"It's fundamentally changed all of our lives."
That's what Mandy Moore once told Today about the impact This Is Us had has on her life, as well as the live of her co-stars. The NBC hit returns for its fourth season tonight, reuniting viewers with America's favorite family to cry over, the Pearsons. While it's hard to imagine a time when Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown and the rest of the stars weren't everywhere, it was just three years ago that one of the show's actors didn't even have a dollar in their bank account.
Now? The cast is one of the highest paid and celebrated ensembles on television, with the majority of the series regulars earning $250,000 per episode, per THR, after they negotiated salary increases ahead of season three.
Here's how life has completely and irrevocably changed for the stars of TV's most beloved family drama since it debuted in 2016...
Arguably the most well-known cast member heading into the show's premiere, Ventimiglia had experienced TV success several times before thanks to his fan-favorite turns on Gilmore Girls (Team Jess!) and Heroes, NBC's superhero show that became a global phenomenon. But it's his turn as Jack Pearson, one of the most beloved dads in TV history, that has made him a household name, revitalizing his career. But he almost didn't get the job as producers had a completely different look in mind for Jack before Ventimiglia, 42, came in.
"They wanted somebody completely different," he told Variety, with TIU's creator later admitting he had a "doughier" look in mind. "I walked in with my beard and my long hair and set my motorcycle helmet down and they went, 'Who is this guy?'"
That guy would end up taking the Internet by storm, thanks to that iconic nude scene in the pilot.
But after his early successes, Ventimiglia took his position as No. 1 on the call-sheet seriously, coming to set on his days off and telling THR, "I study the call sheets so that I know everyone's name."
After once being called the breakout star of young Hollywood, he was now the seasoned pro.
"He's the one that galvanizes everyone to hang out together," Moore told E! News, with Metz adding, "He's the best captain of any ship. I am so grateful for his friendship, for his advice, for his knowledge. And he does it without ego."
Since This Is Us debuted, Ventimiglia's landed major roles, like the lead in the recent feel-good-dog film The Art of Racing in the Rain and as Evil Knievel in a limited series on USA Network (which he will also executive produce), while also reprising his beloved character Jess in the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix, and made a surprise cameo as Rocky Balboa's adult son in Creed II.
Oh, and he's become so popular that Jennifer Lopez personally requested him to star opposite her in her 2018 rom-com Second Act as her love interest.
"I got a call from my reps saying, 'So Jennifer wants you and only you,' and I was like wow, that's flattering!" he told Jimmy Fallon.
"I was such a huge fan of This Is Us in its first season," Lopez would tell STX. "When I read the first finished draft of this script I said this character has to be Milo. It has to be Milo. I can't see anyone else doing it."
Despite starring in big screen hits like The Princess Diaries and A Walk to Remember after having early success as a pop star when she was just 15 (Never forget "Candy!"), Moore's true breakout didn't come until This Is Us. But Moore almost passed on the role of the Pearson matriarch after starring in three failed pilots. "I was feeling pretty down about myself," she told Willie Geist, admitting she almost decided not to go out for the show and "thought" about quitting acting "many times."
Fortunately for her (and us), she decided to take the risk, changing her life, just as her tumultuous marriage to singer-songwriter Ryan Adams came to an end, with their divorce being finalized just months before This Is Us debuted.
"Life is not easy," Moore said during the series' TCA panel that summer. "I think it's been great to be able to take all of the chapters in my life and be able to pour it into a job like this because it all helps. It's all fuel."
Since TIU premiered in 2016, Moore, now 37, has gotten re-married and made new music for the first time in 10 years.
Ahead of the Emmys, Moore released her first single, "When I Wasn't Watching," from her forthcoming album.
"My favorite version of me disappeared, through longer days and shorter years," the lyrics read. "So where was I when this was going down? Assumed the world would come around."
In addition to the song, Moore also released a music video.
"The idea of diving back into music after so much time and personal change was really intimidating to me for a while," Moore said upon its release. "But then I finally realized: I'm the only person who can make this move. It all has to start with me."
Moore collaborated on the album with her husband of one-year Taylor Goldsmith, the lead singer of Dawes. a stark contrast to her relationship with Adams.
The former couple separated in January 2015, with Moore later speaking out about the alleged emotional abuse she suffered during their marriage in a piece from The New York Times, which also featured several other women coming forward with allegations against the singer-songwriter, and how he stalled her music career.
"Music was a point of control for him," Moore told the Times. "His controlling behavior essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time—my entire mid-to-late 20s."
Now, with Goldsmith, Moore has found a partner, both in life and music after they met via Instagram DMs in 2015. He would go on to propose in 2017 before the couple wed in November 2018.
