A feel-good show that also has a way of making its audience cry during pretty much every episode, This Is Us has been a hit since the moment it came out in 2016.
Following the lives of many members of the Pearson family, the audience gets a glimpse into their day-to-day, the good and bad, from childhood into adulthood. While viewers are able to learn so much about this family thanks to the writers, and the actors who bring these characters to life, there’s even more to learn about this show behind-the-scenes. So let’s take a closer look at This Is Us and explore some facts you probably don’t know.
The original title of the show wasn’t "This Is Us"
It’s difficult to picture this well-known show with any other title than "This Is Us," but the show was actually originally supposed to be called "36," highlighting the age of the three Pearson kids at the beginning of the show. But as the show creator, Dan Fogelman, shared with Glamour during an interview, the "36" title was more of a placeholder.
He said, "I didn’t like it. I had done a series of movies where I had never titled them and no one can agree on the title. I threw ’36’ on it, and then I never liked it. Nobody ever liked it. I came up with ‘This Is Us,’ I think, when I was in editorial. I decided I liked how it looked at the beginning [of the show], and I put it in there. But, there was a lot of debate over what the title of the show was gonna be."
The story was originally supposed to be a movie
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the This Is Us story was originally a movie script in Fogelman’s desk drawer in 2015 that had not seen the light of day. The story-line was a bit different as well, telling the story of eight people’s lives and later revealing that they were all actually octuplets.
As the article shared, Fogelman "felt pretty confident about the characters he’d created," but he always came back to one very important question — "What’s the f**king point?"
It took some time and a new deal with 20th Century Fox TV for Fogelman to figure out what that point was. At that time, he needed some good TV show ideas, and thought that his ’36’ story idea could fit in well as a television story-line instead of having it rushed into a few hours for film.
As we all know, the number of children in the story was whittled down to three when he tweaked it for television.
Some of the actors have some serious similarities with their characters
Some of the actors on the show have noticed some major similarities between themselves and their characters over time. Sometimes an actor’s talents were discovered and incorporated into the show.
For example, Chris Sullivan, who plays Toby, told Glamour that "when the producers found out Chrissy Metz could sing, they immediately had to put that in. She sang live on-set twice, they recorded it, and that’s what you saw on television."
And as for Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin Pearson, it was more of a slow realization of just how similar he and Kevin were. He shared with Glamour, "I was like, ‘Is Dan following me around?’ I think Kevin is afraid of heights, and I’m afraid of heights. He gets seasick; I get seasick. He’s annoying to be around; I’m annoying to be around. [Laughs]"
Kate’s character was inspired by the show creator’s sister
Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz, has a special place in creator Fogelman’s heart, because the character is based on his sister Deborah. She has even become a consultant on the show. As The Hollywood Reporter stated, she reads every script, taking a look at Kate’s story-line and making sure it reads true, accurately depicting a woman’s struggle with weight.
Fogelman enjoys his sister’s help, having shared during the interview, "Let me tell you, there’s nothing better than telling a roomful of professional writers, ‘My sister had a note on page five.’"
Deborah has also had quite the impact on Metz through this process. Metz spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about one particular emotional monologue her character gives about her weight, saying, "I remember reading those lines like, ‘I’m always going to be afraid of a chair breaking underneath me’ or ‘whether people will be able to recognize if I’m actually pregnant,’…. and going to Dan, in tears, like, ‘These are my fears.’"
And while Deborah and Metz haven’t met in person, they are Facebook friends.
Milo is the dad on and off screen for the cast and crew
Jack Pearson, played by Milo Ventimiglia, is the patriarch of this TV family, and Ventimiglia takes on that role on the set of the show as well. As he told The Hollywood Reporter, "I study the call sheets so that I know everyone’s name."
But it goes beyond that. The actor goes to set on days that he isn’t filming to be a support system for his on-screen family. As the article described, the actor, "can’t seem to walk 10 feet on the lot without doling out a handshake or a hug."
