This week’s This Is Us staged the mother of all showdowns between Beth and Malik’s mom, and get this: You didn’t see the worst of it.
“The take [viewers] saw was muted,” reveals Sterling K. Brown of the emotionally-charged dinner table sequence, which climaxed with Susan Kelechi Watson and Marsha Stephanie Blake’s characters nearly coming to blows over the burgeoning romance between their respective children, Deja and Malik. “We had some takes where you can see the Vaseline running down Susan’s face.
“We went there,” Brown says, before adding with a laugh, “And then [the producers] are like, ‘OK, let’s use one that is maybe a bit softer.'”
Concedes Watson: “It got very confrontational… It was a long, emotional day.”
Given the racial and class complexities at the heart of the scene, series creator Dan Fogelman acknowledges that he did not want the tone to become too incendiary. “We were one step away from [Watson and Blake] throwing down in the middle of the dining room, [so] you can’t be too careful,” he concedes. “These are real, flawed characters, and we’re dealing with race and I’m a white dude. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking anything too far.”
As a result, he leaned heavily on Kay Oyegun, the episode’s African-American writer, who signed off on the final cut. “I think one of the knee-jerk [instincts] is to either paint black people as ‘villain’ or ‘saint,'” opines Oyegun, who also serves as a producer on the NBC drama. “One of the things we always strive to do is play it like [real life]. So in that moment [Watson and Blake] were just being who they were. I didn’t [see a need] to sanitize it.”