In March 2020, Mandy Moore was supposed to be basking in the glory of releasing her first album in 11 years and preparing to hit the road for the first time in 13 years. It appeared to be the perfect moment for a musical comeback – and a hard-won triumph after a long sabbatical. But the world had other plans. A week after the release of Silver Landingsher sixth studio LP, America’s lockdown began.
After so many years away from music, it must have felt like a false start?
“It was obviously disappointing,” Moore says, over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. But, ultimately, she understood: “What was unfolding in the world trumped anything.”
Moore ended up having more than enough on her plate to keep her occupied. In June 2020, she discovered she was pregnant, and by February 2021 she had given birth to a son, Gus. While settling into parenthood, she was still working on the hugely popular NBC family drama This Is Us, for which she’s multi-award-winning and Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated, and through which she’s cemented a career as a successful actor. Becoming a mother shifted Moore’s perspective on her career and fame, and her priorities changed. “My life is about so much more than just my job,” she says now, “and it always has been. But now it’s been taken to an even deeper level.”
This Is Us made Moore a household name in American television. The series, which follows one family over the course of several decades, twisting and untwisting through love and strife, has tackled topics including transracial adoption, stillbirth, eating disorders, mental health, alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease. In its six years on air, the show’s heartwarming, life-affirming message has earned upwards of 5.5 million viewers. When it was revealed how one of the show’s central characters died – in a fire, when an ancient kitchen gadget catches a light – fans took to social media to complain.
For the past six years, Moore has been the show’s emotional centrepiece. As Rebecca, the Pearson family matriarch, she’s had a unique and challenging experience of playing a character during various stages of her life: as an aspiring singer, a mother trying to balance her three kids’ needs, a senior with memory-loss issues and a woman on her deathbed with Alzheimer’s disease. When we speak, Rebecca is weighing heavily on Moore’s mind – she’s set to wrap up her role completely the following day. She joined the show when it started in 2016.
Has she shed any tears yet?
She replies: “Multiple times!”
Between filming her final scene, with co-stars Chrissy Metz and Sterling K Brown, Moore broke down. “I wonder how many finales really have this simultaneous goodbye,” she says. “I’m saying goodbye to the show, and to this character, and this character is saying goodbye…” This “intersection of goodbyes,” Moore says, is all she can think about. She’ll film her last scene with her on-screen husband, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), which “feels fitting,” she says. “We filmed the very first scene for the pilot together.”
Moore is grappling with how to say goodbye to Rebecca, a character who has touched so many viewers’ lives and has become intrinsically linked with her own. She admits she’s been determined not to let her own sadness for Rebecca’s journey with how she’s playing the character, and it’s been important for her and the writers to be accurate with as many of the details as possible for viewers who have experience with Alzheimer’s disease . “I’m grateful that our show has been given the platform and the reach to have those conversations to hopefully continue to destigmatize anything around the disease and our brain health in general.”
Throughout her time on This Is Us, she’s found it “heartening” to get positive feedback from people with the disease and their families who have seen “their own lives mirrored back to them,” she says. “I think it gives people a sense of community, makes them feel less alone on such an isolating journey, especially because it’s a journey – not just for the person who’s been diagnosed and who’s suffering, but for the whole family.”
Moore can’t help but marvel at what playing Rebecca has taught her personally. “This is a woman who has experienced immense tragedy. She lost a child in childbirth, and a spouse, and gets a debilitating diagnosis later in life, all the while navigating it with grace, composure, fortitude and joy,” she says. “I try to look at that as a model of how I want to choose to live my life.”
With all of the goodbyes ahead, how does she feel about leaving This Is Us behind?
“I think every creative person gets freaked out after a job ends, like: ‘I don’t have job security. Is this the end of the line for me? Am I ever gonna work again?’” she says. “There’s always that deep-seated fear in the back of your mind.” She laughs nervously. “But hopefully that’s not in my future.” I ask what she wants to do next? She pauses, then delivers a list of dream collaborators: “The Coen Brothers, Mike Mills, a million directors. Greta Gerwig would be so much fun to work with.” And who would she love to team up with again? She says her Because I Said So co-star Diane Keaton. “I loved working with her and I would do absolutely anything to work with her again in a heartbeat,” she says. “She’s so deeply maternal, and it was easy to connect with her on that level.”
