Spoiler warning: For those who haven’t seen the midseason premiere of This Is Us, key plot details are revealed below.
Though Chris Sullivan has known the fate of his This Is Us character Toby for weeks, the winter finale cliffhanger — on a show famous for twists — still left him a little nervous.
Or as he puts it, “No actor likes to see their character collapse in the middle of a crowded scene.”
Now that he can finally share Toby’s big news (He’s alive! And maybe engaged?!), the 36-year-old chatted with PEOPLE about how he handled keeping one of TV’s biggest secrets, how Toby will move forward after his near-death experience and that life-changing promise between his character and Kate (Chrissy Metz).
First off, how long were you left in suspense like the rest of us?
I didn’t have to wait as long as everybody else did, that’s for sure. I had been talking to [show creator] Dan [Fogelman] for a while, and so I had a little reassurance. But no actor likes to see their character collapse in the middle of a crowded scene.
What response did you get to Toby’s life hanging in the balance?
It’s really nice of Dan and the creative team to create a character that people are so attached to. Even last night, I was out having dinner, and my waitress, the last thing out of her mouth was, “Are you coming back?”
It’s such a huge episode for Toby and Kate: They share their first “I love you” and basically propose to each other. As they’re on the cusp of all these life changes, how can we expect their relationship to play out?
They both know that they’re drawn to each other, and I think a lot of times they don’t know what to do about that. A lot of decisions they make are based on this feeling that neither one of them can survive without the other. What we can expect in the next few episodes is them really trying to navigate and figure out the best ways to acknowledge those feelings.
How was the mood on set playing all these emotional moments?
Watching Chrissy Metz work is an extremely humbling and profound thing to do. We always know we’re in the pocket when we can get some tears back behind the monitors from the hardened directors and producers who’ve seen it all. We now strive for those moments.
Y’all must have a pool going over who has the biggest bucket of tears.
That’s actually how they’re paying us. Each actor is compensated based on how much they can make an audience cry. We’re all doing our best.
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You said a few months ago that Toby and Kate are a “healing force” for each other. Now we’ll get to see that play out quite literally. Can you go into what’s to come and how this might change their dynamic?
They get closer and their relationship becomes stronger. Joy and happiness don’t strengthen relationships — difficulty does. I recently heard someone make a metaphor: You can bang two pieces of metal together as much as you want, but it isn’t until you heat them up that they’ll stick and form a bond. Toby and Kate are beginning to heat up.
And perhaps Toby will angle for a little more hospital gurney sex since y’all were interrupted this episode?
[Laughs] And if he has to collapse again to get back into the hospital, then that’s what we have to do, you know?
So Toby and Kate aren’t officially engaged, but do you see them as having a big, finale wedding couple or eloping?
It could be anything — skydiving! I’m not sure Dan Fogelman even knows. We’ll just have to see.
Toby certainly has the Rat Pack style for a Las Vegas wedding.
That’s perfect. Take it to The Strip.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.