“I have a weird sociological interest in the culture of people wanting to spoil things for themselves. I don’t know why people want to do it. I know why people want to do it for others when they’re trolling, but when people are just trying to get the information, as opposed to interacting with the story and the art, it fascinates me,” Sullivan explains. “If I told you right now how Jack dies and you put it in this article, no one would be happy to have that information. I’m just obsessed with people’s obsession with it. It’s also kind of ridiculous imagining someone cheering that scene.”
When it comes down to it, there is a bit of a love-hate that comes with navigating the Jack mystery for Sullivan and his castmates. “When it comes to engaging over the storyline, the most important thing about this [is] not how this show makes you feel, but why does this show make you feel?” he says. “There’s a difference between having feelings and taking a minute to wonder why you’re having these feelings, because feelings are information, they’re data. It’s information about what people are connecting with, about why they are connecting with it, about what they want to see right now, what they want to feel right now that they can’t feel in other places and exploring all of that is not only fascinating, but important.”
What sets This Is Us apart from other family dramas is its fearlessness in shifting the conversation when it comes to handling difficult subject matter like anxiety, adoption and overcoming loss. Asked what Toby’s journey sheds light on that hasn’t previously been a prime focus on TV, Sullivan points to his character’s attempt at “processing depression,” which was briefly touched upon in season one.
“I don’t think it’s about battling depression. I don’t think it’s about avoiding negative feelings or not being sad, it’s about acknowledging those feelings and recognizing them and moving through them,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll see a little more of his backstory and you’ll see a character who navigates that with differing levels of success at different points in his life.”
“We have a perception of being alone in those feelings or being the only person who knows what it is to feel that or the only person who knows what it is to experience that, and This Is Us is saying to everyone who watches: You are alone in nothing and we are all experiencing this life together.”
This Is Us premieres season two on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.