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Sterling K. Brown on ‘This Is Us’ Finale’s Heavy Focus on Randall’s Lineage and His Deep-Fried Oreo Future

THIS IS US -- “Us” Episode
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Us,” they May 24 series finale episode of “This Is Us.”

Though the series finale of “This Is Us” gave fans a chance to say goodbye to almost every member of the extended Pearson family in some way or another, Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) played the most pivotal part of any character in the show’s final installment.

In the future timeline set on the day of Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) funeral, Randall was finding out he’s going to have a grandson by his daughter Deja, who plans to name the baby William after Randall’s biological father (played by Ron Cephas Jones), making the decision along with his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) that he will run for President of the United States, and promising his siblings Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) they will all stay connected.

In the past, Randall’s younger self (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin learn to shave from his father Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) on a lazy day in, and little Randall looking at Jack, as Jack looks at his family, is the last frame of the entire series. That shot comes immediately after one of older Randall watching his whole family spending time together after Rebecca’s funeral.

Variety spoke with Brown about shooting the final episode, where it leaves Randall, and why he thinks “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman chose to focus a large portion of the ending on his character’s future.

What was it like seeing that scene between you and Ron Cephas Jones as William that was filmed back in Season 1 and banked for the finale?

Watching it as an actor was like, “Oh, my God, we shot that Season 1.” It sort of, like, took my breath away and made me appreciate this dude named Fogelman all that much more in that he was able to find a way and a theme to incorporate that scene that made sense. There’s this continuation of life and William fits into that as well; he was the grandfather for his children and now he’s gone. And now Randall is about to be the grandfather for his daughter, who didn’t even get a chance to meet William, but she knew him because she knows me. I feel that sometimes when I look at my children, I’m like, “I know you guys have never met my dad, but you’ve met me. So in some shape or form or fashion, you have met him.” It just goes back to [Kevin’s] whole painting thing again, and how everybody imprints upon your life, and even though they are physically gone, their imprint is still there.

What was your reaction to the news that Randall is having a grandson?

I’m so happy for that dude. It was something he was sort of excited about when they were first looking to adopt. And the research that we did found it’s an easier transition bringing someone in of the same sex than bringing someone of the opposite sex because your natural-born children could have this feeling, if they’re both of the same sex, that maybe Dad feels incomplete in us and that he needed something in a boy. So it was actually in their research, which Randall and Beth obviously did, that this was actually a more seamless transition, in terms of us opening up our family. So I was so excited for him. And I think it was something in the air. Dan just had a little boy, Mandy just had a little boy, Chris Sullivan just had a little boy. How great would it be for this real-life father of two boys, TV-dad of three girls to finally have a little testosterone in the crib. I was very excited.

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Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth, Sterling K. Brown as Randall in “This Is Us” — Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Randall tells his siblings he and Beth are deciding if they’ll go for the “deep-fried Oreos” at the Iowa State Fair, a clear indication he’s considering running for president and meeting with the key players in the midwest that could help him get elected and the Democratic National Committee. What did you think of the end of Randall’s journey being a bid for the presidential race, and do you think he’ll win that election?

The arc is really exciting for someone who has always wanted to be of service. Specifically to the Black community, but I think he’s the kind of person who just cares about people and people’s well-being. So that type of person occupying public office in the highest office encourages me because I think he is relatively egoless. Relatively. It still takes a little bit of chutzpah to say, “I should run this country.” That’s probably just a healthy sense of self, and an appropriate one in the case of Randall. Not one that Sterling K. Brown shared, not a job I want by any stretch of the imagination. But for Randall Pearson, that excites me. Do I think he’ll win? He had that conversation with his mom where he said, “If I run for Senate, and if I win, I don’t know where it’ll end.” And she said, “I know exactly where it would end.” So I have hope that the people at the Iowa State Fair may take a shine to this quirky, yet charismatic dude and recognize that he has the best intentions of the country at heart. I would like to say, yes. I’d like to say yes and if, somewhere down the road, we happen to revisit the Pearson family in some shape or form or fashion, we’ll get a chance to find out the answer to that question firsthand.

The finale has a large focus on Randall, including the final frame being Young Randall looking at Jack in the past. Why do you think Randall was the key member of the Big Three for the series finale?

A lot of Season 6 was about Kate and her relationship with Toby, and then finding closure in that, and then this new relationship that she has with Phillip; and then for Kevin, officially releasing Madison to find love for herself and then be like, OK, who is it that I want to share my life with now? Those were two huge storylines, and I’m hoping that folks are satisfied. A lot of folks were upset about how Katoby ended, but I think knowing that they’re still a part of each other’s lives and that just because that relationship ended didn’t mean that the love went away, hopefully folks can find some sort of solace in that. Randall, at this point in time, the nature of his relationship with his mom, and the fact that he has been the parent for the longest period of time sort of made it a fitting encapsulation of, if Jack was the patriarch of this family and its inception — even though, all respect to Miguel, but he is part of our most critical and founding moments — then Randall is sort of the patriarch in modern times. Even though Kevin has his kids now, Randall’s been doing it for a little bit longer to the point where he can now have a grandchild. I think thematically, his storyline and the space that he occupies in the family sort of helps to bring the fullness of the circle of life into realization for the show. He is watching his mother pass away, as he is also watching his daughter in the presence of baking and cooking and creating life. The dichotomy of old and new life is very present for Randall here.

What was the final scene you shot with Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth and Randall?

The last worst-case scenario was the last scripted scene, which Susan kills. Literally had me crying from laughing so hard. That was the last scripted scene. Then the last scene between us was at the funeral house, and Randall is sitting by himself and he looks about to exit, and his wife is waiting for him in the back of the church and they hold hands and they leave together. That was the last, last scene. And it was pretty fitting, because we spent a lot of time just holding hands. And any time Sterling as Randall held Sue’s hand as Beth, I just felt loved. And so it was a wonderful time to receive that love, saying goodbye to your mom.

What does it feel like for “This Is Us” to be over?

I watched Episode 618, and I cried like a baby because I thought the show was good and I thought we ended well. And that’s what you hope for as somebody who remembers different series finales, fondly and otherwise, you hope to be in the category of the former. And so I had that feeling and then I had this feeling of like, it’s all done, I’ll never get a chance to do this again. And I felt painfully sad. And I called Dan and just told him, “You did it. You actually got a chance to see something through from beginning to end,” and said, “How do you feel?” And I think he may have still had a few edits and post-production things, like VFX scenes to put in, but he said, “I feel good. I got a chance to do what I wanted to do.” But he’s already told us, and you hear it echoed in the show, just appreciating what it is while you’re still in the presence of it, so that you don’t spend all your time thinking, “I wish I had actually enjoyed that more.” I think it made us all collectively, especially for the last four or five episodes, be like, “We’ve got to soak this shit in.” And so I feel like we did that, and I’m still real sad.

I love everybody that I got a chance to go to work with for the past six years and the story that we collectively got to tell. They’ll still be a part of my life, but not like it’s been. I’m sad. I really am sad. I miss everybody. I miss reading his words. And as I’m working on something new, I think it’s possible to be in two places at the same time. Like Randall was mourning his mom’s passing and celebrating his grandson’s arrival, I’m working on something else and I’m so happy to be creating and putting something new into the world, and I’m just plain sad that my show is over.

This interview has been edited and condensed.