When Sterling K. Brown accepted the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work on NBC's breakout hit This Is Us, he gave a charming shout-out to his onscreen wife, Susan Kelechi Watson: "It's my pleasure to rep black love with you, sister," he said, beaming. "Let's keep doing it like Martin and Gina."
According to Watson, Brown's nod to a seminal TV couple of the '90s was actually more of an inside joke. It all started last year, when Watson found herself binge-watching reruns of Martin while filming the first season of This Is Us in Los Angeles.
"I couldn't understand why, but I was addicted to Martin all over again," Watson told MTV News. "I don't believe in coincidences, so I knew there had to be some reason why I was watching this show, and I realized that it was the relationship between Martin and Gina. I went to Sterling, and as we were shooting, I said, 'Sterling, if we come anywhere close to the dynamic that Martin and Gina created, I'm happy.'"
So far, they've succeeded. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) union may be at the center of This Is Us but, for me, Randall (Brown) and Beth (Watson) are actual relationship goals. A marriage is a partnership, and Randall and Beth work so well together because they treat each other like equals — and like Martin and Gina before them, they always have each other's backs. They are "perfectly imperfect," as viewers discovered during the heartwarming first season.
"I like that they're a team," Watson told me, "and they enjoy each other that way — not only as lovers and spouses but also as friends and teammates. It's like they have jerseys on, and sometimes, Beth is going to need Randall to put his jersey on and get in the game because she can't play all of the positions by herself."
It helps that Watson and Brown have palpable onscreen chemistry. There's an ease to their scenes together, and it's one of the reasons Beth and Randall seem so relatable. Watson credits their drama training at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where both she and Brown earned their MFA degrees.
When she first arrived in Los Angeles for her chemistry read with Brown, who had already landed the part of Randall Pearson in creator Dan Fogelman's then-unnamed family dramedy pilot, Watson felt a sense of familiarity, despite the fact that the NYU graduates had never shared a scene together prior to the audition. "We had a similar vocabulary in terms of how we work together," Watson explained. "That's a lot of what people see. We process things as actors in a similar way."
Clearly, Fogelman saw their spark, too. More than a year later, and This Is Us is NBC's no. 1 scripted series and one of the highest-rated shows on television. Two Emmys and an MTV Movie & TV Award don't hurt either. ("Craft services got really good this season," Watson quipped.) But the success of the show has helped put things into perspective for the actor, who after 14 years in the business, was nearly ready to call it quits and buy a one-way ticket to Montreal, Canada before This Is Us came along.
"A month before I booked This Is Us, I was like, 'Maybe I should move to Montreal and work in a coffee shop,'" she said. "I had friends who were praying for me. I was leaning on a support system to believe for me when I was finding it difficult to still believe the dream for myself."
Then, Watson said, an inner-shift happened (perhaps with a little help from her friends' positive energy). "All of the sudden I just believed again, like, I didn't come this far for it not to happen. I'm going to enjoy this again. It's the best thing I have to give. So I had to get my personal joy back, and then things started to change."
It was a personal crossroads not unlike the one Beth finds herself at in the second season of This Is Us. With Randall taking the reins as a stay-at-home dad, Beth heads back to work as an urban planner. Though Beth isn't a member of show's "big three" (played by Brown, Chrissy Metz, and Justin Hartley), she's every bit as integral to its success. After all, This Is Us connects with viewers because of its portrayal of everyday people wrestling with everything from workplace struggles to family conflict.
Season two of This Is Us opens with Beth and Randall at odds over adding a third child to their family through adoption. While it would be a full-circle moment for Randall, who was adopted by Jack and Rebecca, Beth isn't so onboard with Randall's idea. "She's not down with it," Watson said. "She doesn't agree." But that doesn't mean she's completely against it either.
"It's a lot of change for her family," she added.
The first season didn't dive into Beth's backstory much but season two will give viewers a chance to see more of Beth outside of the Pearson family. While Watson got to inject some of her own personality and cultural idiosyncrasies into the character, she's excited to explore even further this season.
"They don't mind feedback," Watson said of the writers' room. "They'll come in and check with me about certain things about my culture because Beth is Jamaican and I'm Jamaican-American. They ask questions. They're a curious group." Even costume designer Hala Bahmet is collaborating with Watson, pulling unique African prints for Beth's wardrobe that will showcase her artistic side.
"After a while," Watson said, "the person who knows the character best is you, the actor."
Now, she's excited that viewers will get to know Beth on a deeper level, too.