What the cast of This Is Us was like before the fame

While there are still plenty of unanswered questions and cliffhangers to keep us hooked, we've gotten to know the Pearsons pretty well over three full seasons of This Is Us. Based on interviews with showrunners Dan Fogelman and Isaac Aptaker, Good Housekeeping predicts that the series may conclude after its sixth season. Say it isn't so! Of course, you can ignore the speculation and hope that the series pulls a Simpsons.

TBH, why can't we spend an eternity with the Big Three? After all, the show is not only a big deal for viewers, but for all of the actors involved. Many of the stars in the hit NBC drama have been propelled into next-level fame since joining the cast. This is true even of the actors you were able to recognize before watching the series premiere, who have since gone on to experience even more fame. But, aren't you curious to know what some of your favorite This Is Us stars were like prior to hitting it big? Keep on readin'.

Milo Ventimiglia

Fans of Gilmore Girls or Heroes might've originally had a hard time adjusting to seeing Milo Ventimiglia play a mustached father of three instead of the handsome rebel Jess Mariano or the gifted Peter Petrelli. But, now it's hard to picture him as anyone but the Jack Pearson on This Is Us.

Although we didn't get to know him until he was already an adult, Ventimiglia revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he was but 8 years old when he discovered he wanted to become an actor. "I remember watching the Academy Awards with my mom and dad as a kid and seeing the acting clips [and] thinking, 'That's what I want to do,'" he revealed. "But I didn't understand that it could be a career. I just knew I wanted to do it."

According to his biography, Ventimiglia went on to major in theater at the University of California in Los Angeles. His career in Hollywood began with small roles on — believe it or not — The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Mandy Moore

Prior to starring as Rebecca on This Is Us, Mandy Moore was already a household name. Though, not so much in the realm of television. Moore released her first album, So Real, in 1999 after touring with N'Sync and promoting her hit single "Candy." She was just 13 years old when she was discovered. In an interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Moore revealed that a FedEx employee overheard her recording a demo and gave it to someone at Sony Epic Records. While still in high school, Moore signed her first contract.

The singer would later go on to star in movies like The Princess Diaries and A Walk To Remember. Years afterward, she would voice the titular character in Disney's Tangled. While Moore is undeniably talented, she credits her fame to… cookies? When speaking with Jimmy Fallon, Moore revealed that she submitted an audition tape to sing the national anthem at an Orlando Magic game. Along with the tape, her mom "brought a plate of cookies." Moore added, "And I think that's what sealed the deal for me."

Jon Huertas

Ready to have your mind blown? Jon Huertas, who plays soft-spoken Miguel — Jack's friend and Rebecca's second husband — spent eight years in the Air Force prior to becoming an actor. He was both a nuclear weapons technician and a pararescue jumper. True story. Yet and still, his first love was acting.

"I wanted to be an actor since I was a small child," Huertas revealed in an interview with Air Education and Training Command. He continued, saying, "The Air Force helped me achieve [a career in acting] by allowing me to get an education, to study as much theater as I could, and eventually earn a degree in theater." Huertas also credits his years in the military with giving him the fortitude to stick with his passion. "The 'never quit' warrior mentality carried me through," he explained. "The character building also helped me, and I don't think I would be a working actor today without the Air Force."

Sterling K. Brown

It's almost as if the role of Randall was crafted specifically for Sterling K. Brown. After all, isn't it impossible to picture anyone else portraying that character with the same depth and sense of humor? That said, Brown didn't always think he'd become an actor.

"When I first went to [Stanford University] I did not think theater was my route," Brown admitted to Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School Magazine. "I was an economics major." Say what, now? Brown revealed that he believed it to be the "safe" route. How very Randall of him. Brown further explained that he did well in college, but that his courses did not excite him. "My grades always improved every time I was onstage because I was doing something that fed my soul and allowed me to have joy with everything else that was transpiring in my life," he added. Thankfully, Brown gave himself permission to switch gears and pursued a degree in theater instead. 

