This Is Us aired one of its most heartbreaking episodes ever: series creator Dan Fogelman and actress Mandy Moore talked about saying goodbye to Rebecca.
Creator Dan Fogelman explains why he chose a train to symbolize the final journey of Rebecca’s life
“I always had in my mind that Rebecca was going to pass at the end of our penultimate episode. And I knew that we would potentially be revisiting a family and the child who survived on the night of Jack’s death. I just wasn’t sure about what the device would be in terms of how we would show Rebecca’s mind’s eye and crossing over.
Then at the beginning of this season, I was taking my little boy to a place in Los Angeles called Travel Town, and that’s where they have a lot of trains. You ride on these trains and look at trains, and he was very into it. I’ve always been kind of struck by the magic of trains and when you ride on a train — the romance of the entire thing.
I was talking about that and setting our first episode at that very Travel Town and how Rebecca would start losing her first word, “caboose,” and not be able to find it. And then one of our executive producers and writers who’s been with me since the beginning, K.J. Steinberg, said, “I have a crazy idea. What if that’s the device you’ve been searching for, the train? And as we walk through the train, this thing she romanticized as a child, we’re kind of walking her to the last car on the train.” I immediately jumped up, and I said, “That’s it. That’s what we’re doing.” I wish I could take credit for the original idea, but it K.J.’s.“
Why Fogelman chose to bring back some familiar faces
Talking about William (Ron Cephas Jones) as the conductor/guide, Fogelman says: “He’s just been such a part of this thing from the beginning. I always talked about how in the very end of the show and in the final season, I wanted to go back a little bit. It was very important to me to get William as this spiritual guide, taking Rebecca from the front to the back of the train, and have Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) be a big stop on it, and get those two guys and to show them in a meaningful and important way, and not just as a flash.”
“I feel like when your life is flashing in front of your eyes, it’s often these giant figures who I believe would [come up]. So it felt to me like this man, William, whose story was so tied to Rebecca’s, even though they were virtual strangers, and even though they crossed in a very unusual way that wasn’t always perfect, it felt like a fitting conclusion that he would be there at her side, driving her along, because it was such a complicated and fraught relationship and co-existence for the two of them.“
Moore was amazed by the script and the creator’s decision to bring back William and other characters
“It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my life. I wrote Dan immediately after finishing it and was just like, “I’m so honored that I get to be a part of this and to tell this story, and to end this story in this manner just is wow.” I never, ever could have imagined that this is what we would be doing at the end. It is the most beautiful metaphor, and my goodness, if this is what really happens to us at the end — it doesn’t seem all that bad, you know? [Laughs.]”
Ron Cephas Jones on coming back one more time so that William could lead Rebecca into the afterlife
“The interesting part is that Mandy and I didn’t have many scenes together at all. It was just projected. She did have scenes with the younger me, played by Jermel Nakia. We had one scene where she confronts me, where she find out I’m there living with Randall. And she comes into the bedroom and lays down the law in regards to not letting him know that she knew. And then when he finds out at the Christmas dinner table that all along she knew, and that disrupted his relationship with her.
So it was tumultuous at the least. But at the same time, that initial bond that William and Rebecca created, that was a sacred bond where she came over to visit me and we made a decision to be able to have me in his life. And then she decided not to let that happen and I honored her wishes until Randall came and found me. So it was really beautiful, hauntingly beautiful. The way they had written him in with the last days of Rebecca and being her guide to the train and to her last moments. It was William, but it was sort of a hauntingly, ghostly, sort of spiritual layer that I was hoping that you’ll see that was put in.
You feel like you see that it’s William, but there’s something a little different about his demeanor, which was really indicative of the fact that he’s in this place that’s in between the hereafter. The two words that I keep describing it all is hauntingly beautiful.“
Ron Cephas Jones recalled how he saluted the cast on his final day on set
The 65-year-old actor, who portrayed Randall Pearson’s biological father, William Hill, recalled how he saluted the cast on his final day on set, telling his costars and producers in an emotional moment: “You cats held me when I was struggling and you didn’t let me go. You’ve been there for a very difficult part of my life. I’m a walking miracle.”
The actor revealed in 2021 that he privately battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He received a double lung transplant at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in 2020, where he was a patient for almost two months.
Fogelman on the decision to choose Kate as the person who Rebecca was waiting on before she dies
“I’ve always been so enamored with the relationship between Kate and Rebecca, this mother-daughter dynamic that is equal parts fraught and complicated, and in the later years of their lives, really incredibly beautiful and simple.
I always thought Kate would have to race to get there in time, because she has taken the steps in her life, based off the advice from her mother, to spread her wings and fly. That very advice has taken her out of the room when her mother is about to pass. I thought that was just a really simple story that doesn’t even need to be spoken about to see it. She’s off doing something big and fantastic and fabulous that was spurred on by her mother’s “Go live your life to the fullest” speech, and now that very thing may prevent her from being at her mother’s bedside as she passes. And then the fact that in our story, her mother is able to hold on until she gets there, it felt like a full-circle realization of their entire relationship.“
Moore says it wasn’t easy to lay in bed all that time
Oddly, I had to go to a place mentally that I wasn’t expecting. I was like, “Oh, I’m tired. I’ve been through all of this makeup. I’m just going to get to rest and take a nap all day.” But then when people are coming in, pouring their heart out to you — when [Beth, played by Susan Kelechi Watson] came in and she was like, “I’ve been faking it. I’ve just been trying to do my best impression of you”. The first takes, thank God it was on her, because I’m barely supposed to be there and I have tears rolling down my face.
