Before my first introduction to the cast of This Is Us (all the way back on Monday, July 25, 2016 for a special screening and cocktail party), I had already watched the pilot episode three times. This was nearly two months before the show premiered on NBC, but I remember telling anyone and everyone who would listen—my colleagues, my parents, my friends—that this was going to be a hit show.
It wasn’t just the twist at the end of the first episode (to this day, one of the best surprises in a television series), but more so that it was filling a much-needed hole in the TV landscape for a compelling family dramedy. Parenthood had ended 18 months earlier, and streaming services weren’t as robust as we see now. (Don’t forget, HBO Max, Disney+, and Apple TV+ didn’t exist back in 2016.) This Is Us was written with all the gravitas and emotion needed to keep viewers invested week after week, while the storylines were so personal they felt like they were pulled from your own life. The magnetic cast made up of Mandy Moore, Milo Ventigimila, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley, and Chrissy Metz took it all to the next level.
So as I entered that first meet-and-greet cocktail party, I knew something felt different about this particular group of actors. The cast’s vulnerability on screen made me feel like I knew them already—and I was curious to see how that would translate off screen. I wasn’t disappointed. I remember seeing Mandy Moore with her friends Minka Kelly and Wilmer Valderrama but was too shy to introduce myself. (Funny, now that I know how warm and open she is.) When I talked to Justin Hartley, he told me how the role of Kevin came about. His friend Michael Rady told him, “You should totally read this role. It’s so you.” So he did—and couldn’t believe the similarities. Hartley called his agent, who told him they were already working on getting him in for an audition. I also remember telling Chrissy Metz I was so excited for fans to meet Kate Pearson thanks to her. She sweetly admitted she couldn’t believe she was on a billboard for the show, so much so that she drove around L.A. in a loop so she could see it a few times. Her joy at being Kate was palpable–something that never wavered in the years since. Susan Kelechi Watson struck me so much at the event that I later emailed my colleagues in New York later that night to praise her. I was most amazed to learn that she isn’t afraid to drive her Toyota Camry around New York City. Considering how notoriously chaotic the city’s traffic is, I thought it was a remarkable demonstration of her bravery and confidence.