How Chris Sullivan transformed to play Toby on This Is Us

This Is Us, which stars Chris Sullivan as Toby, is full of surprises — not that we expect anything else from Dan Fogelman's tear-jerking drama. In the Season 4 premiere — spoilers ahead! — we learn some news about Baby Jack and, in the second episode, we see how Toby and Kate are managing. Although Kate seems to be handling Baby Jack's diagnosis with ease, Toby admits to Rebecca that his wife has been overeating. Meanwhile, an obviously thinner Toby says that he's losing weight from all of the stress. At the end of the episode, however, it's revealed to the audience that Toby's actually been working out and keeping it a secret from his wife and in-laws.

After the episode concluded, a preview for the third episode showed Toby, played by Chris Sullivan, taking off his shirt, and Kate looks surprised to see her husband's slimmer, fitter figure. And, to be honest, we had the same reaction. "Toby looking good," one fan tweeted. Another chimed in, tweeting, "It's all good Kate ... we were all shook by Toby's hot bod." But those episodes didn't mark Chris Sullivan's first time transforming the character on the show. Here's how the actor became Toby.

Chris Sullivan didn't actually lose weight to play Toby in This Is Us Season 4

Toby may have lost weight in This Is Us Season 4, but actor Chris Sullivan did not. How can that be? It wasn't a tricky camera angle or CGI that made Sullivan look thinner. Rather, he wasn't wearing a prosthetic costume — aka a "fat suit." Yes, for most of the show, Sullivan has worn prosthetics to make Toby appear heavier. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Beth on This Is Us, spilled the tea to Us Weekly about the suit toward the end of the series' first season. This is a stark contrast to the actress behind Toby's onscreen wife, Chrissy Metz, who told TVLine in late 2016 that she was contractually obligated to lose weight "in the trajectory of the character as she comes to find herself." Metz later clarified on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she wasn't "mandated" to lose weight, but that the weight loss is part of "the storyline." Unlike Sullivan, any dramatic weight loss Metz may need to undergo on This Is Us will have to be done without the aid of prosthetics.

The decision for Chris Sullivan to use prosthetics as Toby on This Is Us angered fans

After Susan Kelechi Watson admitted that Chris Sullivan wears prosthetics to play Toby on This Is Us, fans were not pleased — to say the least. "The fact that [Toby] wears a fat suit is sooooooo disappointing," one fan tweeted. "I just learned Toby wears a fat suit so there goes all the trust I had in anything," another frustrated fan remarked.

Today it may be difficult to picture anyone other than Sullivan playing the role of Toby, but some questioned why he was even cast for the role if he didn't fit the character description. "Like they couldn't find an actual overweight white male actor?" a fan mused on Twitter. Another person wrote, "Honestly pissed that the actor who plays toby on This Is Us wears a fat suit — how about some actual representation for plus sized men?" With the secret out, one fan claimed that the show would never be the same. 

This is why Chris Sullivan's "fat suit" for Toby is necessary on This Is Us

When asked about the "fat suit" controversy on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen in October 2017, Chris Sullivan wasn't initially all that sympathetic to fans. "I think one, that the show is just too good, they had to find something wrong with it," he said of the backlash. "Two, I can understand why people feel fooled by things they see on TV," he continued. "Three, I feel like we're currently living in a culture where outrage is a bit of a hobby for some people, and, if they're not outraged about something, they're totally bored."

In a later interview with HuffPost, the actor behind Toby on This Is Us recognized that people "have different responses to things that we believe are true, when we find out they're not." However, he made sure to explain that the prosthetics are necessary. "We know Toby was married before and, because of the divorce, gained a bunch of weight," he told HuffPost, noting, "So there was a time when he was skinnier. So the costume allows, if they want to, for us to jump back and forth through time."

Chris Sullivan taps into his own experience with his weight to play Toby on This Is Us

How does Chris Sullivan's costar Chrissy Metz feel about him wearing prosthetics to play a heavier character? "We tested a lot of gentlemen who were bigger, and I get it — like people think the authenticity is kind of ruined by that — but Chris has been heavier and I think he does understands the plight of being overweight," she explained on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen.

Because Sullivan knows firsthand what it's like to be overweight, he's able to draw directly from his own experience in order to portray Toby on This Is Us. But, even if he had never been overweight, it's possible he still could've been the right fit for the role. "He was the best man for the job," Metz dished. Sullivan's costar added that actors "wear prosthetics all the time." She continued, "This just happens to be weight as opposed to a nose or the chin." She further revealed that she wore a prosthetic suit for her role as Ima in American Horror Story: Freak Show, adding that it's just "kind of the name of the game" in Hollywood.

