Mandy Moore’s depiction of an elderly matriarch struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on "This is Us" has made for some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the show’s final season — a performance that's even more impressive considering Moore is only 38.
While Moore doesn’t have a personal connection to the disease, she said she's felt an “intense responsibility” to talk about difficult subjects on the NBC drama. The actor and musician sat down with TODAY in the Peacock Lounge at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, still high off her performance of her new single, "Four Moons," during the show's 8 a.m. hour.
For six seasons, Moore has played Rebecca Pearson in various stages of the character’s life. Recent episodes have found Rebecca's children, Kevin, Kate and Randall Pearson, making decisions on how to care for their mom as her health further deteriorates.
“I feel like the writers have just nailed it, from when we introduced that part of the storyline,” Moore said.
“I think being able to sort of see that broad scope of the totality of a disease like this and the toll that it takes on the family in general, has been really important, but hard not to let my own grief for what’s happening to the character sort of like supersede because she’s so dignified in her response to what she knows is coming for her," she added. "So it’s like not letting that interfere with what the character is going through has been the most challenging part, like going back to my trailer and just letting myself have the emotion.”
Moore said a heartening part of telling Rebecca’s story has been knowing viewers who see themselves in the Pearsons might feel less alone.
“I imagine it’s such an isolating, terrifying experience as a caregiver and as a family member to watch your loved one go through this,” she said. “This is millions of people across this country. This is their reality. And I think things become a little less scary when they’re more known and we’re able to talk about them a bit more. I really loved that aspect of it.”
The series’ creator, Dan Fogelman, recently said that the penultimate episode, which airs next week, was so devastating that the script made Moore throw up.
“I doubt anyone will have quite that same reaction just because I think I’m so close to it, like it really was so close to the bone, like, ‘OK, this is almost done, this is it,’” she said, calling the episode “a beautiful way to symbolize someone’s life.”
'Not enough opportunities in life where we’re given permission to feel all of the colors, all of the emotions'
Moore reflected on why the tear-jerking series prompts such a visceral reaction in its devoted fans.
“I think there’s not enough opportunities in life where we’re given permission to feel all of the colors, all of the emotions in life,” she said. “And this is one show every Tuesday at 9 o’clock, like you’re allowed to sit at home and let it rip.
"The show asks challenging questions sometimes. It elicits challenging conversation, thought-provoking conversation and it forces us sometimes to hold a mirror up and ask ourselves questions we’re not totally comfortable with. I think in that sense, it also allows us to feel things that we wouldn’t normally in life.”
There’s one aspect of the Pearsons’ story that has personally resonated with Moore.
“I think like a lot of mothers and daughters, I’ve always had a bit of a challenging, complicated, complex relationship with my own mom,” she said. “And it’s given me a lot more empathy for her and made me realize that sometimes I can be a little harder on her than I would ever be on anyone else. And it’s only just because I love her so much and she’s my mom, but I definitely can see shades of my life in what Kate and Rebecca have gone through over the years.”
'This is a once-in-a-career situation for all of us'
Last month, Moore’s TV son Sterling K. Brown called for her to win an Emmy in an Instagram post, saying she’s “killing the game.” Like her co-stars, Moore knows she has a lot to be proud of.
“I think we all knew in the very beginning, like, this is never going to happen again,” Moore recalled. “This is a once-in-a-career situation for all of us. So we’ve all been able to savor it. It’s not like I’ve gotten to the end of these six seasons and gone, ‘I wish I had really been present more and appreciated it as it was unfolding.’ I think we all knew that this was incredibly special and sort of took stock of that and made the most of it.
“Oftentimes, I think for anybody in whatever your career is, sometimes to take that next step to the next level or to do something different and challenging, it requires just one person saying yes, like giving you the opportunity. And in this case it was Dan Fogelman, who created the show, seeing something in me that I never would have been able to see in myself. I have no idea how he was able to see, like, ‘Oh, this person could portray this woman from her mid-20s to her mid-80s and like everything in between.’ I would have felt so daunted by that had I known going into audition for this pilot that this was in store, but it changed the course of my life.”
'It activated something in me again'
In fact, Moore — whose seventh studio album, “In Real Life,” will be released Friday — doesn’t even know if she would be making music again if it weren’t for “This Is Us.”
“Very early on in Season One, Dan sort of came to me with this idea. He’s like, ‘I think Rebecca is a musician; that’s part of her background story and it’s an unfulfilled dream, but I think throughout this series I want to see flashbacks of her having a taste of this sort of musical situation.’ So it forced me into the studio at a time where music was really on the backburner for me. And it activated something in me again that I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I miss this. I know how to do this. I need to figure out a way to incorporate this in my life again.’”
“In Real Life” was also heavily inspired by her family — her husband, singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith, and her 1-year-old son, Gus.
“The whole record is about it in some way or another,” she said. “It’s just so intrinsically interwoven into the fabric of what the music is. I mean, I wouldn’t know how to make music at this juncture in my life if Taylor wasn’t involved. Like, he’s such an inspiration and such an influence and it’s just a natural thing that happens in our house, like music is always just this through line. He’s always making music and writing and so to be able to connect and collaborate together is cathartic, and it’s so much fun."
"It’s really what was so helpful," Moore added. "I think in the midst of the pandemic, like making sense of what was going on in the world, making sense of this impending chapter of parenthood, like all of it was so easy, to be able to lean on music and sort of figure out how we felt about things through writing.”
Right now, Moore is gearing up for her tour, which kicks off June 10. After that, she’s not sure what’s next.
“I’m excited to figure it out,” she said. “But I’m excited to also not know right now, like to kind of see where the wind blows me. To not have any sort of strong commitment to anything is exciting. I want to do something so different. I don’t know if that’s, like, playing a serial killer, you know what I mean? I’ve loved and relished being a part of this ensemble and playing a mother and this giant rumination on motherhood and what it means to have a family and prioritize your family, like all of that. It doesn’t get any better. So I have to pivot and do something totally different and what that is, I don’t know. But I’ll go on the road, and then I’m excited to take a little bit of time to just be Mom, because I was pregnant with Gus during last season, and then I went back to work with him when he was a month old and I’ve been working ever since, so I’m excited to just take a beat and be a mom and and then figure out what’s next.”
Moore said playing Rebecca Pearson for six years has taught her that “the perfect parent doesn’t exist.”
“I’ve watched this family, and this woman in particular, be put on this pedestal and I absolutely agree with that,” she said. “But I love that Rebecca is not above admitting when she’s done wrong and still picked herself back up and kept putting one foot in front of the other. She’s human; she’s fallible; she’s made choices that I don’t necessarily agree with all the time. But I also believe that she’s trying to be the best version of herself. And that, to me, is inspiring. Not this sort of like totally unflawed, perfect illusion of what it means to be a mother or to be a parent.
“I love that you see some of the warts of any of these characters. That’s what makes it relatable. That’s what makes it inspiring. And I’m lucky enough to sort of use this person now as a template for everything moving forward.”