This past June, Moore spoke to E! News before singing live with Goldsmith at a This Is Us event, admitting she was nervous but said, "I can always just look over and he's standing right there, and I feel good."
"I was still dealing with the trauma of my divorce when we started dating," Moore told Glamour. "Taylor was steadfast in his support—that was a huge sign for me."
Sterling K. Brown
When the actor was given the pilot script of This Is Us, he was still filming what would be his star-making (and Emmy-winning) turn as Christopher Darden in FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, meaning the casting team, producers and world didn't know yet that they were about to land one of the most talented actors of his generation to play Randall, the adopted member of the Big Three.
But it turns out, Brown, who previously appeared on Supernatural and Army Wives, was a huge fan of Fogelman's rom-com Crazy, Stupid Love, telling Deadline he couldn't resist letting the executive producer know that in their first meeting, saying, "It was an opportunity for me to go in and tell him how much I appreciate his work."
Brown would go on to make TV history, becoming the first African-American man to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Drama and the corresponding SAG trophy.
He quickly became one of the most in-demand actors, nabbing roles in Marvel's Black Panther, The Predator and a voice role in Frozen II, as well as guest appearances on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And he's also started producing his own projects through his production company, launching Indian Meadows in 2018.
But Brown's time on This Is Us has also impacted how he parents his two children with wife Ryan Michelle Bathe, who has appeared on This Is Us.
"I do tell them a lot more stories, yeah," he told the LA Times. "Yeah, absolutely. I find myself telling him stories about my dad who passed away. Then every once in a while we'll be saying grace, or we'll be praying, and [my son]'s like, "Don't forget to pray for your dad."
Reflecting on his success, Brown, 43, told The Undefeated, "Success for me is being able to pay the bills, being able to provide for my family, being able to have a comfortable life, and I've been able to do that. It's been more than enough."
Before landing the role of Kate Pearson, Metz, who previously had small roles on American Horror Story and Entourage, was this close to quitting acting.
"Literally, I was going to quit acting and move back home," she told Today in 2017.
"When I booked This Is Us, I had 81 cents in my bank account. I could cry right now just thinking about it," she revealed.
That all changed when she read the pilot script for This Is Us and immediately connected to Kate.
"Here was this woman who was actually dealing with weight. Not like, 'Oh my God, I gained a pound,' " she told THR. "She was a real woman who was really struggling, and all I could think was, 'Oh my God, I'm Kate.'"
Before getting her big break, Metz worked as a talent agent, and ironically enough, once represented Hannah Zeile, one of the actresses who would go on to play a younger version of Kate in This Is Us.
"It's full circle," Met, 38, told Deadline. "Life is so crazy. I've been a huge fan of hers for as long as I've known her."
Metz would go on to become one of the breakout stars of the 2016 season, earning an Emmy nomination for the first season. But she also found romance, dating cameraman Josh Stancil for almost two years after meeting on the set. The couple split in March 2018, with Metz telling Wendy Williams they're "still friends."
That same month, Metz released her autobiography This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today, which instantly hit No. 1 on the New York Times' bestsellers list. In the emotional book, Metz revealed her childhood abuse and opened up about her journey to love herself and forgive the ones who hurt her, namely stepfather Trigger whom she claims hit her and was critical of her weight when she was younger.
"Sometimes it's about focusing on yourself and your relationship with yourself first," Metz once told E! News.
Back in 2012, DC Comic fans were shocked when it was announced Stephen Amell would be playing Oliver Queen in The CW's Arrow. Why? Because Hartley had just played the young Green Arrow for 72 episodes on Smallville. While Hartley would later reveal there had been spinoff discussions after Smallville ended in 2011, Arrow was a completely different take on the character, with the actor telling reporters he thought Amell would be "great" in the role.
After hanging up the bow and arrow for good, Hartley starred in the CW drama Emily Owens, M.D., which was canceled after one season. Memorable-but-short-term appearances on Revenge and Mistresses before he finally landed the meta role of Kevin, the Pearson sibling trying to make it big in Hollywood without trading on just his hunky looks.
"He's so striking physically that I think sometimes his abilities are underestimated," executive producer and director Ken Olin told Vulture. "I remember when we started working on [the Kevin-centric episode] ‘Number One,' he told me nobody had ever given him the chance to do material like this. You don't think somebody who looks like that can be substantial or complicated, but Justin is really a sensitive, complicated guy."
Funnily enough, Hartley initially assumed he was being considered for Jack when a friend gave him the script, telling Vulture he had connected with that role first: "He's got a great relationship with his wife...remember the cupcake and the birthday and the towel? I thought that was great. But then I kept reading and I realized he was talking about Kevin. I've been a victim of that before, where people just assume something even though they've never met me. And I'm guilty of judging a book by its cover, too. But I knew as I was reading that he was damaged
Of landing the role of the troubled Pearson sibling, Hartley, who had previously starred on the daytime soap Passions from 2002-2006, said, "This is not just like a job. This is like a dream come true!"
