We first met the teenage version of the fighting yet faithful Big Three in the season 1 episode of This Is Us titled "The Best Washing Machine in the Whole World." It was during those formative years that Kate learned to soothe herself with food, Kevin learned to mask his feelings by lashing out, and Randall got his first taste of panic and constant war with his adoptive brother. The bookish "triplet" struggled mightily, as evidenced by his first line in that episode: "Why does he hate me so much?"
"Kevin doesn't hate you," Kate reassured him. "Try lightening things up."
He tried, bringing Pop Tarts and Yoo-hoo to Kevin as a peace offering; Kevin responded by telling his brother to "get a life," setting the stage for a lifetime (or six seasons) of a fraught and fascinating fraternal relationship.
"'The Best Washing Machine in the World' is my favorite because I was so unaware of what was to come," says Niles Fitch, who was hired at age 14 to play teen Randall. "I thought it would just be a guest-starring role, and it turned into series regular, awards shows, everything."
Indeed, Fitch and his teen TV siblings Hannah Zeile (Kate) and Logan Shroyer (Kevin) have cycled through a lot since that washing machine episode, to the point where the actors have an ongoing text chain and frequently go to dinner.
"I love them like family," says Zeile, 24. "We've been in a unique experience together. We're extremely close." The actress, who hails from California and is the daughter of former pro baseball player Todd Zeile and Olympic gold-medal gymnast Julianne McNamara, laughs when reflecting back to the day she landed the role. "I was cashiering at Chipotle when I got the call to meet with Dan [Fogelman]," she says. "I joke that my memoir will be called 'From Chipotle to the SAG Awards.'"
Shroyer can relate. The L.A.-based actor considered skipping his TIU audition for a routine dentist appointment but didn't; instead he found himself being fitted for contact lenses the next day. "I have to wear brown contacts because Justin [Hartley] has brown eyes," explains the 23-year-old. Those lenses sparked an unforeseen challenge when his character became a high school football star. "I have a very particular prescription, so I didn't have depth perception," shares Shroyer, who mercifully wasn't hit with the ball during Kevin's brief stint as an athletic star. "I was running plays the best I could. That was some of the first stunt activity I've ever done!"
Fitch's first stunt work involved — what else? — the Pearson brothers fighting after a football game. "I remember Logan and I got into an argument, and to get back at him I tackled him," recalls the Atlanta native, now 20. "And then Milo [Ventimiglia as Jack] yelled at us."
The Teen Three all cite Ventimiglia as a father figure and praise creator Dan Fogelman and director Ken Olin along with Ventimiglia as mentors. "I've been blessed to be around some seriously great leaders in this industry," says Shroyer. "They showed me — a terrified 17-year-old when I started the show — how to figure everything out."
"This show has pushed me a lot as an actor," agrees Zeile, whose young character dealt with some very adult material, like finding herself in an abusive relationship and having an abortion. "I've dealt with a lot of emotions, which has been challenging but really rewarding."
"To be in such a successful show and do it for as long as we I could. That was some of the first stunt activity I've ever done!" did is the beauty of things," offers Fitch, who says he only ever got one acting note from the bosses: "They said, 'You're being too cool.' I guess that's a compliment. I was being too Niles," he laughs.
Growing up Pearson has served them well, to the point where they — like all of their adult counterparts — are mum on how TIU will end. Zeile, much like her alter ego Kate is focused on the positive — no matter who winds up at the dying Rebecca's bedside. "The beauty of the flashback," she smiles, "is that Jack lives on."
Milo Ventimigilia (a.k.a. the Pearson patriarch) has nothing but love for his TV kids.
"I'm so proud of the growth all of our young actors have made," raves Ventimiglia, who, as Jack, raised his kids until they were 17 years old. Not surprisingly, all three cite their scenes with him as highlights.
Hannah's most memorable moment: "The beautiful, lighthearted scene with Jack and Kate in a car where she think she's going to get in trouble... but he ends up taking her to the Alanis Morissette CD signing."
Milo's response: "We had so much fun that whole scene. There was a lot of laughter in that."
Niles' most memorable moment: "When Randall goes to Howard. That was a super fun episode because I got to go to D.C. and actually go to the Howard campus with Milo."
Milo's response: "Oh, man. Niles is such a fantastic actor. I think being out of L.A., he really had an opportunity to shine in that episode."
Logan's most memorable moment: "The scene I shot with Milo in the hospital with the necklace [from Vietnam]. Ken Olin was directing... and he and Milo were so encouraging. It was a very defining moment in my life."
Milo's response: "I remember that day. You saw a different light in his eyes. He understood how connected you are to the words and the character and the experience. That was the moment Logan truly became an actor."
Say goodbye to the Pearsons with EW's special This Is Us edition, available to purchase online or wherever magazines are sold.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.