This Is Us' Sterling K. Brown Breaks Down Randall's Meltdown, Reflects on His Own Mental Self-Care
Sterling K. Brown tells PEOPLE he attends therapy "with regularity" and "has no shame in saying so"
WARNING: This post contains spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us.
This Is Us took fans through one “Hell of a Week,” starting with Randall Pearson, for the first of three episodes focused on the Big Three.
After returning home from Los Angeles, where he helped matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore) with her mild cognitive impairment behind his siblings’ back, Randall was confronted with a break-in at his Philadelphia home while his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their daughters were sound asleep upstairs. Then, in the following days, the aftermath of the burglary heavily affected Randall’s mental well-being, specifically his anxiety and panic attacks, as the councilman’s psyche unraveled due to stress and a debilitating desire to be perfect at all times.
Core memories from Randall’s childhood and adolescence dove deeper into how he has deflected his traumas. Speaking to PEOPLE, Sterling K. Brown breaks down his character’s meltdown and unabashedly opens up about his own self-care — something his on-screen persona arguably should take note of.
“For Randall, this is a period of time in which things are mounting. The break-in and his mom’s health happening at the same time are a lot. It’s a lot,” says the Emmy-winning actor. “And then Rebecca asking him to keep that information to himself — recognizing that he has a brother and sister who could be of assistance but he’s asked to shoulder the burden by himself — unconsciously, I don’t think Rebecca intended for him to shoulder. When you think there is a perfect way to be and you find yourself falling short of that way, it’s depressing. I think Randall is sort of trying to struggle through that depression right now.”
Brown, 43, also explains why his character is “a bit of a control freak,” a quality that has made Randall too proud to seek help, even after Beth and Darnell (Omar Epps) advise him to speak with a professional.
“Randall has always struck me as the kind of guy who’s sort of an open book. He’s fairly emotional, he has no shame associated with sharing his feelings or whatnot. But if you pay close attention to it, it’s usually on terms in which he is able to be in control,” the Rhythm Section star says. “While he is emotional, he’s also a bit of a control freak. So the idea of sharing his emotions on someone else’s terms, who’s driving the car and dictating where we’re going, is something that he’s not 100 percent comfortable with.”
And Brown reminds fans of Randall’s upbringing, especially being raised by dad Jack (Milo Ventimiglia).
“Randall is a black man, but he’s socialized quite differently than the majority of black men in that he was raised by a white family, but he was raised by Jack Pearson. And if anybody plays something close to the vest, it’s good ole Jack, right?” he recalls. “Jack, who did not tell his family that they had an uncle that was still alive, and did not recount any of the things that happened from the war. That was [Randall’s] primary male example of how to deal with trauma and personal problems.”
Similarly, Randall has bottled up the emotional shock of Jack’s death. “The fear that he lived with as a teenager and in college — being exacerbated by the fire and the loss of his dad — there’s a baseline level of fear that we’ve seen in Randall from the beginning,” Brown says.
From missing a session of grief group in college to only confiding in his brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) during emergency situations, Randall has avoided seeking help. In the meantime, he uses running as a coping mechanism and literally runs away from his problems.
“With running, he finds a way to get the endorphins going and get the frustration out by just exhausting his body so that he can’t hold onto the anxiety anymore. With this home invasion — this incredible violation of his safety — and with the failing health or the possible failing health of his mother, there’s a tipping point that we’re reaching that seems as if this running doesn’t work the same way in which it used to, as evidence of the fact that he wound up pummeling a man,” Brown points out. “And not that he’s a poor defenseless man, the man was trying to mug somebody, but did he really need to beat the crap out of him? Probably not. I think in that particular moment when he beat that man, he was just sick and tired of being scared and he just let all of that stuff out.”
The Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts star also notes that Randall’s running has ironically become an unhealthy habit.
“He has fallen into a bit of, not a trap, but a routine. When he finds himself getting anxious or a panic attack coming, he knows that he can run and he knows that running soothes him. It allows him to get out the excess energy and allows him to feel the endorphin rush,” Brown says. “He’s able to settle himself in a way that he can continue forward with his life. It sort of kept him from seeking help outside of himself that might have even been more beneficial, if he had taken the time to explore it.”
So what would Brown recommend if he were in Randall’s shoes?
“Me, who attends therapy with regularity and has no shame in saying so, hopes that Randall is able to let go of whatever it is that’s keeping him from moving forward and recognize that there are benefits in talking to someone about what’s going on in your life,” he says.
“It’s nice to be able to take care of yourself when you need to. It’s nice to be able to have things that you can go to in a pinch that help to soothe you, but that shouldn’t mean that you can’t also explore help from a professional. What I’ve found in my own personal life by seeking therapy is that it doesn’t diminish me in any way,” the father of two continues. “You know how to take care of yourself in one particular way that has served you to this point in life. Now, be open to the possibility of learning new ways of self-care that may expand you. Therapy doesn’t diminish you in any way. It can only expand your arsenal, your tools for living your best life.”
In the end, Brown says the biggest takeaway from the episode is to do the opposite of his character.
“What I hope is that no one’s ego is so big that they don’t think that they can explore help outside of themselves,” he urges. “Randall would be able to find out that he’s not the only person living with [anxiety]. They are strategies and groups that he can connect with so he doesn’t feel so isolated.”
Brown adds, “It’s very difficult to be the healthiest version of yourself by yourself.”
Off-screen, the star helps people find community through his series Survivorship Today with the goal to aid many in calling attention to their personal triumphs and challenges after being affected by cancer.
“I believe that self-reliance is a wonderful trick — and is frequently a virtue. The times of which it is a vice are the times it keeps you from seeking outside help and from feeling like you have to endure whatever it is you’re enduring by yourself. In the case of Randall, his anxiety, and in the case of Survivorship Today, living with cancer,” Brown says. “There’s a wonderful reminder in that there are other people who are living with the same things you are.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.