"It took a lot of guts for Deja not to be silent about what she wanted," Lyric Ross says of her This Is Us character
This Is Us has already presented some tense and awkward (even at times confrontational) dinners in season 4. And Lyric Ross, who plays Deja, tells PEOPLE that the mid-season finale’s Thanksgiving dinner is another memorable gathering for the Pearson family. (After all, Randall’s favorite holiday has been eventful these past seasons.)
Deja has invited her biological mother, Shauna, to Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson)’s home for the holiday after telling Beth about wanting to spend more time with Shauna. “It took a lot of guts for Deja not to be silent about what she wanted,” Ross, 16, says of her character, who was adopted by Randall and Beth, getting the courage to ask Beth about inviting Shauna. “I think it’s going to be great for Deja to have both people who equally love her. To have them in one house on Thanksgiving, that’s a great moment.”
Meanwhile across town in Bradford, Kevin (Justin Hartley) has also extended a dinner invitation to his and Randall’s uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne), who has little to no memories with the rest of the family since late patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) lied to them about his brother Nicky’s existence.
“I think it’s already awkward for Shauna. She’s definitely an outsider when it comes to the Pearson family. It’s even more awkward that Kevin is coming with Uncle Nicky, who are two new interesting guests to Shauna,” Ross says. “Shauna doesn’t know anyone else in the Pearson family but Tess, Annie, Randall and Beth. Shauna is pretty much being open to seeing Deja and is okay with going into this dinner as long as she sees her child. It’s going to impact Deja in showing her that Shauna does love her, misses her and cares for her like that.”
Fans last saw Shauna in flashbacks of Deja’s childhood during her unforgettable first date with her new boyfriend Malik (Asante Blackk), who took her on a special tour of his hometown of Philadelphia. After a contentious dinner between their parents last week, the families agreed on allowing Deja and Malik to only go on supervised dates.
“Of course, I find that annoying,” Ross laughs of her character’s predicament. “It’s funny because my mom would do the same exact thing so it was pretty easy to flow with everything that Deja was feeling. I’ve been through that before.”
The actress adds, “The parents pretty much know everything that’s going on, and they want to keep it that way to make sure nothing else happens. Malik understands that Randall and Beth are very protective over Deja so they’re setting boundaries for the relationship.”
Though Ross did not disclose whether Malik will meet Shauna soon, she did share why he gives Deja a sense of comfort. “Malik is that person who listens to her and she can talk to him about pretty much anything. Malik makes her feel like home,” she says. “I’m pretty sure that the only people who could make her feel like that are her mom and grandma. That was home to her.”
As Deja’s romance with Malik intensifies, the memories of her past could be further triggered. “We’ve only touched on certain things that Deja’s been through. We didn’t really go deep into what we could or can in her story,” Ross says of her character’s backstory. “We’ve already shown a decent amount of her strength, I’m excited to show more of what makes her happy. During her childhood with her mom, she hasn’t had a lot of time to just be a kid. For her to have even one day when she’s just being herself and having a good time, I want to see more of that.”
And Malik’s past may also be explored further with the introduction of his ex-girlfriend, who gave all parental rights of their daughter Janelle to him and his parents.
This Is Us‘ creator and showrunner Dan Fogelman recently told TVLine that Janelle’s mother could appear “potentially this season,” adding that the storyline will possibly be “less about” her relationship with Malik and “more about what it means from Deja’s point of view.” Fogelman even hinted: “She’s an ex-girlfriend who is the mother of his child — a child he spends all of his time and energy on. So it makes it complicated for [Deja].”
Ross tells PEOPLE that Deja meeting Janelle’s mother could be “a lot of mixed emotions.”
“I think Deja might be a little overwhelmed meeting the mother of Malik’s child. It’s not just because she’s the mother of Malik’s child but she has a history with him,” she says. “And for her to be connected to Malik because of their child, I would be confused if I was Deja. I think it’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions going on in her head.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.