Could you begin by telling us a bit about your, Randall, the character you are playing in This Is Us, and where he fits in the framework of the overall show?
A. Okay, so in the pilot episode, you meet four people that share the same birthday, right? They’re all turning 36 on the same day. And it turns out that they actually have more in common than just their birthday. Randall is a very successful businessman, a Wall-Street guy. It’s kind of hard to explain what he does, but you’ll find out later on. He’s got a beautiful wife, two beautiful girls, doing very well personally, but he was adopted at birth, and he is looking to connect with his biological father for the first time in his life. He’s never met this man, but for some reason he feels compelled to seek him out and meet him. And so that’s where he is right now in his life.
Q. What drew you to this character, and to this show as a whole?
A. Well, I started with the show as a whole because it was the script, written and created by Dan Fogelman, who is an exceptionally gifted writer. And my wife and I had seen the film of his, Crazy, Stupid Love, and we were just eager at the opportunity to be involved with anything that he does. So that was just for the script as a whole, reading it out loud for the first time, I laughed, I cried, my jaw was hanging on the ground. In terms of Randall, it’s really interesting because I feel like we have a lot in common. We both have two children and a beautiful wife, both fairly successful at what we do, and both sort of missing our fathers. My father passed away when I was 10 years old, so I’ve always had this sort of longing and connection to father figures, and I think Randall finds himself in a very similar circumstance where he wonders what it would be like if he had his father with him in his life right now to show him his wife and to meet with his friends—I ask myself similar questions.
Q. You mentioned that you laughed and you cried when you read the script. Why do you think there’s an appetite for this sort of big, emotional family drama at this time?
A. I think it’s something that’s very universal in its appeal because it’s about people just trying to figure out life. You know, I guess your mid-30s is a very pivotal time when your life could be going in a few different directions, whether with your career or, you know, becoming a parent for the first time or connecting with the family that you’ve never known. Everybody is just trying to figure out what to do next and I think that’s something that everybody can relate to. And often we feel like we’re making those choices by ourselves in a vacuum and saying, “Why does this happen to me and me only?” I think This is Us kind of shows everyone that this is something that we’re all doing and we’re doing it together. And I think there’s something very comforting and recognisable about the fact that you’re not in it by yourself.
Q. In the last decade, most successful TV shows in America were either comedies or serious family dramas. This Is Us presents a mix of the two genres. How do you feel about that?
A. You know, I think that you’re right, because there’s been a lot of high-concept things and a lot of things that kind of just skew towards the darkness. I love Game of Thrones and House of Cards and Breaking Bad, but they’re not feel-good stories, if you will. So I think there’s something about our show that aims to promote a sense of hopefulness, that it’s really like a balm for society at large right now, especially probably here in the United States.
“You know, I guess your mid-30s is a very pivotal time when your life could be going in a few different directions, whether with your career or, you know, becoming a parent for the first time or connecting with the family that you’ve never known. Everybody is just trying to figure out what to do next and I think that’s something that everybody can relate to.”
Q. You’ve also been in another show this year, The People v. O.J. Simpson, which tells a very different story. How was it trying to segue from that role to the one you’re doing in This Is Us?
A. It’s been interesting. Well, first of all, I consider myself very fortunate to have gone from one incredible show to the next. That’s not something that always happens in an individual’s career. So I’m very fortunate for it to be happening to me right now. These are two completely different projects, and it’s hard to compare them. In one, I am playing a real-life individual who’s still alive and well, and living in the very same city that I live in, still practicing law, and is very much in the forefront of our consciousness, that if a person like that happens to see this show, then hopefully I wouldn’t embarrass him, you know what I mean? I pored over as much footage as I could, and read his book, and re-read his book, and read Jeffrey Toobin’s book about Simpson’s trial and I really just wanted to get it right. I wanted to try to get the essence of my character into that portrayal and to show people that he wasn’t a bumbling, you know, lawyer, but he’s actually a very good lawyer who was placed in very difficult circumstances, trying to make lemonade, if you will. And as far as Randall is concerned, we probably have a lot more in common. You know, the fact that I lost my father at a very young age, he’s been without a father for quite some time. There’s a very strong connection to me – the idea of playing an African-American male who is a great family man, who’s a loving husband, and is successful. I’m not lost on the fact that this sort of imagery is powerful and that often, when people don’t have a great deal of interaction with others, you know, all they have is what they see on TV. So I’m very proud to be playing this man who is flawed, who is funny, who is serious, but who’s always trying to do the best that he can. And he comes from my own heart and life experience and imagination. So Randall asks me for probably a greater emotional range from me, and Darden [Brown’s character in O.J. ] asks for a lot of technical precision.