SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Train,” they May 17 episode of “This Is Us.”
The focus of Tuesday’s penultimate episode of “This Is Us” was on the long-dreaded death of Mandy Moore’s Rebecca Pearson and the tearjerking bedside goodbyes from her children Kate (Chrissy Metz), Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley). But the hour managed to feature a few truly bright spots amid the undeniable heartbreak. One of those, aside from seeing Rebecca reunited with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) in the afterlife in the final moments, was the return of Randall’s biological father William Hill (Ron Cephas Jones), or rather an imagined version of him.
Rebecca saw William in her mind’e eye as her guide on the imaginary train in her mind, acting as the person who brought her back to the caboose in a nod to the start of the sixth and final season and the end of Rebecca’s metaphorical line.
Jones spoke with Variety about returning to “This Is Us” in his fan-favorite role for the NBC drama’s second-to-last episode and why William was the one to help Rebecca, the adoptive mother of his son, pass on in a peaceful manner following her battle with Alzheimer’s.
What was it like coming back one more time so that William could lead Rebecca into the afterlife?
The interesting part is that Mandy and I didn’t have many scenes together at all. It was just projected. She did have scenes with the younger me, played by Jermel Nakia. We had one scene where she confronts me, where she find out I’m there living with Randall and she comes into the bedroom and lays down the law in regards to not letting him know that she knew. And then when he finds out at the Christmas dinner table that all along she knew, and that disrupted his relationship with her. So it was tumultuous at the least. But at the same time, that initial bond that William and Rebecca created, that was a sacred bond where she came over to visit me and we made a decision to be able to have me in his life. And then she decided not to let that happen and I honored her wishes until Randall came and found me. So it was really beautiful, hauntingly beautiful, I would they way they had written him in with the last days of Rebecca and being her guide to the train and to her last moments. It was William, but it was sort of a hauntingly, ghostly, sort of spiritual layer that I was hoping that you’ll see that was put in. You feel like you see that it’s William, but there’s something a little different about his demeanor, which was really indicative of the fact that he’s in this place that’s in between the hereafter. The two words that I keep describing it all is hauntingly beautiful.
What was the final scene you had playing William?
At the end, the caboose, which signifies the end, it’s when William is right there. And he has this beautiful little monologue where you see William’s face light up with this idea that the end is sort of the beginning. And that’s kind of what the monologue is about, just that endings can be beautiful. If you accept them for what they are, they’re not always sad, they can be very beautiful. It’s these little pieces of him throughout the episode, where you feel so much of William without him saying much. It was all very visual and beautiful, almost like a silent movie, in some ways.
This interview has been edited and condensed.