Moore is 38 now. She grew up in Florida, and began fantasizing about becoming a performer when she was six. A few years later, she attended Stagedoor Manor, a New York theater camp that counts Natalie Portman and Zach Braff as alumni. By 14, Moore was making music on her own, and she was eventually discovered while working in a local recording studio. In 1998, she signed to Epic Records and landed tour dates with boybands such as Backstreet Boys and *NSync. The release of her debut single, Candy, in 1999, when she was 15, coincided with the rise of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, and made her one of four women in the running to become the “teen queen” of pop . Her debut studio album So Real solidified her star power and made her a fixture of the Y2K pop culture conversation.
When I ask how she looks back at the pop landscape of the late 90s, she describes it as a time of “great excess,” teeming with tabloid culture, posters and MTV fans in Times Square. For many artists it was overwhelming, but she had a different experience. “I came out unscathed,” she says. “I attribute all of that more to my family and my parents being around to keep my feet on the ground.”
Moore is happily out of the loop with today’s pop industry, she says, but “not in a curmudgeonly way. I’m just, like, it’s not for me. I’m not the audience for that stuff, I don’t really need to keep my finger on the pulse.” Young artists breaking through have it tougher than she ever did, she thinks. “This would be such a strange time to come of age with social media. It’s so hard to have any sort of anonymity. It’s so hard to not be completely, obsessively connected to the world around us and to one another at all times.” She adds: “I just feel lucky that I don’t have to deal with that in the same way, especially as a young person, figuring out who I am and what my lens on the world is. That’s so challenging.”
By the turn of the millennium, Moore’s celebrity continued to blossom. She’d begun to stray from her bubblegum pop career and develop a crossover presence in acting. She landed her first film role in 2001, as mean girl cheerleader Lana Thomas in The Princess Diaries, alongside Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. The following year she was the lead in the coming-of-age romantic drama A Walk to Remember, an adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel. She charmed in coming-of-age romcoms How-to-Deal and Chasing Liberty. A voice-acting role as Rapunzel in the animated feature film Tangled would help her earn exposure in the Disney world. Moore was a versatile and sincere actor. Even when she played mean, audiences saw in her a sweetness.
By 2009, Moore was married to Ryan Adams, the musician, accused by others of sexual misconduct and emotional abuse in 2019. He later apologized for “mistreating people throughout his career”. Moore had released five studio albums by this point, but while the pair wrote songs together, nothing was released. She’s since said her music career stalled and that, during their relationship, her creativity and self-worth suffered. Adams continued to make music; Moore didn’t. “Music was a point of control for him,” she told the New York Times in 2019. They divorced in 2016.
“I’ve never felt like music is my day job,” Moore says now, even though for years it was. “I’ve always felt like acting was, and music is just an incredible hobby that I’m fortunate enough to get to do on the side.”
As a way to process changes in her life, she sought comfort in making the songs that would become her seventh studio album, In Real Life, though never before has she made a record while constantly running back and forth to feed a baby. “I didn’t care as much, in a way,” she says about making the album. Why was she able to let go? “There wasn’t as much time that had elapsed between making my last two records,” she says. “And I was like: ‘I remember how to do this!’ It’s not like I had to find my voice and start that machine up again.”
Making In Real Life has been a balm in a period of chaos. “I look at this record as a restart part two – reintroducing myself and my music, recognizing there are going to be a lot of people who had no idea that I had a record in 2020, or, maybe, have no idea that I even make music and are just familiar with my work on This Is Us.”
She’s finally on the tour she thought she’d do back in 2020. And with This Is Us ending, she admits she might be dodging her emotions by immediately hitting the road. Perhaps it’s a kind of free therapy: singing songs that represent chapters from each stage of her life to a crowd of strangers? “At least I can throw myself into it for a while,” she says. She won’t, however, be doing it alone. Moore’s tour is a family affair. Her husband, Taylor Goldsmith, as well as her brother-in-law, Griffin Goldsmith, of the folk-rock group Dawes, are a part of her backing band, and Gus is along for the ride.
There will be another family member in tow, too, as Moore is pregnant with her second child – another boy. “I can’t wait to watch my kids grow up and enjoy this next juncture of life with Taylor,” she says. “I’m looking forward to however that’s gonna unfold.” In the meantime, she’ll be swaying on stage in venues across America on a Persian rug, belting songs to fans who have desperately been waiting to see her up there for years.
Mandy Moore’s seventh studio album In Real Life is out now, and she’s on tour in the US in July