Susan Kelechi Watson

Susan Kelechi Watson may have been unfamiliar to you before her portrayal of Beth Pearson on the NBC hit drama, but she'd actually been in the acting business for 14 years. Watson started out by obtaining a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts — the same school Sterling K. Brown ended up attending. After over a decade in the business, however, she had begun to lose her passion.

"A month before I booked This Is Us, I was like, 'Maybe I should move to Montreal and work in a coffee shop,'" she told MTV News. "I had friends who were praying for me. I was leaning on a support system to believe for me when I was finding it difficult to still believe the dream for myself." Not long before she landed the part of badass Beth, she said she started believing in herself again and got her "personal joy back."

Eris Baker

Eris Baker has been portraying Tess Pearson, Randall and Beth's daughter, with finesse since Season 1. This is pretty incredible given that it's her first acting role. It's even more surprising when you consider that Baker originally thought she wasn't going to get the part. "I went [into the audition], I was starting really well, but I messed up," the young star recalled in an interview with People. "They were asking me to do it again and again and again." When Baker finally got through the audition, she said she collapsed in tears. "My mom had to hold me like I was 2 years old," she told the publication.

Despite feeling like she didn't give a good audition, she, of course, as we now know, got the role of Tess. She revealed, "My parents actually waited until Christmas to tell me that I got the part, so that was one of the best Christmas gifts I got." That is probably a hard present to top.

Faithe Herman

Faithe Herman may have a relatively small part on This Is Us, but this little one packs a big punch. Before starring as Beth and Randall's youngest daughter Annie, Herman had already been pursuing acting for several years. "On my first audition, I didn't say anything," 11-year-old Herman told BuzzFeed in 2019. "Someone said 'How old are you?' and I put up six fingers. But I really got used to it and [now] I have so much fun and really love what I do."

The star said she's inspired by actress Yara Shahidi and looks to follow her example. "I like how she goes to college and is still able to work," she explained. "I wanna do that when I'm older because I love what I'm doing and I really love school and seeing my friends and hanging out with them." Herman also encourages her peers to "just go for it" if they want to pursue a career in acting.

Lyric Ross

Viewers weren't introduced to actress Lyric Ross until midway through the second season of This Is Us, but she's definitely now part of the Pearson clan. Ross first appears on the show as Randall and Beth's foster daughter — which happened to be a very emotional role. However, this wasn't Ross' first foray into acting. As Entertainment Weekly reported, the teen had previously guest-starred on both Chicago Fire and Sirens. Nevertheless, her role as Deja is a big deal, especially considering she went from a series regular in Season 2 to a full-time star in Season 3.

Before landing her iconic role and even before becoming an actress, Ross has said that she'd nearly always wanted to have a career in Hollywood. In an interview with Entertainment Today, Ross revealed that she discovered that about herself when she was "very young." She recalled spending time memorizing lines and play-acting. When asked to guess just how young she was, Ross replied, "Probably not even two." Well, her toddler self would be proud of how far she's come. After all, the star is already an Emmy winner.

Chrissy Metz

Just as you probably can't imagine This Is Us without Sterling K. Brown, it's hard to picture anyone else in Kate's role but Chrissy Metz. Had Metz quit acting like she'd planned, however, that could've very well been the case. According to her biography, Metz thought she'd completely screwed up her audition for This Is Us and planned to leave California. At that time she had just 81 cents to her name and felt her career in acting was over. Thankfully, she did get that call back and now stars in one of our favorite shows.

The star admitted in an interview with Today that the series has been life-changing for her. It wasn't until after landing the role of Kate that Metz was able to afford her own place. "Also, I have my own washer and dryer, guys," she joked. But it's not all about the money or the things money can buy. "People are like, 'What did you buy? What have you bought?' I'm like, 'I don't need anything!' …It's so, so wonderful on so many levels and I just can't even explain it."

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan, who plays Kate's other half, Toby, on the show, is originally from Sacramento, California. He first discovered acting while in high school. "My mom dropped me off at my first audition [when I was a freshman]," he told Sactown Magazine. "She had faith in my abilities or recognized them before I did." He revealed that his teachers would often remark on his report cards that he wouldn't stay quiet or sit still in class, so his mom figured acting would be a good fit for her son. She was right.

