In 1999, blonde, billboard-size pop stars Britney, Christina and Jessica stormed the Earth. Pink was considered revolutionary for having a pink pixie cut. Clipping at their heels was the coltish Mandy Moore, who, like the Skipper to their Barbies, was more wholesome, more relatable, more brunette (even when she went blonde, she was still brunette at heart)—and thus receded into the new millennium’s flock of songbirds, despite having real moxie and a rare, charming sweetness.
She toured with Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC before trying acting, most memorably in the Nicholas Sparks weeper A Walk to Remember in 2002 and as a terrific villain in the sharp comedy Saved! in 2004. (Around the same time, cornball romcoms like How to Deal and Chasing Liberty tanked.) Her pivot to a singer-songwriter sound was hailed by critics yet ignored by fans. She wed singer Ryan Adams at age 24 in 2009 and filed for divorce in January 2015. The marriage officially ended this June.
But all it takes is one complex, heart-gulping part to turn it all around. Generation Y is overjoyed to see their girl, sidelined for so many years, straight killing it on CTV’s breakout smash This Is Us. The trailer was viewed eight million times pre-air, and the show is now Canada’s number one new series with millennials. Moore plays Rebecca, a new mom who endures the gaping distance between herself and her hard-drinking husband—and that’s just in the first two episodes. After an emotional day filming the series’ Thanksgiving ep, Moore called to talk about how her own struggles in life have prepared her for the role of her career.
You haven’t had a big hit in many years. How did it feel to book This Is Us?
I had been so crushed by pilot season and things not moving forward for a couple of years; I had done three pilots, and they hadn’t been picked up. To be emotionally invested in these projects and for them to not go past those initial episodes was really heartbreaking. With each progressive project, I lost a little more faith. Like, Ugh! Maybe this isn’t for me. I need to find a new job. I was just so keen on breaking into TV—it’s the medium I enjoy the most, and there are so many exciting projects, specifically for women. It got increasingly more disappointing. Finding out This Is Us had been picked up for a full season was total elation. I’d never played a mother or a wife before. When I was making the pilot, I thought, You know what? It is a risk. I could be heartbroken again. But I am going to invest everything I have into this.
Is every day on the show emotionally exhausting?
It’s definitely… [exhales] It’s a lot.
What are your coping mechanisms when you have this heavy emotional load to carry at work?
I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m trying to use all the feelings of being overwhelmed and funnel that into the work. I have enough from my life to channel into the character, and it is cathartic in many ways. I’m happy to use my own life as fuel.
How do you feel about this role coming to you now, as opposed to five years ago, now that you’ve lived so much more life?
There’s no way I would, for any amount of money, go back five, 10 years. I am really grateful for the life I have lived and the miles I have tread.
What was it like to be a teenager and be on tour with Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC?
It was pretty trippy. I went from watching them on MTV before school to six months later being on tour with *NSYNC, then six months after that, I was on the road with Backstreet Boys. Being a typical teenage girl, I had my own silly, harmless crushes on all of those guys. It complicated my friends’ feelings for me: I went from being in school with them to half a year later being in close proximity to these guys. That didn’t go over too well with some of my friends.
At the time you emerged, there was this media witch hunt over which pop stars were virgins. How did you handle adult journalists prying into your personal life that way?
It’s nobody’s business, and it felt incredibly invasive. Because I was on the younger side of the crop of girls out there and I didn’t have the same degree of success, people let me off the hook more, which I was very appreciative of.
You’re in a great relationship right now, living with Dawes singer Taylor Goldsmith. Is playing music together part of your lives?
There’s music being played around the house all the time. I definitely think sooner rather than later there will be collaborations. If you’re under the same roof, that creativity flourishes.
What is it like to wear those ’80s and ’90s clothes on This Is Us?
[laughs] I don’t think it was the most fashionable era. I’m rocking some mom jeans pretty hard. Some of the ’90s stuff I get to wear is very in sync with where fashion is at this point. But the stuff I wore in the late ’90s—I hope it never comes back.
Did you save anything from your early-2000s pop-star era?
I think I have some great suede Gucci pants, but FYI, there is no way I would fit into them nowadays. Maybe if I have a daughter one day, I can pass them on to her.