This Is Us’ Mandy Moore is secretly the best actor on TV – why aren’t people talking about her?

Mandy Moore as Rebecca in ‘This Is Us’  (NBC)
Mandy Moore as Rebecca in ‘This Is Us’ (NBC)

After 106 episodes, six seasons and gallons’ worth of shed tears worldwide, This Is Us is coming to an end. Since its debut in 2016, the timeline-twisting, heartstrings-pulling family drama has been a ratings and critical hit. As well as making stars out of the actors playing its central siblings – Sterling K Brown, Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz – the show has been praised for its considered portrayal of grief, transracial adoption and mental health, and has the awards to show for it (four Emmys, two SAG Awards and a Golden Globe). Yet there’s an element of This Is Us that is often overlooked, and long overdue for recognition: one-time pop star turned actor and singer-songwriter Mandy Moore, who gives the performance of a lifetime as family matriarch Rebecca Pearson.

This Is Us tells the long, decades-hopping story of the Pearsons, a family originally comprised of married couple Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca, and their three children: twins Kevin (Hartley) and Kate (Metz), and adopted Randall (Brown), who was born on the same day and abandoned in the same hospital. After Jack’s sudden death in the late 1990s when the children are 18, the family are forced to reconsider their steady plans and adapt to a world without him. When we meet them in the pilot episode, it’s the mid-2010s and the “Big Three” are all grown up, celebrating their joint 36th birthdays. Through flashbacks, the audience sees the ways in which their lives have moved on since their loss, and how Jack’s death ended up shaping their respective adulthoods.

With most of the series taking place when the triplets are grown, Moore spends a large portion of This Is Us playing their mother as an older woman, complete with grey hair, neck wrinkles and liver spots. Concept-wise, it’s a big swing: how convincing could Moore – who is incidentally the youngest actor of the main adult cast – truly be as a woman in her sixties and beyond? Yet viewers learnt early on that this was no ill-conceived gimmick. Moore was 32 when the series premiered, and though her first appearance in aged makeup was a surprise, more surprising still was her ability to make us believe that she’s a mother of three adults, and grandmother of two youngsters.

Rather than caricaturing age with a hunched back and croaking voice, Moore is subtle and effective. Her movements are slow and delicate, while her speech patterns evoke warmth and emotional stability. Her transformation has always been taken seriously, to the extent that you imagine her character as aged by default, no matter how familiar you are with Moore outside of the show. The combination of great makeup and great writing can only go so far; it’s Moore’s deep commitment to the role that has made the show’s use of multiple timelines a success.

When she was cast in This Is Us, Moore hadn’t made an album in several years and was in need of an acting win. Despite having popular projects such as A Walk to Remember, The Princess Diaries and Tangled under her belt, she’d found herself at a standstill when it came to Hollywood. As well as this, she was nearing the end of her marriage to musician Ryan Adams, who she claimed was “psychologically abusive” towards her (Adams later apologised for “mistreating people” in his life and career, but has not responded to Moore’s specific allegations). Talking about her life just before scooping the role of Rebecca, Moore admitted to feeling dejected after filming pilots for proposed TV shows for four years in a row without success.

“Some came close to getting picked up but it never happened,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2021. “So I was starting to question if I should be in this acting game anymore at all… Did I have my moment in the sun and maybe I should go back to school? Maybe just turn back to music full-time? I was very lost.” Perhaps the fact that Rebecca came into Moore’s life at the right time has made her portrayal feel that much more special.

Despite being the character with the least amount of screen time in the pilot, Rebecca has over the course of the series been revealed as the heart of This Is Us. Like many maternal roles in film and TV, Rebecca has been the show’s quiet constant, her family taking centre stage while she supports them from the sidelines. For a lesser performer, this may have translated as being forgettable, easily fading into the background. Yet by fleshing out her character as a whole person, complete with dreams and desires of her own, Moore makes Rebecca a quiet force. As an actor, she is guaranteed to bring depth or lightness wherever it’s required.

Mandy Moore as younger Rebecca Pearson in ‘This is Us’ (NBC)
Mandy Moore as younger Rebecca Pearson in ‘This is Us’ (NBC)

Outside of her aged-up scenes, Moore has given some of the series’ most powerful acting performances while looking simply like herself. One of the best examples of this takes place in season two episode “Super Bowl Sunday”, where Jack suffers a heart attack and dies after a house fire. When Rebecca is told the news by a doctor, her initial reaction is bewildered denial. She charges into Jack’s hospital room to see the truth for herself. With her husband’s body on the bed in front of her, Rebecca freezes in place. Her face flickers between several emotions before she finally breaks down and falls to the floor. Moore’s display of total, instant heartbreak is gutting, and stays with you long after the episode ends.

Towards the end of the series, elder Rebecca is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It begins as not being able to remember the occasional word mid-sentence. It then develops into Rebecca forgetting the names of family members and mistaking her adult son Kevin for Jack, long after he’d passed away. Moore’s care in showing the devastation of losing mental and physical faculties gives the other characters the fuel to react, strengthening the cast as a whole. While getting the pain of the situation across is a group effort, it wouldn’t have been possible without a completely convincing performance to inspire it.

The series’ final episodes have been a reminder of just how great the show has been as a whole. This current season has been a celebration of the characters’ journeys, and a cathartic conclusion to a family tale spanning generations. Though it’s made up of many parts, This Is Us wouldn’t have been the same show without Moore’s consistently stellar work. She’s yet to receive any awards for her acting, but it will be a tremendous oversight if the next cycle of ceremonies counts her out. True, some have dismissed the show as being too soapy or melodramatic. But to underestimate it, and Moore, is to miss out on one of the best acting performances in the past 10 years.