False noses, blemished skin and caked makeup for a dramatic transformation are a tried and true guarantee that everyone will rave about an acting performance and enter a hotly contested prize race. This often happens when a character is based and can be on a real person incredible distracting – see Renée Zellweger and Sarah Paulson. But there are other recent examples where it could be quite brilliant.
May I plead for Mandy Moore?
Ever since its 2016 debut delivered its surprise twist – was it 1980?! –This is us explored a time-spanning narrative of ups and downs in his depiction of the true Pearson family mountain range. The early seasons were dominated by the mystery of how Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) died – the Crockpot is the original peloton – while the Big Three (aka Kevin, Kate and Randall) jostled for attention.
Mandy Moore has played Pearson matriarch Rebecca for at least seven decades, and she’s undoubtedly the beating heart of NBC drama. Other cast members have since joined Moore in the aging makeup process, but the actress is the only cast member to appear in each era.
The penultimate episode, The Train, celebrates Rebecca’s “big, chaotic, gargantuan, spectacular” life as the glue that holds the family together, and Moore’s vibrant performance is the emotional bond that makes this possible. Not many actors get to play a role their entire adult life. It’s not quite as birth to death as Brad Pitt’s The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonDan Fogelman’s series has given Moore a rich time frame and milestones to explore.
If you thought the previous seasons had been a feast of sobs, not even Jack’s untimely death required as many tissues as I used on that last outing. First, the Pearsons jumped to the near future, where the pandemic no longer exists (there was a valiant but bumpy attempt to include COVID-19 last year), and Rebecca’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is being monitored. Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) wedding marked a turning point and the back half of Season 6 is so advanced that she needs 24/7 care. It’s an ambitious tale of elderly care and the end of life for a 38-year-old actress, but it’s one that Moore has adroitly tackled.
The last time Moore was nominated for an Emmy was three years ago. If it doesn’t happen again this year, we’re going to rage.
You can’t separate Moore’s brilliant work from makeup head Zoe Hay. Rebecca’s aging has played a role since the first season. For context, this character was born in 1950, so all today’s scenes put Rebecca in her 60’s or 70’s, which obviously Moore isn’t.
In fact, all three actors who play their adult children are older than her. The shifts are subtle at first (including hair department head Michael Reitz’s wig work), but now that this character is in his eighties, heavier prosthetics are required. None of this hides Moore’s emotional depth, whether she’s playing tenderly with her grandchildren, sitting her grown children down to work out her health plan, or mistaking her son Kevin (Justin Hartley) for her dead husband.
Moore often appears in flashbacks raising the Big Three at different ages (and showing pre-motherhood) in the same episode as the older counterpart. The makeup transition is not like the distracting examples above. (That is, it’s not absolutely awful.) Sure, the makeup team has an advantage in not trying to make the actress look like a well-known character. But let’s be clear: aging a thirty-year-old by at least three decades in episodes that also showcase her youthful glow is no small feat.
Take this season’s final Thanksgiving episode, “Taboo,” which chronicles newly engaged Rebecca and Jack, who hosted Rebecca’s WASPy parents in the 1970s, a meeting in 1999, and today’s celebration, that of the Alzheimer’s elephant is overshadowed in space. It’s an episode that focuses on complex mother-daughter relationships and highlights Moore’s range — and Moore must have had that range in three different decades spanning 50 years.
Rebecca’s contradictions can be seen in every era, like her desire to prove to her judgmental mother that she can be a domestic goddess while showing her independence. Dipping her toe back in the dating waters meets some resistance in the mid-timeline given that Jack had only died the year before and feelings for Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas), further complicate matters for the nearly 50-year-old mother do. Expectations fuel tension. And if you’re a fan of this show, you know that a holiday get-together is always going to spin the Pearson drama dial all the way up.
“It was a shock when dad died, wasn’t it? We all stood around trying to figure out our roles and how to proceed. And the only silver lining of this terrible disease is that I have the opportunity to make a plan to try and take some of the load off.”
