Ten minutes with ‘This is Us’ star Susan Kelechi Watson (Beth)

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Susan Kelechi Watson at STK in Midtown to promote the return of "This is Us" for the back half of season one. She was here January 9, 2017. The show returned January 10. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

This was posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

NBC landed a rare jackpot in this day and age: a genuine hit TV show with “This is Us.”

On the surface, this relationship drama hardly looked like the type of programming that would find a sizable audience. It features twins, an adopted black brother, lots of flashbacks and Mandy Moore.

Yet the intricate layering of storylines and characters drew fans in. Over the first 10 episodes, these likable yet flawed people brought comfort to millions without “Empire”-style histrionics. It falls more in line with shows like “Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood” and “Brothers & Sisters.” And there is nothing else quite like it out there. Average overnight ratings have been consistently in the 10 million range with another 5 million using DVR for three days.

Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays the wife of adopted son Randall, came to Atlanta to promote the show Monday night at STK in Midtown. About 15 journalists asked her questions in small groups. With the show returning Tuesday, she would not say whether Toby makes it or not or provide any deep details on future episodes. (They are shooting episode 16 out of 18 now.)

Here are excepts from my conversation, along with movie critic Matt Rodriguez from Shakefire and Emma Loggins of FanBolt.

Emma, FanBolt: We dive right back into things tomorrow night. What can you tell us?

Matt, Shakefire: What happens to Toby?

Susan: I can’t say. That’s like it’s own thing. But I can say when we last left off William had sort of come out. You’ll see us as a family dealing with that new piece of information. We kind of vie for his time.

Me: So we’ll see more of his William’s boyfriend [Jessie]?

Susan: I know we’ll talk about him more. Dennis O’Hare [who plays Jessie] is like amazing. We will get more of him. I was forgetting we are so far ahead of what you’re seeing.

Me: So how far along are you: 15 or 16?

Susan: We’re just starting 16. [Episode 11 airs Tuesday night]

THIS IS US -- "The Right Thing to Do" Episode 111 -- Pictured: Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

THIS IS US — “The Right Thing to Do” Episode 111 — Pictured: Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth Pearson — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Me: Have you read all the scripts to the end of the season?

Susan: We have a basic idea of what may happen. You know, it’s still being written. The latest complete script is 116. Everything else is still story in process.

Me: What’s your take on the scripts. They involve such intricate storytelling… What are your feelings when you read through a script.

Susan: I try to stay in my lane when I read a script. Ron [Cephas Jones] who plays William, he makes a mini script. He pulls out his sections and charts out his story. In some ways, I do the same way. I go into the script and say, ‘Where is Beth’ and map out my journey… Anything happening outside my story is fresh to me. True to life, we wouldn’t know what’s happening. We wouldn’t know it so specifically. We’d have to respond in the moment and meet me where I am on my journey.

Me: Do you try to watch the episodes like a viewer?

Susan: I try! It’s difficult with this series because I’m so involved in it. It’s hard to step away and not see the other side of it. I like watching it with people so I can see it through their eyes.

Matt: When did you realize this series was special. Was it when you read the first script?

Susan: I think the first script was a wow factor kind of script. The minute I finished it, I knew I had to test for this series. It’s hard to say how special it is. People were saying it but I was so in the moment… When we got all those views for the initial trailer, we got 100 million views. It was like, ‘Wow! Really?’  [Not sure it got that many page views but here is the trailer] I really felt it once it aired and people stayed with it and loved it. It was a process… I can’t say it happened all at once.

Emma: Did you know the back story for your character more than we’ve seen on screen?

Susan: They were still creating her when I got into it. The primary focus was the core Pearson family, which is great because it gave a lot of room for Beth to play and create things about Beth and her family and allow me input on that. So she is still forming. Every episode you learn a little more about her family. You learn where she’s come from and what has made her her. You’ve learned about her father. She grew up in a house with 14 people in it. They’re Caribbean, Jamaican specifically. She didn’t want to get married. I keep calling her like a slow peeling onion. There are these layers unfolding… You get this opportunity to have a slow burn. They are definitely talking about  building her character.

Me: Your marriage with Randall seems very secure. Has it always been the case? Do you know how smooth the marriage has been?

Susan: I would say they have a pretty healthy marriage. It’s not that they don’t go through things as the season unfolds. You see some of the cracks and wear and tear from all the drama that has been happening for lack of a better word. You’ll start to see it. They’re still in a young stage in their marriage. They’ve been together for a long time, teenager sweethearts. In terms of how long they’ve been married, it’s been eight years. They have kids. This whole aspect of family they’re trying to figure it out. But they thought they had it all under control until all these things started happening… You do start to see Beth feel the weight of it.

Matt: It seemed that pregnancy scare was a big deal.

Susan: Yah. I’m good with two.

Matt: He was too.

Susan: He could have done it. He would have figured it out. For women, life stops in a different way. It’s about playing catch up and getting to where you wanted to be. She didn’t want to go through that. I think another big one was when William came home. The third was when she found out she and Rebecca knew each other.

Me: Mindblowing!

Susan: The next one will be as William’s health deteriorates and how she monitors that and how Randall has issues with things being stressful… We’ll see how she deals with all those things. For now, she’s the one because of her position tries to hold everything together and makes sure everything is okay. What if she isn’t okay.

Me: How does she feel about the twins?

Susan: She loves them. She has this antagonistic relationship with Kevin. She just treats him like a brother. She knows he’s got this Hollywood thing going where he freeloading but doesn’t say he’s freeloading. He has this way of cavalierly traveling through life that she’ll call him on. She’s not afraid to say, ‘When are you leaving? What’s going on?” The next episode, he gets a little comfortable and she checks him on that. But she loves him. I think she and Kate get along like gangbusters. There was the Christmas episode where we did karaoke. She adores her.

THIS IS US -- Pilot -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth, Sterling K. Brown as Randall -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

THIS IS US — Pilot — Pictured: (l-r) Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth, Sterling K. Brown as Randall — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

TV PREVIEW

“This is Us,” episode 11 on Tuesday, January 10 at 10 p.m. on NBC


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