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Mandy Moore braces for a tough, and final, Season 6 of ‘This Is Us’

Mandy Moore smiling in a navy suit
“I’ve never been part of a project before that resonated so deeply with people,” says Mandy Moore of her Rebecca Pearson on “This Is Us.”
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Mandy Moore describes herself as “lucky” many times during a recent call from her Pasadena home, and she’s not just tossing the word around lightly. Five years ago, the singer-actress, newly divorced, hadn’t made a new record in half a decade. Aside from the animated feature “Tangled,” her movies had yet to surpass the commercial success of 2002 teen romance “A Walk to Remember.” And on the network TV front, Moore was beginning to wonder if she should call it quits.

“I’d been doing pilot season four years in a row,” she recalls. “Some came close to getting picked up but it never happened, so I was starting to question if I should be in this acting game anymore at all. Did I have my moment in the sun and maybe I should go back to school? Maybe just turn back to music full-time? I was very lost.”

Then came “This Is Us.” “I read the pilot script and my jaw was on the ground,” she says. “It was unlike anything I’d read before.” Moore auditioned for the role of Rebecca Pearson, mother of three, and six weeks later got a call back to read with Milo Ventimiglia as her husband, Jack. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to have chemistry with Milo,” she says with a laugh. “I remember at the audition he asked me if it was OK if he nuzzled my neck. He’s such a gentleman.”

The pairing of Moore with Ventimiglia galvanized viewers of “This Is Us” even as her personal life found fresh footing with a 2018 marriage to musician Taylor Goldsmith, leader of the band Dawes. In February, Moore gave birth to her first child, Gus, having worked on the show’s fifth season under COVID-19 protocols until she was 9½ months pregnant. She says, “I felt pretty strong and healthy, so I was like, 'Let me in, coach. I want to keep going!’”

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Moore, who concealed her pregnancy on the series with loose clothing, strategically placed props and the occasional digital removal of her baby bump, had good reason to persevere. “I’ve never been part of a project before that resonated so deeply with people,” she says.

The show, created by Dan Fogelman, boasts a fervid fan base often moved to tears by the Pearson family’s journey, portrayed in nonlinear time jumps across five decades of weddings, deaths, births, break-ups and reconciliations. “Memory is the glue in the way we parse out our stories,” says Moore, who earned a 2019 Emmy nomination for her performance as Rebecca. “We ask our audience to look at their own lives in the same way, out of order, sort of inviting people to think back to their childhood or romanticize what they think their future is going to be. I know it’s just a television show but I feel a certain responsibility, we all do, because it’s like we’re holding up a mirror to the audience, perhaps unlocking conversations about their own lives and maybe forcing them to ask tough questions about choices they’ve made.”

Moore, 37, used her own experience to infuse Rebecca with a depth that might have been lacking earlier in her career. “Until the last couple of years,” she muses, “I don’t think I would have had a real idea of who I was, or what I deserved, or what family really means to me, or who I wanted to be as a mother and as a partner. I wouldn’t have been able to bring a fully realized vision of that stuff to the show. I think there’s a lot of shared grief between myself and the character, so I’ve been lucky to find catharsis through my job.”

In Season 5, Moore portrayed Rebecca mainly as a 68-year-old matriarch dealing with her grown-up “triplets” (Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz) and their significant others. She’d spend 3½ hours in the makeup chair before donning her character’s glasses and bob wig. “I play present-day Rebecca a little slouchy,” Moore says. “There’s an exhaustion at that point in life from having tumultuous relationships with her children, from having lost a child, from having lost a spouse, from having these deep dark family secrets that no one knows about.” She laughs. “I could go on and on.”

In a cruel twist for a show fueled from the start by the binding power of memory, Rebecca in Season 5 learns she has Alzheimer’s. “Rebecca knows this disease will eventually rob her of everything so she’s pushing herself to spend time with her family and loved ones,” Moore says. “I feel like her light had sort of dulled after Rebecca lost Jack. Ironically, this diagnosis forces her to live life with joie de vivre.”

Before “This Is Us” resumes filming in August, Moore plans to spend the summer hanging out with her family, working on new music and bracing for the show’s sixth and final season. “I’m getting ready for what Dan has told me is going to be a really challenging year,” Moore says. “I’m going to have to save all my tears, calibrate all my adrenals, get myself into a stable place before all of that gets wrecked and ruined!”


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