Sullivan went on to join his school's theater program and met a teacher who he considers to be his mentor. "Looking back, developmentally, that was pretty important. By the time I got to the end of high school I wanted to be an actor." He's also grateful for his family's support and called the fact that his parents "never let on that [acting] wasn't a possibility" the "second greatest gift' he'd been given. "They never put the seed of doubt in my mind," he added.

Justin Hartley

Justin Hartley first got a taste of acting in elementary school when he played Frosty the Snowman. Though, he was disappointed when he discovered that "the star" didn't even have any lines. Although Hartley participated in school plays, he didn't realize that he wanted to become an actor until he enrolled in Southern Illinois University. "When you grow up in a small town in central Illinois and someone asks you what you're gonna be when you grow up, you say a teacher or factory worker or farmer," he told Vulture. "Acting was not a practical job that you saw other people doing." But, after he tried it in college, he was hooked.

So, without much more than ambition, Justin Hartley moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Southern Illinois University. "I had nothing — I did not have a pot to piss in — and I'd stare at the Hollywood sign knowing that I was going to be this leading man," he told the publication. "I was gonna bring Hollywood to its knees," he laughed of his self-assurance. Of course, he is currently doing just that as Kevin Pearson in This Is Us.

Hannah Zeile

Because This Is Us bounces back and forth between timelines, additional actors were needed to play younger Kevin, Kate, and Randall. Hannah Zeile was chosen to portray teenage Kate, a decision that casting director Tiffany Little Canfield called "a no-brainer." She told The Hollywood Reporter, "She is a pro; she handled all the scenes we gave her, and just the physical resemblance also was really terrific."

In a strange twist of fate, Chrissy Metz was once Zeile's commercial agent. Metz had taken the job while trying to grow her own acting career. "Life is so crazy," Metz opined. "I've been a huge fan of hers for as long as I've known her." Zeile was just 13 years old at the time the two met.

The aspiring actress grew up in California with two athletic parents: a Major League Baseball player father and an Olympic gymnast mother. "Growing up, I always did sports," Zeile told StyleCaster. "But I never stuck to one thing. …Nothing really kept my focus." After watching cast auditions for Hannah Montana, it dawned on Zeile that she "could do this." And the rest is, as they say, history.

Niles Fitch

Long before Niles Fitch would play teenage Randall on This Is Us, he worked as a model. "I always liked to take pictures and started print modeling in Atlanta at 4 years old," he told Young Broadway Actor News. "My first job was a Back to School ad for a Parisian [department] store." Fitch made the transition from modeling to acting in the off-broadway play Our Lady of Kibeho. He then started securing minor roles on television shows and eventually landed a spot in The Lion King on Broadway. He'll just be celebrating his 18th birthday in July 2019, but he's already compiled quite the résumé. 

Before even being cast for a role in This Is Us, casting director Tiffany Little Canfield had her eye on him. "Niles was actually an actor we'd seen for something else and loved so much that we remembered saying, if a teenage Randall comes, we have to see him for it," she revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. "We were like, we love him, we need to remember him." It is easy to feel that way about him, isn't it?

Logan Shroyer

When Logan Shroyer auditioned for the role of teenage Kevin, casting director Tiffany Little Canfield knew he was the perfect fit pretty much immediately. "Logan just came in and felt like a little star. He felt like that football player; he felt like he just had that golden boy persona that I think you need to have with Kevin," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

On the day of his This Is Us audition, Shroyer recalled to Vulture that he'd had "a dentist appointment that [he] was freaking out about." He admitted that he cancelled the appointment in order to audition for the show and was chosen for the part the very next day. "It was really quick," he explained. "Right before I booked that, actually, I had six callbacks for a film that I was so close to getting. And then This Is Us is one audition." He followed up by saying, "I didn't get the film. I was a runner-up. But everything happens for a reason." Shroyer is rightfully excited about having such a notable role, but he's not letting it get to his head. Even while portraying Kevin, he has continued to take acting classes.