If you’ve fallen in love with Randall and Beth Pearson, and their too-cute, unapologetically Black family on NBC’s hit show This Is US, you’re not alone. After the premiere pulled in nearly 15 million viewers, more than 13 million people have stuck around to watch the show about three people who share the same birthday unfold. After checking out the first episode, fans quickly learned the series was about much more than just getting older, with episodes that smartly discuss race, body image, love, and of course, family. If you have yet to tune in here’s a tip: grab some tissues because This Is Us tugs on the heartstrings every single week.
Aside from the great writing, the best thing about This Is Us is the show’s actors. Each week, we fall deeper in love with Susan Kelechi Watson’s portrayal of Beth Pearson, a woman with a fierce and protective love for her family. Smart, loyal and super stylish, Beth rocks everything from box braids to afro-puffs as she protects and nurtures her adorable brood. Thanks to the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman, its brilliant writers, and Watson and her on-screen hubby Sterling K. Brown’s chemistry, the Pearsons might just mess around and earn their way into the pantheon of Black TV families, much like the Cosbys, the Evans, the Jeffersons, the Banks, and most recently, Queen Sugar’s Bordelons.
EBONY.com spoke with the actress, who previously appeared on Louie, The Blackout, and NCIS, about embodying Beth Pearson, being the only Black family in an ensemble cast and why This Is Us has reminded her that you can’t judge people before giving them a chance.
EBONY: It’s a bit ironic for you going from Janet on Louie, where there’s pretty much no continuity, to This Is Us, a show that is all about continuity. How did you manage the adjustment?
Susan Kelechi Watson: I like the structure. Both structures are really fun to play. Some of the joy in acting is switching it up. Being able to do something that’s different than what you’ve been doing. But what a more linear structure allows is for you to see the development of characters. That’s what I really love about this show. You’re able to see more of what took them from A to B, and how they got to this place at this moment in time.
For me it’s a life lesson on judgment, because you don’t know where people come from or what they’ve been through that’s bringing them to this place and their perspective on life at this moment. This show really gives people the opportunity to see beyond the person at this moment in time. They can see into everything that’s made them who they are.
EBONY: We’re getting to learn more about Beth and who she is. She resonates with so many women. Who do you understand Beth to be and where do we see her going?
SKW: Beth right now is at a place where she’s trying to balance being a wife, a mom, and having a family with who she is as an individual and feeling like she’s at a place where she doesn’t have to continually compromise that. She wants to be able to bring that sort of fullness to the table. And so that’s going to be interesting to watch unfold in future episodes.
Then the dynamic of her and Randall is one where there’s a lot of love, there’s a lot of respect, there’s a lot of trust. They are two people who want to be married. They are two people who want to be in this, no matter what it brings.
EBONY: This Is Us doesn’t broadcast the fact that you guys are “the Black family.” They certainly represent what that looks like, from your styling—braids, afro-puff—to doing the kids hair in the morning and how that can be a challenge. What care is being taken to make the portrayal authentic without being patronizing?
SKW: It’s written into the premise. Here’s this Black man who grew up in a white family. Here’s this Black man who has a Black wife and a Black family and they’re successful – you see young Randall is especially smart. It’s no secret to Black people that we’re smart, that we have abilities. We’re obviously very strong, powerful, resilient, inspirational, intelligent, phenomenally talented…and I could go on and on about our culture. I think we don’t treat that like that’s something rare or something that’s a secret. It is what it is.
So in our mind when we’re acting, I don’t think it’s highlighted and underlined. We’re just playing the people and the viewers can obviously tell that I’m a Black woman, that he’s a Black man, that these are obviously Black children and this is that reality. We’re at the place in society where we can now take that for granted.
EBONY: I feel like that too, however there are certainly little reminders where it’s like oh people haven’t caught on yet to what we all know. That’s why shows like This Is Us are important.
SKW: It may take a while, but there are those of us who know, and sometimes you just have to treat a situation like you should know. And let the people catch up.
EBONY: Is there anything you’ve contributed to who Beth is?
SKW: In one episode where Beth and Randall were in the pharmacy and they had written that Beth says, “I was just about to go back into the workforce and now who’s going to have to split her time between a changing pad in a home office and trying to discover who I was?” That was something that I had mentioned because I know women personally who struggle with wanting to be a good wife and a good mom and they struggle with, “But I also want me.” That’s not saying that they don’t want to be a wife and they don’t want to be a mother, but they also want some sense of individuality. They want to remember who they are as a person again. I discussed that aspect with them–that idea of her own personal identity outside of the context of being a wife and a mother–and then that was put into the story.
EBONY: Where do Beth and Susan overlap?
SKW: I’m like Beth in the way that she has Randall’s back. For me as Susan I like to be like that in other people’s lives – whether it’s my friend’s lives, my family’s life, or my boyfriend’s life. I like people to know I have your back 100 percent. It’s the ride or die thing. We ride together, we die together, Bad Boy for life, you know (laughs). She and I really have that in common.
EBONY: What will we learn about Beth going forward?
SKW: You’re going to see things develop between her and her relationship with William. You’re going to see information that William gives her. You’re going to see her and Rebecca relate to each other more. There’s definitely going to be some ups and downs.