There comes a time in every child’s life when they arrive at the momentous realization that their parents are just ordinary people. For Kate Pearson — one of the members of NBC’s first family on the hit drama This Is Us — that moment arrives early on in Season 2 when she listens to her beloved father, Jack, reveal a difficult secret: He’s an alcoholic. It’s information he’s avoided disclosing to her for as long as possible, specifically because he knows it will shatter her idealized image of him. But Jack is no longer able to simply ignore or work through his alcoholism on his own; he’s finally ready to seek help via AA and needs the rest of the Pearson clan, especially his daughter, on his side. The centerpiece of Season 2’s second episode, “A Manny-Splendored Thing,” this emotionally charged moment marked a major milestone not only in the personal relationship of Kate and Jack, but also the working relationship of the actors who portray them, Hannah Zeile and Milo Ventimiglia.
“What we’ve learned about Jack and Kate in their relationship specifically is that she holds him in such regard,” Ventimiglia explains to Yahoo Entertainment in the latest edition of our Emmy video series, My Scene to Remember. “I think Jack even knows that, and he never wants her to see a flaw, he never wants her to see a weakness, he never wants her to see that he has battles himself. It’s one of those things that I would imagine a parent would hope to never have to say to their kids — that kind of pulling away of the veil of this hero.” Zeile, who plays the teenage version of the character that Emmy-nominated Chrissy Metz portrays as an adult, echoes her onscreen father: “So much of Kate’s life is like, ‘Jack is the perfect father.’ So this is the first time we see any sort of fault in that breaking for her. I knew the scene was going to be a memorable one for sure.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Even though this particular scene is one of the most dramatic Ventimiglia and Zeile have shared, the actors say they were careful not to over-rehearse. “You can’t really prepare an emotion,” Zeile explains. “It’s really reactionary.” Ventimiglia agrees saying, “You just kind of show up and you’re there. You prepare your words, prepare your emotions, and then you step onto the stage and experience what these people experience. From action to cut, I’m Jack. The character has that moment to live, and in that moment, it really was terrifying to me to admit this problem I had. I still get emotional watching it because it feels so real.”
Thanks to their “no rehearsal” approach, even moments that were carefully scripted feel genuinely spontaneous. For example, the moment where Kate takes Jack’s face in her hands was always featured in the script as a reference to a bit of business that Ventimiglia invented during the first season. When acting opposite the child actors who played the youngest versions of the three Pearson kids, the actor used to gently hold their faces in certain scenes. “Early on, I just kind of did it,” Ventimiglia shares with us. “You’ve got these kids and you want to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m there with you.'” The writers picked up on that gesture and incorporated it into this scene as a way of charting Kate’s growth into adulthood. “Kate takes her father’s face in her hands as he would do to them as kids. This is the first real moment between Kate and Jack where I think she’s the protector.”
Season 2 of This Is Us is streaming on Hulu.
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