‘This Is Us’ Star, Susan Kelechi Watson, Talks Beth’s Backstory, Working with Phylicia Rashad, and Voiding Out Any Stereotypes on ‘What It’s Like’ Growing Up In The Black Household

We caught up with This Is Us star, Susan Kelechi Watson, to get the tea on her life and how she helped to give us a closer look at the character that we’ve all known and grown to love.

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This Is Us - Season 3

Creator: NBC, NBC, Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC Copyright:2018 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

If you had a chance to tune into last night’s latest episode of NBC’s, This Is Us, then you got a chance to witness magic in the making. The episode finally gives us a closer look at the backstory of Beth’s character who is played by the lovely and ever so talented, Susan Kelechi Watson. It also co-stars the legendary, Phylicia Rashad, who is best known for her iconic role as Claire Huxtable on the barrier-breaking, black American family sitcom, The Cosby Show.

Rashad graces our screens with an unforgettable performance as Beth’s no-nonsense mother in relation to a younger, more soft-spoken and dream chasing version of Beth (someone we all may have been able to relate to at one point or another), who was brilliantly played by, Rachel Hilson.

We caught up with This Is Us star, Susan Kelechi Watson, to get the tea on her life and how she helped to give us a closer look at the character that we’ve all known and grown to love.

What is one show that you make sure NOT to miss?

Game of Thrones

Why?

Because it’s Game of Thrones (laughs) Have you seen the dragon?? Holy moly that show is so good man. It’s great. It’s like ‘cinema’, you know what I mean? You know what I really like about it? I think we do this on our show too. They really presume that their audience is smart. The show is from the position of…’you’re smart, you get it, we’re not gonna’ like, ‘spoon feed’ this to you, pick up the pace, let’s go”. That’s what I like about it.

What’s a book you’re reading right now or that you just finished?

I don’t read (laughs). But the book that I want to hear on audiobook is Michelle Obama’s, Becoming. One that I just finished was Trevor Noah’s Autobiography which was really good because his story was so surprising. He comes from this really challenging background and yet you wouldn’t even know it based on the position that he’s in now. It makes what he brings to The Daily Show and to his comedy so much richer. Knowing his background and what he’s persevered through is very inspiring.

What’s your best exercise tip?

Do it at least 3 times a week. I do yoga and I dance.

Do you do Hot Yoga?
No, Ma’am. (laughs)

Have you tried it?

Yes, Ma’am. (shakes head and laughs)

A recent purchase that you’ve made?

I got a Mercedes. I treated myself (laughs). But I like about it most is the color. It’s like this amazing Pinot Noir color.

What was the most challenging scene that you’ve done so far for this season?

It was definitely the scenes with Phylicia for this episode.. because I had to adjust certain things. I was just learning certain things about her background and the struggle that she has with her mother in terms of not being able to really speak up and umm…I guess people perceive Beth as being very strong, open, and able to speak her mind, but when she’s around her mom she’s not the same.

You had to kind of switch gears a little bit then huh?

Yes exactly.

So what was the most fun scene that you’ve done for this season?

Ahhh (laughs) that’s good. We do quite a few…fun ones. There was one really fun one today that was with Ron Cephas Jones, Justin Hartley, and Sterling K. Brown and I just love being with those guys. When they get together they just have a GOOD time. Like you just have to like roll camera (laughs). Just get what you get (laughs) because they have a good time.

What is it like for you to know that there are SO many Black Americans that are just as invested in your relationship on set and on camera, as they were with a family such as “The Huxtables”?

I don’t think that I can fully WRAP my brain around that whole concept. So I take it kind of day by day, episode by episode, and as feedback comes. What I’m HOPING to do is be an authentic Black woman on screen. Whatever that looks like, to void out any stereotypes. I’m hoping that we illuminate what it is “like” to be in a black household. How normal that is, how functional that is, and can be, and that eventually, that doesn’t seem like some kind of ‘abnormal’ thing— eventually people just see that as what is ‘every day’ because that’s what it was for me and for so many other Black Americans. So I’m HAPPY that we get a chance to do that.  

Do you get a chance to go into the writer’s room and contribute? Do you get a chance to say ‘this is not what Black women say’, you know, etc.?

Well, you know what, we have black women in the writer’s room. So WE covered, yeah we’re covered (laughs). The writers’ room is very diverse so we have that.

We’re about to see Beth’s backstory tonight..so is it what you imagined? How have you changed who she is?

Well you know, interestingly enough, as you say it there are general things that I thought that I would see would happen in Beth’s life. Like I felt like she was a bit more creative— there was a scene when Ron and I did pot brownies in the basement and we came out on the lawn and we were like talking and she was like ‘I wanted to be this Bohemian woman artist’ you know? So I thought maybe she had this artist background and like before she got married she probably really wanted to be out there and kind of create something. Then I felt that the part about her being Jamaican came from them asking ‘well what do you think her background is? we feel like she’s Caribbean in some way’ and I was like well I’m Jamaican. So that’s how that came about. And they did really diligent casting in trying to find a Jamaican man to play my father. But everything else was like…the blanks were filled in by them and I kind of had this elusive idea of who she was and was just creating her and being able to build her every episode. The dance background is interesting because I do have a dance background and I grew up dancing. I’ve danced up until yesterday (laughs), but the person who wrote it, Eboni, she does have a dance background, so a lot of it was her story and how things fell out with her. So a lot of it was incorporated into this story which was lovely because a lot of the same things that happened to her had also happened to me.

What was it like working with Phylicia Rashad?

Well, you know, two things happened. You immediately realize, ‘ok now we’re acting together…we’re peers’ and then you also go ‘and now I’m going to watch and learn from you’ (laughs). So two things happened at the same time (laughs).

What was your reaction when you learned you were going to be working with Phylicia?

Well, I would scream, but that would be a bit much in here (laughs). But that was my reaction.

What is something that you picked up from her by working with her?

First of all, Phylicia never needs to look at a set of slides, which is the little small script that they give us. She’s just ready. She stays ready. Also, there’s a level of focus and concentration that she has where she just finds a way to enter into the work and be authentic and true in that moment. That is really something to admire.

As you look further down the road into your career, what is a specific role that you see yourself playing?

I want to play either some kind of superhero or some kind of African Queen. Like a ‘period’ piece in that way. So those are the two things I see. Then comedy wise: I love comedy and I love doing comedy and so I would love to do like a ‘buddy cop’ film or romantic comedy, so those are the four things that I see in my head.

This Is Us airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on NBC.

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