This Is Us ended its fourth season with a brutal brawl between brothers, but with words instead of fists. In the tense season finale, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) hurled ugly insults at each other after Kevin discovered that Randall had strong-armed Rebecca into enrolling in an Alzheimer's clinical trial at Washington University. The siblings may have repaired their relationship later on, as evidenced by the deep-future flash-forward sequence that still contains plenty of uncertainty and mystery, but the more immediate future for the Pearsons also contains a few question marks. Kevin learned from Madison (Caitlin Thompson) that he's going to be a father (twice over), Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) are planning to adopt a second child, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is headed to the Midwest with Miguel (Jon Huertas), and we’ve got that aforementioned sibling divide wider than the smile on Rebecca's face when she listens to an old Joni Mitchell record.
So, what stories might the era-hopping family drama explore when season 5 kicks off? “There should be some more backstory on the Miguel-Rebecca connection,” Brown tells EW. “I do think that that's something that we're trying to explore in season 5. It's really going to be interesting to experience the Knocked Up storyline of Madison and Kevin and how exactly that whole thing looks, because Madison is just such a wonderful character and Caitlin does such a great job. It's so funny because when Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator and Thompson’s husband] is rarely on set; he's mostly in the writer's room, he's mostly in the editing bay. But it’s so cute to see him on set, watching his wife talk about having another man's child [laughs] and he's like, “I think she's doing good.” I said, “Bro, she's doing really good! You should be proud!”
Brown says he's also curious to see how his onscreen sister embraces the challenges of adoption, something the Pearson family knows well. “The exploration of the adoption that Toby and Kate are going to go through is going to be very interesting,” he says. “I'm always just curious, and kudos to Sully [for] just showing the difficulties of connecting with his child. It's not something that people talk about all the time, but I've talked to multiple friends that said, ‘It's not an automatic thing all the time to feel this immense outpouring of unadulterated and unconditional love. There's worry and all these other things that are mixed into it.’ And I really think it's cool to be able to see that on-screen.”
And what about the character with whom he’s most familiar? “There's something there for Randall that I'm really excited about,” he says. “It has to do with this exploration of past. In a similar way in which we went to Memphis [near the end of season 1] to find out things about where he came from, his father's family, etc., it's going to be something very much akin to that. But with its own little unique spin on it. I don't want to say too much, but it should be cool.”
Will Randall be cool with celebrating a milestone 40th birthday without the other two-thirds of the Big Three? A season 4 flash-forward that's set on the big day already revealed that Kevin and Kate are celebrating at the cabin with Rebecca and Miguel, with Kevin reminding his mother that he and Randall aren't speaking. While Brown said he wasn't sure exactly what would unfold, “I speculate that time spent with family will be the thing that he has, Listen, most of the time his brother and sister are in L.A. and he's on the East Coast, be it in New Jersey or Philadelphia. So he's used to not being with the whole family together. I think it will be sad for him to not be with his mother. But he has his wife [Beth, played by Susan Kelechi Watston], and I mean that by saying that anytime he finds himself getting a little too down in the dumps, she has a way of gently lifting him up and reminding him of the man that she fell in love with, which is a good kind, generous human being. And while the tactics that he employs sometimes may not always be the right ones, his intentions are always in the right place. So he’ll be aight.”
Of course, the bigger looming question is: Will the show be able to make any kind of return this fall, given Hollywood's shutdown in the wake of the pandemic? Brown — who can next be heard next month in season 2 of the Netflix animated series Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts — and the rest of the TIU team aren't sure, but he sure is trying to keep busy during quarantine. In addition to exercising regularly — in fact, he worked out for the duration of our interview — Brown does a "morning meditation or reading some Eckhart Tolle or Michael Bernard Beckwith or Wayne Dyer." ("I'm just trying to do something to feed my spirit and my body and my mind on a daily basis," he explains.) He is also homeschooling his children with wife Ryan Michelle Bathe. ("I realize I do remember my 12-times tables and I'm kind of a beast at it, so that's always good to know that you still got it," he quips.)
And in these challenging times, as part of his artist residency at Geffen Playhouse, Brown is working to raise awareness for the Self Evident Project, which helps queer people in need during the pandemic. He's also stressing the power of reaching out to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers, for whatever reason. "It's one of the things that our show really helps bring to the forefront of people's consciousness is just how interconnected we are and how necessary that feeling of connection is," he says. "In this time of social distancing, and social isolation, I truly hope that people are able to reach out, whether it's Zoom or Marco Polo, making sure that they tell the people that they love that they're thinking about them and that they care for them." Randall — and all of the Pearsons —would approve of that sentiment.
For much more from Sterling K. Brown about the explosive season 4 finale and its longterm implications, head over here.