Mandy Moore isn’t a mother (yet), but she plays one of the best matriarchs ever written for a network television drama. Rebecca Pearson is a loving wife who’s devoted to her family, one that famously includes boy-girl twins and an adopted son on NBC's This Is Us.
When Rebecca’s hopes of singing with a touring band are suddenly dashed, she hides her disappointment and becomes a strong, caring stay-at-home mom who still sings, but usually in the car or shower.
Fortunately, Moore keeps living the dream in real life, though it’s on hold since the coronavirus pandemic rocked our world. There were no such concerns on March 6, when she celebrated the release of Silver Landings, her seventh album since 1999, but her first in 11 years.
Before quarantines and social distancing became the norm, the busy singer-songwriter-actress spoke casually from New York during a March 11 phone interview for the Observer. Among the topics she discussed were a thriving dual career, musical likes and the possibility of adding another hyphen to her job description one day — real-life mother.
Though the ebullient entertainer (who turned 36 on April 10) was thrilled to take a break from her This Is Us character after wrapping filming for Season 4 on March 5, Moore cheerfully addressed how the role has affected her personally.
“I’m so excited to start a family and be a mother,” says Moore, who married Dawes frontman-guitarist/singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith in 2018. “It definitely shows me sides of myself that I wasn’t fully aware of.” (laughs) … But a show like this can’t help but make you question the choices that you’ve made and reflect on your own life. That’s sort of a big part of the work we get to do week by week. … I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live up to playing the matriarch like Rebecca, but I’ll try my darnedest.”
Reiterating that she would love to have kids “if that’s what’s in the cards,” Moore adds, “Who knows. I guess I’m not entirely in charge of that, but yes, that would be a wonderful welcome addition to our lives. And it’s also so wonderful to be able to, obviously, have a day job where I get to explore the maternal role.”
Until that arrival actually happens, Moore yearns to return onstage with Goldsmith and his band. They backed her on pre-lockdown national TV shows like Today, playing Silver Landings songs “Save It For Yourself” and “Fifteen” with guest fiddler Sara Watkins, also on March 11.
The next day she appeared on The Tonight Show, chatting and performing during Jimmy Fallon’s first broadcast without an audience. Then, the planet was held hostage by COVID-19.
Moore had spoken passionately about visiting places like the Lone Star State, where the former Floridian was looking forward to seeing old friends. Her only previous Dallas-area appearance, she recalled, was on the Wild Hope Tour in 2007.
Now, after waiting 13 years to tour again, her chances in 2020 will keep dwindling if This Is Us follows through on plans to begin shooting Season 5 in July.
Still, she’s making the best of it while hunkered down with Goldsmith in their Pasadena home and holding Sunday concerts on Instagram Live. An April 5 set featured "Only Hope,” her hit ballad from the 2002 film A Walk to Remember, and finished with John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves” to honor the folk hero who died two days later.
Their tribute continued on Easter Sunday, with Prine covers including an “Unwed Fathers” duet and “Sam Stone,” Goldsmith’s emotional take leading Moore to tear up. She dipped into her past for “Merrimack River” (from 2009’s Amanda Leigh), “Extraordinary” (from 2007’s Wild Hope) and a surprisingly bluesy “Candy,” the golden oldie from 1999’s So Real that launched her pop career.
The cool and carefree couple were in harmony, willing to share stories and reveal mistakes.
In our interview, Moore certainly sounded in sync with her partner, gushing, “On the personal side of things, being able to work with my husband and make this record together has just been ... it’s a dream. I like looking at him. Playing the Today show [that morning] in New York, I’m like, ‘He’s so cool.’”
Moore and Goldsmith co-wrote all 10 Silver Landings songs, some with collaborators like producer Mike Viola, and notable Nashville singer-songwriters Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby. Along with Viola, Goldsmith and his brother/Dawes bandmate Griffin on drums, musicians included Watkins (fiddle, background vocals) and former Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel (percussion).
Moore often bounced ideas off Goldsmith, who has “always been incredibly supportive and nurturing and had my back. And believed in me sometimes more than I believed in myself,” she offers.