At today’s Thanksgiving, being held at the family cabin, she makes her voice heard when it matters most. “It was a shock when dad died, wasn’t it? We all stood around trying to figure out our roles and how to proceed. And the only silver lining in this terrible disease is that I have the opportunity to make a plan and try to take some of the load off,” Rebecca begins. It’s a breakneck start to this monologue This is us excels — and why Kleenex might sponsor the show.
Instead of interrupting her three children actually Sit down and listen as she discovers why she chose Kate to make Rebecca’s decisions when the day comes when she can’t anymore. She goes on to detail her other desires for her, and damns this show for making me cry as I write this:
“Because of me you will not make your life smaller. What’s happening to me won’t hold you back. So take the risk. Take big steps, even if they are small steps. Push your life forward in whatever direction moves you.”
While I’m struggling to see the screen with blurry eyes, it’s because I can hear Moore’s tone of voice, which hits all the emotional notes. If she gets a nomination, “Taboo” will put her skills to the test by playing Rebecca’s strengths, insecurities, doubts and drives. Actors have won Emmys for playing multiple characters at once (think Tatiana Maslany in orphan black), but Moore’s understanding of the subtle changes in each era is also a marvel to behold.
It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter This is us is a network show in a sea of cable and streaming competitors, or that Moore has a past of pop music and cheesy YA movies. That may contradict the “prestige” factor (cue eye roll), but it’s more than proven. One of the most poignant moments of this season avoided a grumpy mood as Moore managed to keep our teary eyes throughout the song. “The Wedding Day” is as the episode title describes, but Kate’s second time down the aisle is broken up into manageable chunks to accommodate her mother’s health.
A slight time warp after the dissolution of Kate’s first marriage in the previous episode explains Rebecca’s downfall, including seeing Jack where Kevin is sitting. Rebecca’s lucidity comes and goes, so a scheduled performance of “The Forever Now” at Kate’s reception isn’t a sure thing. The original song contains a well-known piece This is us Score, which would be emotional enough, but then Moore starts singing and I turn into an ugly crying mess.
It’s far from the first time Moore has sung a song for a tearful tale (think “Only Hope” in An unforgettable walk), but the lower register she uses is a way of aging this character that goes beyond makeup and posture. After that episode aired, Sterling K. Brown took to Instagram to emphasize how when the ensemble works as a collective, “it’s just like the best music.” He then recognized Moore for her work on the show (“She Kills the Game, and She Deserves to Be Recognized”). It’s hardly unusual for a co-star to do so, but this call to arms to get his mother’s attention on screen is a rallying cry I’ll be happy to join.
Big scenes that leave everything on the field isn’t the only place the actress has excelled at this year. In the same wedding episode, flashbacks show how Rebecca had her hair cut back in the 1980s to emulate Princess Diana and break the monotony of her life. It’s a low stakes thread as opposed to the main story (which also gives Jack’s mustache an origin story) but is still impactful.
And one of my favorite episodes from last season mixes humor with fear. In “Saturday in the Park,” Rebecca gets sloppily drunk on her anniversary with Jack, illustrating Moore’s comedic timing as he deals with a crisis in the present when Kate’s visually impaired young son goes for a walk in the park unsupervised.
Laughter and crying are two This is us Staples, and that reminds me of a moment in season two that never left me. When Rebecca learns that Jack is dead, she bites into the candy bar she just bought from the hospital vending machine. That moment haunts them, and weird little details like this make Fogelman’s series rise above its whiny reputation.
OK, yes, I mentioned the crying several Mal, so I’m not helping to dispel that notion. In 60 seconds she goes from denial to uncontrollable grief at the sight of Jack’s lifeless body, but I still think about that bite. The final season is full of life events big and small that contribute to all the worry and laugh lines on Rebecca’s face. The magic of makeup sculpts the lines on Moore’s face, but my tears are real — and so are Moore’s Emmy chances.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/mandy-moores-this-is-us-performance-deserves-some-respect-and-an-emmy?source=articles&via=rss Mandy Moore’s “This Is Us” performance deserves respect and an Emmy