EXCLUSIVE: Gerald McRaney Breaks Down Dr. K's 3 Biggest 'This Is Us' Scenes
By Philiana Ng
Dr. K is the doctor we all want in our lives -- at least, that's how This Is Us'Gerald McRaney sees it.
On NBC's breakout hit, McRaney plays Dr. Nathan "Dr. K" Katowski, the endearingly sharp-witted obstetrician who delivers Kate and Kevin in 1980, and provides wisdom to their grief-stricken father, Jack, after breaking the news that a third child was stillborn. Dr. K's subsequent monologue, which many have affectionately referred to as "The Lemonade Speech," brought McRaney's character to the forefront as one of the show's most beloved characters -- despite appearing in less than a third of the episodes.
“It didn’t come as a surprise," McRaney told ET of his character's immediate impact. "I sort of felt that way about the character when I first read the pilot script because he’s the kind of doctor that everybody wishes they had, and that kind of father figure for the show, especially for Milo [Ventimiglia]’s character [Jack]. He works as the Greek chorus for the piece; he states the argument for the series -- that this is going to be a show about good people who have adversity and deal with it the best way they can.”
As the 69-year-old veteran actor vies for his first Emmy nomination ever in his storied five-decade career -- he'll compete for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, and could also break through for his guest turn on House of Cards -- McRaney breaks down his three biggest scenes on This Is Us.
The Lemonade Speech
In what is arguably the series' most pivotal scene, Dr. K breaks the gut-wrenching news to Jack in the hospital hallway that he and his wife, Rebecca's, original plan of bringing home three healthy babies wasn't going to be, revealing that Jack and Rebecca lost the third baby in childbirth. But instead of leaving things with an air of hopelessness, Dr. K offers up wisdom that Jack holds onto and runs with, leading to the adoption of Randall and eventually passing it down to his children. That advice Dr. K gave to Jack? "You took the sourest lemons that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade."
“The only thing that was happening with me in terms of any universal goal about [the scene] was to share what I consider the dignity of being a human being that we all suffer these losses. The way that we deal with pain is what makes us or breaks us," McRaney detailed. "We have that choice: We can either deal with it in a positive way or we can give into it. And Dr. K, as it turns out, was very close to giving into it. I think his talking through this thing with Jack probably pulls him back from the brink. In my imagination, if I had to suffer a loss like that, if I had to lose my wife, I would very well come undone."
Later in the season, an entire episode leading up to that fateful day in the hospital "added meaning to the scene," McRaney said, sharing that he "seen quite a few lemons in my time." "I hope I've turned a few of them into lemonade."
The Great Beyond
Episode: "Last Christmas"
On Christmas Eve, the Pearsons unexpectedly bump into Dr. K, who was being looked after following a near-fatal car accident, after young Kate is admitted into the hospital for appendicitis. At the time, it seemed unclear if Dr. K was going to make it out OK (spoiler: he did) and that manifests itself in a deep conversation he has with Jack and Rebecca about his own mortality, sharing that he himself is "curious" about "the great beyond."
“That’s a healthy approach to all of life, including the end of it, that thing of ‘I wonder what’s around the corner. I wonder what’s over this next hill. Let’s go see,’ as opposed to dreading it, fearing it. It’s going to happen; might as well sit and behold the wonder of it all," McRaney said of that specific moment.
In that same episode, Randall gifts Dr. K a light-up snow globe as a thank you for nudging Jack into adopting him as a baby. "If at some point in your life, you find a way to show somebody else the same kindness that your parents showed you, that's all the present I'll need," Dr. K says. With the knowledge that Randall introduces the idea of adopting a child in the finale, was this moment the first seed was planted?
“It never occurred to me, other than just that general thing of trying to pass on what little wisdom we might have accumulated over the years to the next generation," McRaney explained. "We have to add some substance to civilization and I think that’s what the character of Dr. K is all about: Do this, do better than the generation before you. And I don’t mean slicker, faster, more adeptly, but add something to this. That’s ultimately what happens. If a generation really furiously can love itself a little bit more than the last generation did, I think we’ll be in much better shape.”
Episode: "The Big Day"
We know what happens when Rebecca and Jack arrive at the hospital, but this episode filled in the blanks on the hours that led up to Dr. K delivering Kevin and Kate. It's revealed that Dr. K is one year removed from the death of his wife and his son tries to tell his father to move on in a tension-filled scene in the doctor's kitchen at home. "Dr. K is undergoing a thing that is completely understandable: 'If I do let go, if I do move on, I’m being unfaithful to my wife.' You can’t turn that corner by someone else’s insisting that you turn that corner, because it’s like insisting that you just walk away from your dead wife and leave her there and move on and there’s a long, long time where that just isn’t right," McRaney said.
"I don’t think by the end of the episode that he has moved on. He may be taking the first little steps, he may be putting the toe in the water at moving on but that’s all he’s done," he added. "The thing that finally convinces him to begin the process is realizing what his wife would think of him for wallowing in this grief and that’s the only thing that brings him out of it -- not his son’s admonition, not anyone else’s admonition, but thinking about his wife saying, ‘Get on with it. Enough.’”