“I feel unendingly lucky to have that resource in my life. And then on top of it, he just happens to be one of the most remarkable songwriters and guitar players. So I knew if I was gonna make music again, I’m like, ‘Well, we ought to do it together.’ And obviously he was game for that,” adds Moore, whose record-making was sidetracked earlier by an unhealthy relationship with Ryan Adams that ended in divorce.
In a complex TV role that required 3½ hours in a makeup chair for a character zigzagging through time from high school dreamer to responsible mom to graying grandmother, finding extra time to launch a long overdue music project might seem impossible.
Except for Moore, who was “adamant” about recording live to tape since making plans near the end of 2018.
“You just gotta prioritize,” she says with a laugh. “Any little hole in the shooting schedule, I was like, ‘Let’s write! Let’s record!’ … Whatever fear and self-doubt that had prevented me from making music earlier, I had to really work to get past.”
Looking back on her career choices, it’s hard to believe the positive thinker who once was a 15-year-old promising pop star finding her way onto the '99 charts alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson would be worried about making a wrong move.
Just consider two early bold projects. Moore twisted her goody-two-shoes image into knots in the satirical 2004 film Saved! as holier-than-thou Hilary Faye, who ruthlessly tries to convert heathens into born-again believers at the American Eagle Christian High School.
“Prayer works. It’s been medically proven,” was one of Hilary Faye’s memorable declarations in the film, that began with Moore singing the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”
In 2003, Moore released Coverage, an album of '70s and '80s covers by a variety of the era’s distinctive artists.
They included authentic hitmakers such as Joni Mitchell (“Help Me”) and Cat Stevens (“Moonshadow”), and unconventional acts like XTC (“Senses Working Overtime”), Todd Rundgren (“Can We Still Be Friends”) and the Waterboys (“The Whole of the Moon”).
Looking back, Moore admits that the idea was daring, “It was definitely a little bizarre. But kudos to my record label at the time for letting me do it. … I’m so thrilled that I’m able to have that on my résumé.”
That ambitious attempt carried over to her TV role as Rebecca Pearson optimistically sang Lowell George’s “Willin’,” popularized by Linda Ronstadt.
If she gets in front of a live audience again, Moore could woo (or surprise) them with her musical versatility, though the set list will be packed with Silver Landings songs. On “Fifteen,” she makes “peace with my past and my younger self” while the title track “presents this idea of like, ‘Hey, this is all it took to get here.’ And I don’t have any regrets and I believe that everything happens for a reason, but it’s a lot to reflect back on.”
Yet fans can expect “older stuff” like "Only Hope,” along with her “Moonshadow” cover that landed in This Is Us, since she wants to “incorporate a little bit of the show” into an intimate, nostalgic and memorable evening.
“I understand that there might be a lot of people who don’t know my music but maybe know me from This Is Us, so luckily my character’s backstory includes music. It also is a huge part of why I was confident enough to step back into music again,” Moore says.
In an episode that aired in February, Rebecca sang “Our House” while searching for the Laurel Canyon home where Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Graham Nash once lived with Joni Mitchell.
While watching then, who knew the romantically cozy song Nash was inspired to write would be even more touching and meaningful now in an age of “stay at home” orders and daily White House press briefings.
Hopefully, Moore, Goldsmith & Co. will eventually get to play it in a jam-packed venue filled with hand-holding lovers and beautiful dreamers part of one big, happy, healthy family, all grateful to be alive.
MANDY MOORE’S LIGHTNING ROUNDUP
Cover you’d never get tired of singing: “Probably [Todd Rundgren’s] ‘Can We Still Be Friends.’ All the harmony, the arrangement of that song. I never get sick of it.”
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Best place to sing alone: (Laughs) “I’m not gonna say the shower like everybody else. I’m gonna say the bathtub. I’m more of a bath girl than a shower girl.”
Best/favorite biopic about a singer/musician: “I would say Ray.”
Favorite actor who sings or favorite singer who acts: “Bette Midler. Because I think she covers all ground. I think she’s an incredible actor, an incredible musician.”
Beach Boys or Mamas and Papas: “Beach Boys. I just don’t think you can discount the influence they’ve had on just about every other band that has come after them. Brian Wilson is a genius. … The harmonies, the musicianship, all those songs. It’s timeless, it’s otherworldly.”