I’m like, “This is not okay.” I was like, “Okay, where can I put myself? And I was like, “I’m floating in the ocean, off the coast of Hawaii. It’s a beautiful warm day. I’ve got a tropical drink.” I was trying to put myself in some other world altogether. I thought I would be able to tune in and be in the moment and be present and just go, “Wow. My friends are so good at this. This is so beautiful.” And the first take, I was like, “Oh no, no, no, no, I can’t do this.”
EP and director Ken Olin talked about why Jack was the right choice to end Rebecca’s journey
“At the end of the day, this show was this incredibly romantic and complicated and rich and fulfilling love story. And Dan believes on some level in the possibility of a happy ending, even in this moment, and no matter how wonderful and redeeming really that the marriage with Miguel was — and the wonderful thing is in terms of Miguel, he never competed with it — but there was no question. [Jack] was the love of her life. That was something from the very beginning that was certainly the cornerstone of the show: These two people were meant to be together. So to have that moment at the end is just an affirmation of that.”
Olin previews the finale
“If there’s such a thing as a 45-minute coda, that’s kind of what it is. There’s a wonderful celebration of some of the most beautiful, small moments in their lives. And it’s uplifting. It’s certainly affirmative about this family. It’s really beautiful.”
Moore previews what to expect from the finale
I think the simplicity of what’s in store for people in parts of this episode are what the whole series is really about. People waiting for things to be tied up perfectly in a bow with every single character and every single story need to abandon that idea because that’s not the reality of life anyway. You finish telling one person’s story and it’s like, “Yeah, but they have children or they will continue having a life. And their children will have children will have children. This story could just go on forever and ever and ever. But having said that, the simplicity and the beauty of the quiet, simple seemingly mundane moments of this family’s life are going to feel like a warm hug for people.
Moore and Olin, sat down for Variety’s “Making a Scene,” presented by HBO, to discuss all the heart (and all the tears) that went into filming Rebecca’s journey and how they considered closing the book on the beloved character’s storyline.
First up, the easter egg-filled bar scene decorated with notable props from throughout the show’s history, including the Pearson wall growth chart, Lundy mug, another cup with the “world’s best dad” moniker and Milo Ventimiglia’s face on it, a bowl of lemons and so much more. According to Olin, show creator Dan Fogelman had the props department lay out a litany of Pearson memorabilia so they could dress the set inside Rebecca’s mind. One memory that didn’t make the cut? “I don’t think anybody saw it, but there was the Taboo game from earlier this season that Rebecca and Miguel play on Thanksgiving with the family, and there’s that awkward moment,” Moore revealed.
However, Olin said was pivotal to find the balance between nodding to the show’s history without causing it to overwhelm the scene. “It was very important to me not to dwell on things and become very self-referential,” Olin said. “It was meant to be experienced more as observed, rather than any sort of celebration of how fabulous we had been for six years.
Serving Rebecca at the bar is Dr. Nathan Katowsky (Gerald McRaney), the doctor who delivered her children in the pilot episode. Olin described McRaney as an extremely relaxed, confidant and prepared performer who helped to elevate the scene. Moore told Variety that she has always loved working with McRaney, and got emotional describing the full circle significance of having him be the person to guide Rebecca into the afterlife.
“I just thought it was so fitting that he was there to usher her into this next chapter of her life, and also was the one to give her sort of permission to move forward,” Moore said. “It’s the first time she’s really clocking, ‘Oh, this is ultimately going to end, and I know where this is leading.’ It makes me emotional to think about, to tell her that she was an incredible mother and did such a good job, cause he was there at the start of it. That’s the part of the script that really got me, and I was so moved by him being the person to tell her that. To tell her that she did a good job.”
Among the stars that reappeared to give Rebecca the “This is Your Life” treatment was Ron Cephas Jones who played William. Jones acted as a guide through the train journey, and by the end delivers what Olin considers to be the message of this six season series. Consoling Rebecca before she crosses over into the big bed of heaven he drops this theory.
“I always felt it a bit lazy to just think of the world as sad, because so much of it is. Because everything ends. Everything dies. But if you step back, if you step back and look at the whole picture, if you’re brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective, if you do that, you’ll see that the end is not sad, Rebecca. It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing.”
Delivering that line wasn’t going to be easy, “You needed it to be done with the appropriate amount of gravitas,” Olin explained. “Both Dan and myself, if there’s anything that we’re a little allergic to it’s self-seriousness. So how do you do that in a way that feels honest and feels truthful and feels sincere but doesn’t feel overly momentous or doesn’t feel pompous. And there’s nothing about Ron Cephas Jones that’s pompous or stuffy.”
Even the word choice “lazy” had intent. “Lazy [was] such an interesting word and such a surprising word,” Olin explained. “It’s a graphic word and so contrary to the poetry of the scene. It’s a brilliant counterpoint to Rebecca at that moment. There’s Mandy just so full and so lyrical and so present and so full of feeling and loss and the beauty of what her life was, bringing all of that and turning to someone and going, ‘You know that’s actually lazy.’ That’s the brilliance of Dan’s writing… he’s got you open so he can deliver the message and you’re open for it.”
What do you think of how This Is Us decided to say goodbye to Rebecca?
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