Beth would have a dance background in September 2018, when she got a text from writer Kay Oyegun asking if she could “dance for real.” She said yes and that was the hint that something big was coming, but then she got another call to “really train to dance,” which allowed her to “go back into her roots,” she said.
But as much as Beth’s childhood was shaped by her path of dancing, it was also shaped by her relationship with a “stern and strict” mother, Carol (Rashad), as well as a freer spirit father Abe (Carl Lumbly) who she “idolized.”
“We kept talking about this idea of the strong black woman and where that would have came from and where she would have gotten that from Carol,” Freeman said.
For Watson, working with Rashad was just as important to her as an actress. “I’m strong because of you,” Watson said she told Rashad. “I think Beth is here because of you — because people like you have walked through the door and made a path.”
She continued: “I always think of Beth as an everywoman. I think representation is so important. I’m so excited I get to play a black woman who’s just normal and striving to do her best in life, and I think in doing that it represents the everywoman, no matter what ethnicity you are.”
“This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.