If you had trouble keeping it together while watching Mandy Moore fall to pieces in last night's episode of This Is Us, you are not alone—and we're not just referring to the fact that 27 million people tuned in for that post-Super Bowl heartbreaker.
Star Milo Ventimiglia, whose Pearson family patriarch died after a post-Super Bowl house fire, told reporters during a conference call on Monday that he struggled to film some of the scenes because of what was required of his scene partner.
While he wasn't required to be on set, Ventimiglia wanted to be there to play his own dead body when Rebecca returned to his hospital room in disbelief to find her husband dead. During the show's after show, Moore revealed she didn't know Ventimiglia was going to actually be there, and what resulted was a wonderfully raw first take and a scene that Ventimiglia found very hard to film.
"I know how I am in regards to moments of experience, especially moments of experience between Jack and Rebecca. I wanted to not throw a curveball at Mandy, but I wanted to be there," he says. "It's one thing to have to act alone, it's another thing to have to take the history that she and I have worked on for two years and be a still, lifeless body in front of her. I was ultimately hearing her just break and fall to a million pieces, and that might have been the hardest thing to film, not because I had to lay still, but I was listening to my friend crumbling."
Ventimiglia says that just as the camera was only focused on Moore and only showed his body in a blurry reflection, he was also only focused on making the scene work for his TV wife, despite how difficult it may sound to act as a dead body.
"You know that you can't move, you can't make a peep, you just have to be there for your scene partner and that's pretty much all I was focused on was I need to be here for Mandy. That's pretty much what our routine is in general. We're always there for one another. We kind of made a pact like that since the very beginning, like let's make this couple real."
Another scene that was difficult for the pair was their final scene together before Jack's death (not final scene together on the show), when he asked her to get him a snack and then teased her for being in front of the TV. That was the last time the couple spoke to each other, and while Moore and Ventimiglia obviously know that, Jack and Rebecca obviously didn't.
"Mandy and I, over the course of filming this show have grown to appreciate the time we get together, but knowing that that was the last time for Jack and Rebecca was especially painful," Ventimiglia says. "We had to keep an eye on ourselves that we weren't, I guess, playing too much into it, because the truth is Jack and Rebecca made it out of the fire, and to all their knowledge, the hard part was done. Now it was just get his airway kind of clean and keep an eye on the burns... So we didn't want to put too much into the body language or the way they responded to one another, it was just Jack and Rebecca sitting there... so we were trying our best to be just Jack and Rebecca, at any given moment dealing with any given thing."
If you're wondering if there's footage to be seen of Jack's actual death—which we only saw through a flurry of doctors running around behind an oblivious Rebecca, Ventimiglia says no such footage exists on purpose.
He says the intention was never to see that from Jack's perspective, as a kindness "not only to the audience, but also to Rebecca."
"I want to believe that Jack knew something was not quite right, and he might have asked his wife to step out of the room so that she didn't have to suffer through that, but it was edited and ran as it was originally conceived."
For everyone who has already been missing Jack since we found out about his death back in the beginning of the first season, Ventimiglia says not to worry because he's not going anywhere.
"We've gotten to know [Jack] and embrace him in a way that even though we've seen his end, I don't think that impacts the storytelling of his life," he says. "I think there's still a lot of story to mine and I'm looking forward to all of it... For me, it's always Jack and Rebecca."
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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