In Hollywood, one role can change everything. For Mandy Moore, her work on NBC's This Is Us hasn't just changed the way television viewers see the singer/actress; it's changed her career for good.
Let's make one thing clear: if Milo Ventimiglia's Jack Pearson is the heart of the NBC hit show that just concluded its second season, Moore's Rebecca is the soul. You see, without Moore's strong work, you wouldn't care as much about Jack and what happened to him, with all the little details in between still being flushed out. The two roles are connected and Moore's role is the glue.
Moore makes you feel every ounce of Rebecca's pain, and the one thing she has in common with Ventimiglia is the way their performances came out of nowhere and swept us off our feet. It's the same manner in which the show has taken ahold of the entire world. For the past two years, TV lovers have put on their Sherlock Holmes and Clue hats trying to figure out what happened to Jack. Moore makes you cry hard for what happened to Rebecca after that fateful Super Bowl Sunday.
The actress has 69 credits to her name, according to her IMDB page. Most fans know her from 2002's A Walk to Remember or the animated hit Tangled. Moore has done mostly voice work in the past few years in addition to a few cinematic roles, but nothing comes close to her work as Rebecca. The key ingredient in her performance is emotional transparency without overplaying the hand. There isn't a lot of excessive crying in the performance.
This particular maneuver made the closing season of Season two's premiere so powerful. Rebecca pulls up to the burned up Pearson home carrying a bag that seems to be holding the remains of a loved one. As Damien Rice's cover of the U2 song "One" blares in the background, she suddenly loses it. A full-blown primal scream. We expect this to happen, but Moore's slow burn in the scene makes it come out of nowhere somehow. Misdirection is one of This Is Us' best tools as a series. Right when you think you see what's coming ahead, the rug is pulled from underneath you.
Perhaps it's the demand of the role that makes it come off so grand. Part of playing Rebecca Pearson requires Moore to undergo lengthy time in the prosthetics chair, a process that occurs nearly every episode. The common perception around viewers is that makeup would help a performance, but when you hear about Moore discuss the hardships behind the process and how it's difficult to do the job while in obvious discomfort, the impressive factor only rises.
For me personally, the younger years of Rebecca require more work due to the weight of the scenes and the idea that little hints about this married couple's life are being dropped into our lap slowly but surely. It is in these scenes that the actress truly comes to life, switching off between raising a big family with the world's perfect guy or bringing three teenagers into the end of innocence as a single mom. If you would have asked me if Moore was capable of this kind of meaty role before, I would have said no or doubted her chops.
With Rebecca Pearson, Moore has shut me up for good. She's got everyone's respect now.
With the reveal of Jack's death out there, the onus of the show will now hinge on Moore's performance even more moving into Season 3. Creator Dan Fogelman can still refer back to the early years, but how the plot navigates around a future reveal with Sterling K. Brown's Randall ill could mean less time spent in the 1970's and 1980's, and more time in post-Jack.
You can cry all you want over how Jack went out, but Rebecca is the guiding force behind the series. In a way, she always has been. Since the beginning, we've wondered how this woman pulled off such a courageous feat. If Moore doesn't do her job well, the loss of Jack creates a black hole ahead in future seasons. It's a good thing the actress knows how to crawl inside this woman's skin and live there.
There are so many things to appreciate about Moore's performance. The way every smile has a purpose, every tear isn't wasted, and every scene is handled perfectly. Above all else, Moore doesn't chew scenery, even though the opportunities present themselves every single hour. This is a network show with an audience expecting recycled drama, after all. She doesn't have to go so deep to satisfy the fans, but she does. It changes the show.
Look, the bad news is This Is Us isn't coming back onto your television until this fall. You'll have to wait around six to eight months to get another 18 episodes. That's a sad realization this week, knowing there are no new episodes ahead. Granted, this is the kind of show that beats you up emotionally that you need a large pour of whiskey, an hour on the deck, and perhaps a few tissues to sort through once that unforgettable score of the show stops playing.
Few shows leave an impact like This Is Us. Seeing an actress like Mandy Moore knock out such a layered role is also a rarity. Now is your chance to go back and give her the proper appreciation. For newcomers, you're in for a treat. If you think you know Moore from being the cute girl that Shane West is out for, prepare yourself for something different.
Moore is the true soul of This Is Us. She's in more scenes than anyone else and dictates the course of the plot more than anyone else. While Ventimiglia's role is the heart, Moore's may be the most important.
Binge the show. Tell me I'm wrong.