Just before TIU's premiere, Hartley got engaged to girlfriend Chrishell Stause, with the pair exchanging vows in October 2017.
Two years ago, Hartley opened up about the impact This Is Us has had on his parenting style when it comes to his now-teenage daughter, Isabella, whom he shares custody of with ex-wife Lindsay Korman.
"I think about the show sometimes and I'm like, 'I'm going to have that conversation with my daughter,'" he told E! News, "The show will inspire me to do something that I wouldn't normally have done."
He went on to reveal the show has earned him some cool points with Isabella and her friends, saying, "She watches it, her friends watch it, their parents watch it, so I'm like the cool dad now. "[When I] take her to school, I get to walk her in now. We can hang out in front of her friends. It's cool."
Susan Kelechi Watson
There's no Randall without Beth, and Watson's character became the surprise scene-stealer early on in This Is Us' run, with the on-screen couple's chemistry quickly making them #couplegoals.
And it turned out that Brown and Watson had almost two-decades worth of history, first meeting when they ran in similar circles as MFA students at New York University.
"I remember Sue, before she even got to school, was dating a guy in the class above my class. And so I'm all, 'Who's this little cute girl who Dre is going out with?' They're like, 'Yeah, that's Susan Kelechi Watson.' I was like, 'Oh. She's cool,'" Brown told EW, noting he observed a few of her theater rehearsals. "I just remember watching you in your process do incredibly beautiful and nuanced work, and just being a fan of your talent."
While Oprah Mag would go on to call Watson TV's "unsung hero" for her work as Beth, success didn't come right away for the actress, who once spent a summer studying Shakespeare at Oxford University after receiving a scholarship funded by Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington.
While going out on endless auditions and living off of canned food, she worked random jobs to remain in NYC.
"I worked at the front desk at a gym," she told the magazine. "And here's the thing about when you're a struggling artist: You're not eating, you're not buying fresh clothes, your hair's not on point, so I was probably the worst person to welcome people into a gym when I just wanted to crawl under my desk."
Eventually, she landed parts on series like Louie, Billions and Veep. But when the audition for This Is Us finally came along, she was actually hoping to land another part instead in Danai Gurira's stage play Familiar. Of course, she didn't get it, making her available to take the role of Beth.
"What a life lesson that was: Go where the love is. Because at the time I was so focused on the one door closing that I wasn't even looking for the one opening," she told O. "Finally, the universe had to be like, 'Hello, this door is wide open!' Clearly, in the end, I'm where I'm supposed to be."
Plus, she revealed her secret nickname for her A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood co-star Tom Hanks. NBD.
"There's a little pause before I say Tom because I'm putting the ‘sir' in there," she said. "There's something very weird about calling him Tom, but he is the kindest, most generous—just a wonderful person. And to be the legend that he is and to be that grounded is like a lesson for me."
Prior to landing the role of Toby, Kate's love interest, on on This Is Us, Sullivan was a struggling actor taking odd-jobs and coupon-clipping to make ends meet.
"My very first acting job was a production of The Fantasticks at a church in Westwood [New Jersey] for about $150 a week," he told CNBC's Make It, going on to reveal he often hunted for deals and coupons. "Frugality was my side hustle. I was really good at it."
Slowly, Sullivan started building out his acting resume, with small parts on Stranger Things and Law & Order: SVU, refusing to give up on his dream.
"I decided I was going to be an actor, and [although] I didn't get a job, I saved all of my money and hustled every day, auditioning, trying to get any work I could," he detailed. "Eventually, it slowly built up, a small job to a slightly bigger job to a slightly bigger job to the third season of NBC's This is Us."
His hard work paid off, with the 39-year-old earning his first Emmy nomination for his work n the third season of the NBC hit.
But Sullivan faced minor backlash early on in the show's run when it was revealed he donned a fat suit to play Toby, later speaking out about the controversy on Watch What Happens Live.
"We currently live in a culture where outrage is a bit of a hobby for some people. If they're not outraged about something, they're totally bored," he said. "It's a tool. It's a costume that I put on."
Metz also defended Sullivan, saying, "We tested a lot of gentlemen who were bigger, and I get it—people think the authenticity is kind of ruined by that. But Chris has been heavier, so I think he understands the plight of being overweight. Also he was just the best man for the job."
Since his scene-stealing debut as Toby, Sullivan, who is also a musician, has appeared in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and guest-starred on The Good Fight and HBO's Camping.
Married to wife Rachel Reichard for eight years, the duo have become one of the most fashionable couples on the red carpet.
This Is Us season four premieres Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)