Chris Sullivan relates to Toby on This Is Us in another way

If you're a fan of This Is Us, you know that one-dimensional characters simply do not exist in Dan Fogelman's series. Toby's weight may be part of his story, but it's certainly not his whole story. In Season 3, audiences learned that the usually happy-go-lucky Toby actually struggles with depression. "I was really excited, actually, because the idea that any person or character is one thing is just not true," Chris Sullivan said of the plot when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter"People have their upsides and downsides, their dark and bright moments..."

When asked if he needed to change how he prepared to play his character, Sullivan revealed, "No, I kind of always knew what Toby was going through. I've certainly gone through my fair share of anxiety and depression." He explained further, saying, "When you're in the good moments, you're just experiencing the good moments. Until the writers let me know there's going to be something different going on, I don't really have to ship anything onto a bigger scale for him. It's all part of the same process."

Toby's personality on This Is Us is remarkably similar to Chris Sullivan's

In a profile of Chris Sullivan, Brandon Katz of the Observer remarked that Toby and the actor are "entertainingly similar" — even down to the way they dress. Yet, they're also alike on a deeper level. "Like Toby," Katz noted, "there's a depth, awareness and curiosity that may not be immediately apparent." What is immediately apparent in both Sullivan and This Is Us character Toby is their charisma and sense of humor, though that's not what stood out the most to Katz. Instead, it was the thoughtfulness of both the character and the actor portraying him.

Sullivan himself told the publication, "Our personalities are pretty close." He added, "As far as my own life experience, I think I've learned more from Toby than Toby's learned from me." Sullivan was practically born to play Toby, it seems, so it's easy to understand why his costar Chrissy Metz believes that Sullivan was "the best man for the job."

Certain This Is Us scenes may not have been possible without Chris Sullivan and his costar as Toby and Kate

Not all costars get along swimmingly. Some stars have downright hated working together, but that's not the case with Chris Sullivan and Chrissy Metz. They have a great working relationship, according to Sullivan. This is particularly helpful when the onscreen couple is tasked with performing some of the more intense scenes on This Is Us, like the one in which Toby begins celebrating the news of Kate's pregnancy only for it to end with Toby in tears and apologizing to his wife. 

This Is Us is a scripted drama so, of course, the actors have a plan to follow. However, Sullivan revealed in an interview with TVLine just how his dramatic scenes with Metz play out"Chrissy and I have enough presence with each other and trust in each other to just show up and let these moments unfold and see what they become as we're making them," he explained. Perhaps that's what makes these two so perfect onscreen. 

How Chris Sullivan pulls himself out of character after playing Toby on This Is Us

While Chris Sullivan and Toby may have a lot of things in common, Toby is just a character that Sullivan plays. And some of the things Toby goes through on This Is Us are quite heavy. When The Hollywood Reporter asked the actor how he decompresses after filming some of the show's darker scenes, Sullivan revealed, "I'm able to kind of shake that stuff off through mindfulness practices and through connecting with my wife, Rachel, and through my friends — reconnecting to the things I love."

When asked a similar question during an AOL Build forum (via MSN), Sullivan gave more insight into his process. "While I'm shooting [scenes] I try not to [decompress]. While we're working, I try to stay in it, which is hard and annoying for people — other people around you — while you're sulking and trying to stay in a somber [place]." After shooting wraps, he said he spends time with his wife and takes care of himself "physically and spiritually, emotionally — all those things." He also revealed that he practices yoga and meditation as a way to get out of the dark headspace.

It's easy for Chris Sullivan to act like family with his This Is Us castmates

Transforming into Toby for the heavy scenes on This Is Us may be difficult for Chris Sullivan, but it's not hard for him or his castmates to act like family. Just as the Pearsons are a close-knit family, so, too, are the actors who play them. Speaking with Entertainment Tonight, Sullivan revealed that "the group text" among the cast is "alive and well." He continued, "We've kind of settled into our family life and kind of just enjoy showing up for work, doing the job, telling the stories."

They're so close that Sullivan said guest stars could feel unwelcome. "People have to walk into a family that's been together for years — into a social situation that's really comfortable for all of us (as the main cast) — and they have to perform at the drop of a hat not knowing anyone. It's really terrifying," he explained to the Chicago Tribune. "So it's a good thing for me to remember and I'll go out of my way if there's a guest star or even a background actor to make sure they feel welcomed and considered."