This is Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz). Even as a child, Kate knew she looked different from her mother (Mandy Moore) and the other girls at school. As an overweight adult, she went to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.
This is Toby (Chris Sullivan). At that OA meeting, Toby asked Kate out. It’s been a whirlwind year for Kate and Toby, including plans for gastric bypass surgery, Toby’s heart attack (which he thankfully survived), a marriage proposal, and Kate’s dreams of becoming a singer.
This Is Us returns for a second season to explore the Pearson family through the years. Kate “introduced” Toby to her father Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) early in their relationship. Kate keeps Jack’s urn at home, but still hasn’t revealed how he died or why she blames herself for it.
Sullivan spoke with Rotten Tomatoes before the season premiere of This Is Us. And if you didn’t recognize him in this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, you’ll certainly remember his name: Taserface. Ha ha ha ha!
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Where are Kate and Toby at the beginning of the season?
Chris Sullivan: Kate and Toby are moving in together, and we find them back in Los Angeles. Kate sets out in her pursuit of her love of singing.
RT: What fun things change when they live together?
Sullivan: Her relationship with her family obviously becomes more in the foreground. The things that might take a while to come to the surface as far as people’s idiosyncrasies and the way they like to go navigate their life certainly come to the surface quicker when people are living together.
RT: What is relocating doing for Toby?
Sullivan: Toby briefly mentioned in season 1 that he’s an IT guy. He works in IT so his skill set travels pretty well. He’s not out of work by any means.
RT: If Toby and Kate are both in L.A., is Kevin more involved in their lives?
Sullivan: Yeah, Kevin’s around a bunch. It’ll be interesting to watch the dynamic in a romantic relationship as it navigates participating in long running close knit family ties.
RT: Toby had one night hanging out with Kevin last year. Do Toby and Kevin get along long-term?
Sullivan: Yeah, as far as I know. Justin [Hartley] and I are actually trying to get our own spin-off, kind of like a buddy cop movie with Kevin and Toby. We haven’t started writing it yet.
RT: Are Toby and Kate making wedding plans?
Sullivan: I don’t know. I guess that’s a question for the writers. They’re definitely moving forward in their relationship, and they’re still engaged, so yeah.
RT: Kate hasn’t said why she feels responsible for Jack’s death. Does she explain that early in season 2?
Sullivan: Yeah, you’re going to get some answers as to what all went down there, but I imagine they will stretch out a little bit until you get a complete picture.
RT: Does Toby agree with her?
Sullivan: I don’t know. That conversation hasn’t been had yet. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out. These are very interesting angles at getting at Jack’s death. What do you think that sociological phenomenon is, people wanting to get ahead of the actual thing when it comes to spoilers? It’s an interesting want that probably 90 percent of people don’t actually want. If we came out and said how Jack died, that would ruin everything for everybody. It’s just an interesting phenomenon that has only kind of popped up in our film- and TV-going society. When do you think that all started?
RT: Probably with Lost.
Sullivan: I guess because Lost was really one of the first things that people were actually streaming online as well as watching on TV.
RT: It may be people just want to find out if their theory is right.
Sullivan: Sure, so it’s a little bit of a competition, a little bit ego driven.
RT: Or, it could be now that they know Jack has died, they don’t feel the “how” is as much of a spoiler.
Sullivan: Right. The how is so important. It affects everyone else’s lives. We could theorize all day.
RT: Does Toby have a lot more good one-liners this year?
Sullivan: Yes. I guess the ever-delicate game between myself and the writers is for them to keep giving Toby good one-liners and for me to attempt to make them feel like they’re not one-liners. There is great spiritual relief in laughter and in comedy, but I do not want Toby to be viewed as a clown. It is a delicate line to walk.
RT: Is the weight-loss story continuing?
Sullivan: Yeah, I think that will be a constant struggle for the two of them individually and as a third character in their relationship. It’s interesting when people in a couple have a common goal and the two individuals have varied success or staggered success with that goal.
RT: How do you relate to that story?
Sullivan: It’s interesting when a couple sets a certain couple goal. It’s interesting because you are still individual and you are still navigating this goal individually, but when you set out together to do it with another person, it can get tricky. As far as being healthy, my wife and I, now that we live out here in California, there’s all kinds of healthy foods to eat and things to do. We’re trying to participate in all those things. I think doing that is one of the many ways that you can develop a strong relationship or a stronger relationship. We’ll see if it works out for the two of them.
RT: Will we start to see Toby’s past?
Sullivan: I hope so. I think it would be helpful. I mean, it would be helpful for me and it would be kind of helpful for the audience to have a better explanation of the past groundwork that makes Toby the person that he is today
RT: What was the last year like for you as This Is Us got discovered?
Sullivan: The changes as far as my daily life goes aren’t probably terribly noticeable. If, once in while, somebody on the street recognizes you and expresses their gratitude for the project and for the show, it’s pretty normal. I got a new Subaru Forester so that’s pretty sweet. I’m not bragging or anything.
RT: What has this summer been like for you as Taserface in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2?
Sullivan: I’ve had a chance to start going to comic conventions and have a chance to meet the fans and really hang out and get to know those kinds of social circles. That’s been a lot of fun actually, not something that normally happens outside of the theater where you have intimate encounters en masse with fans of a project you’ve worked on.
RT: Do you have one or two memorable emotional stories from Comic-Con or This Is Us fans?
Sullivan: There’s one This Is Us story that sticks out to me which is a woman who’s just explaining her reaction to the show. She was turning to her husband and saying, “This is us. This is us. This is our story.” It hadn’t really occurred to me as we were shooting it what the title meant. The title is not just the title of the show but it is, I’m fairly certain, the general reaction that people have to watching the show: that they are represented and their lives are represented and the problems that they experience are represented and the struggle that they go through are represented. That was a game changer experience that a fan gave me in regards to the show.
I’ve only done a couple of these Comic-Cons, but I was in Nashville and this family of six came up, four kids and their parents came up. Their youngest son was kind of quiet. He put his head down on the table and reached his hand out and put his hand on my hand. I didn’t think anything of it so the kids moved away from the table and the father said, “My son is autistic, and he never touches strangers. I’ve never seen him do that before.” It was a really powerful moment to just realize that this kid felt safe in this room. Whatever the vibe was in this room, it made him feel safe enough to reach out and connect with a stranger.
RT: Whenever I see you, you always have a lot of style with a hat and flashy outfits. How would you describe your style?
Sullivan: I feel if any of us take any of this too seriously, it all falls apart. So when it comes to style, ironically I’d have to call it diversionary. I just find it fun. I find it funny. The cosmic humor in a red carpet event is not lost on me. So I think if we aren’t having fun, then what’s the point? If you put me in the same black and gray suits that Sterling [K. Brown] and Justin pull off like James Bond, I just look like a tinker.
This Is Us returns Tuesday, September 25 at 9 p.m. on NBC.