Ventimiglia is also part of multiple text chains, one with the actors from the Pearson family, and one with Fogelman and the cast.
And to top off his amazing dedication to his role and team, he had trucker hats made for the cast and crew that had Jack’s Big Three Homes logo on them. Best dad ever.
Turning Mandy Moore into a grandma is a process
Actress Mandy Moore is also deeply dedicated to her character, Rebecca Pearson — the matriarch of the family. And sometimes, this dedication means sitting in the makeup chair for a very long time.
Throughout the series, the audience gets to see Rebecca at various different ages. Transforming someone from their 30s to their 60s can take some serious time… like three and a half hours. And yet, that’s already an improvement from the five hours it used to take.
The show’s makeup artist, Zoë Hay spoke about this process and why she makes this a priority. She told Vulture, "It was very important to me that as we see her when she’s older that she looks graceful and beautiful…. I think I thought of my own mother a lot and how she looks and how she carries herself."
And it goes beyond the look of the makeup. Hay is also thinking practically of what Moore needs in order to be able to get her job done. Hay continued, "It’s also very important that the actor can act through that, and it’s a fine line with putting too many prosthetics on the face that doesn’t allow for that emotion of the actor to come through and having enough to transform them and make them look older."
Chrissy Metz found romance on the set
It’s not only Metz’s character who found love on This Is Us. The actress is dating camera man Josh Stancil, and the two met on set.
Metz was excited to share her love story. As she told ET Online, "We see each other whenever I’m working…. He’s still texting me like, ‘I hope you have a great day. I’ll see you soon.’ He’s a little gem…. It’s pretty wonderful."
And Metz is not looking to rush anything. She wants to continue to live on her own and just have this time together. She spoke to People about her relationship and why she doesn’t see any need or pressure to rush, saying, "You know, we work more than we don’t work so when we do get some time with each other, we enjoy it."
Sterling K. Brown loves hanging out in the writers room
If ityou haven’t figured it out yet, the cast and crew of This Is Us get along well. And it’s not just the actors who are bonding.
Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall Pearson, often finds himself in the writers room on set. What makes this space so interesting to him? He shared with Vulture, "I’m fascinated by the level of conversation that goes into each story arc and the combating perspectives that we have in our writers’ room and how they ultimately come to a consensus."
He gives the credit to the writers for the show’s story and described his role in the process, saying, "It takes real time and real conversation, but they always come up with something that is just so rich and so full. I’m so proud to help bring their words to life, because they’re already so vivacious to begin with."
The actors have known plot spoilers for some time
This Is Us knows how to tug on its audience’s heartstrings in every episode. The show does a great job of making the viewers themselves feel a part of the Pearson family — we celebrate the joyful moments with the Pearsons, and conversely, we grieve and cry with them in the devastating moments.
This puts some pressure on the actors, who are bringing these characters and scenes to life. Luckily, they have lots of time to mentally prepare — they often know major spoilers pretty early on. For example, Ventimiglia knew about that big season one reveal long before the audience did.
(If you haven’t watched, spoilers ahead!)
The actor spoke about this big moment with Vulture, sharing, "I knew in the beginning that Jack was dead in the present day, and then once the events of his death were sorted out and kind of agreed on by Fogleman and the producers and the writers, Dan’s always been very kind with giving us as much information as we need to inform our performances."
The creator knows how he wants the show to end
The show feels like a puzzle, with certain pieces fitting in at the right moments. While the puzzle — or show’s story-line — isn’t complete yet, Fogelman does know what the picture will look like in the end.
And don’t expect the show to run until the network cancels it; the creator has a sense of how many more seasons he needs to craft the exact story he has in mind.
As Fogelman told Glamour, "I’ll be dead if I do this show 10 years from now ’cause it’s really hard! But I think I kind of know what the next four or five or six seasons look like of this show. I don’t have every single moment planned out, but I know where the big moves are for the show in every season. Because this show plays [with] time so much, you need to have a plan."