Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the “Still There” episode of This Is Us.
Toby might be in the dark about the poppy seed bun in his girlfriend’s oven, but Chris Sullivan isn’t. He’s thrilled that Season 2 of This Is Us might see his character becoming a dad. Or maybe not. He’s not spilling the beans on how this pregnancy will unfold, but he did speak exclusively with Yahoo Entertainment about when and how he learned about this plot development, how Toby might react if Kate reveals her secret, the status of their relationship, how intimidating it would be to live up to the memory of world’s greatest dad Jack Pearson, playing nurse to Justin Hartley, and his hopes and dreams for Toby to be given a family of his own.
So a big pregnancy bomb was dropped at the end of this episode. How and when did you find out this was where they were going with Toby and Kate?
This is my first time as a regular on a network drama. I’m slowly learning that we are involved in a very unique situation and that Dan Fogelman has set up a very elaborate, open, creative environment for everybody involved. At the beginning of [shooting] this season, they sat us all down and walked us through the big plot points that they expected to be writing for our characters. So Chrissy and I met with Isaac [Aptaker] and Elizabeth [Berger], our showrunners, and they walked us through the whole season. So we knew [about the pregnancy] before we even started shooting.
And what were your thoughts about this plot development?
I was excited. That’s a good storyline, right? That is ripe for all kinds of fun scenes to act out. So we’ll have to see what they have in store for us.
Let’s back up a step. There were a lot of growing pains for Toby and Kate in Season 1, a lot of breaking up and getting back together, getting engaged, almost dying. But now they are back in L.A., living together and seemingly happy. Where do you feel they are at the moment?
I think they are at a more honest spot. Maybe honest isn’t the right word. Maybe a bit more of a grounded spot than they were in Season 1. Obviously, they’re developing tighter bonds and [have been in] the relationship longer so all the things that go with that. They’re kind of getting past all the flirtations, the grand gestures, and the goofing around, and realizing that they’re going to have to get serious and face each other’s faults and demons in order to really bond as a couple. They are trying to figure out how their lives work together so there are still growing pains associated with that.
Clearly, there are still some bumps in the road though like navigating how often Kevin is around and how she still goes to him first or, as he mentioned this week, he felt like they were not connecting as much in the bedroom and how she seems more focused on all the exercising. Will those things be stumbling blocks to their success as a couple or will they work them out?
Nothing is inherently a stumbling block. It all depends on if you stumble over it or if they deal with it head on and together. So I think we’ll just have to wait and see how the writers see Toby and Kate handling these things and how well they kind of navigate them together. I can’t say much more than that.
Speaking of Kevin, it seems to me that someone realized after your character helped him find his way back to Sophie just how well you and Justin play off each other and the result of that chemistry has meant more scenes between the two of you, including you playing nurse to him this week. Have you enjoyed the increased relationship/screen time interactions between him and Toby? I myself enjoy the growing and humorous relationship between the two of you.
Yeah, I think two people who would most agree with you is Justin and I. We look forward to doing scenes together very much. He makes me laugh more than anybody on the show. He’s just an amazing actor. So I always look forward to getting to play with him. We’re trying to get some kind of spinoff going. Some kind of buddy cop web series for Toby and Kevin. Maybe in Season 4 Toby can become a showrunner on a TV show that Kevin’s the star of.
Can you tease how long Kate might keep this very big secret and how Toby will react if she ever does come clean? Do you think their relationship can handle such a big unplanned surprise? Is Toby ready to become a dad? Is Kate?
I can’t go into that too much without spoiling something. I think Toby, for better or for worse, shoots from the hip. He goes with his initial instinct and then walks it back from there. This would likely be no different. If and when she does tell him about the baby, I think the reaction would be huge. As far as being ready to be parents, I think they’re as ready as anybody ever is. I think they would be good parents.
Given how highly all the Pearson kids think of their dad, do you think there would be tremendous pressure on being a dad to one of their children?
True. But yeah it’s a lot to live up to, the idea of the Jack Pearson character. Even the audience is feeling that way like, “Look at this perfect guy.” Some people do that to Toby. This perfect boyfriend. I wish I had a boyfriend like that. But the point is that none of these characters are without flaw. The thing that makes them admirable characters is that they move toward their flaws and act to better themselves rather than ignore or deny them. But yes, his image and memory loom large.
And you just recently got Rebecca on your side.
I know. It’s always going to be rough with in-laws. It’s hard to break old bonds and to form new ones. Boundaries with your family are ever evolving and that can be tough for families to accept or get through.
If you could put a bug in the ear of the writers, what would you like to see Toby experience or do by the end of this season like Toby enters a wet T-shirt contest?
How did you guess exactly what I was going to say? I’d like to see a little more of his backstory. I’d like to see some scenes from his first marriage and how that experience might be affecting how he deals with his current relationship. I’d like to see his family. He mentioned a sister and a mom. He must have a dad, I’m assuming because if he didn’t, and he hasn’t said anything up to this point, that’d be kind of weird as a bonding point. But you never know with Dan Fogelman and his tricky, tricky ways. Sometimes where Toby lies right now, he can come off a little brash or a little insensitive. He’s definitely prone to his tantrums here and there. I think a little more backstory might help the audience bond with that character a little more.
That brings up an interesting point about how Toby is received by the audience. I know some viewers who just can’t stand him. How has that been playing a guy who is disliked by some of the audience pretty intensely?
Good. That means I’m doing something right. If everybody likes a character or everybody dislikes a character, then the character is not well-rounded and the performance is flat. People relate to these characters. When people say, I watch the show, and I cry, and I cry, that’s fine. But I want to know more about why you cry? Why are you laughing? Why do you like or dislike Toby? Why do you relate to Randall? Why does Kevin piss you off? The point of all art is to hold up a mirror to its audience and say, “OK, why do you believe this? Do you dislike this person because you see some of yourself in that person or you see some of your partner in that person? What is the part of this artistic endeavor that you’re relating to?” I think as long as people have feelings one way or another, I’m just fine with that. Then I’m secure that we are doing our jobs.
I think the success of a show can often be gauged by how much it makes people think and talk about it.
Exactly. People sit down and they know they’re going to feel something. My favorite people to talk to are the people who have told me that they don’t watch the show because they’ve heard how emotional it is. That fascinates me; that even a piece of art that you’ve never seen is making you feel something. It’s making you keep the show at a distance or making you ignore something that you’re feeling or that you don’t want to feel.
Season 1 was a tremendous success and Season 2 shows no signs of slowing down. Did you expect this when you read that first script? Did you expect the kind of fan devotion it has received?
There’s no way to call this. That’s Babe Ruth walking to the plate and pointing to the bleachers. The cast and I were talking about this over lunch the other day. It’s kind of the opposite feeling. I never had the feeling that this was a slam dunk but I was never worried. I never for a second had a doubt about any aspect of the show — not the storytelling, the direction, the performances, the editing, the music. Literally, there has not been one thing in this creative collaboration that I have had a second thought about or had a sideways glance at. I think that says a lot.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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