Unlike her This Is Us character, Mandy Moore is leading a charmed — and mostly drama-free — life. Considering her world could have come tumbling down — as it did for so many others — when the global pandemic began wreaking havoc in March 2020. The singer-songwriter-actor who calls herself “a pretty glass-half-full person” grasps a cup that runneth over these days.
Moore was her usual chipper and gregarious self during a phone interview on 23 May, calling from her home in Pasadena, California, the day before the series finale of This Is Us aired on NBC. That surely left legions of fans not knowing whether to feel overjoyed about experiencing such a masterful execution of a creative family drama coming to a satisfying conclusion or weeping uncontrollably because they’ll never get to see a show quite like that again.
It also was barely a week after In Real Life, her full-length follow-up album to 2020’s Silver Landings, landed wherever there still are record shelves, or via streams and downloads from digital service providers.
Response to the 13 May release (via Verve Forecast) has been “positive”, a guarded Moore points out. “It’s sort of hard to gauge that stuff and, quite frankly, like, I don’t want to say I don’t pay attention, but I’m not sort of scouring (laughs) the interwebs just to sort of see the reaction,” she adds about her seventh studio album dating to So Real, the 1999 debut. “I feel the love. The thing is, I guess because I never found a tremendous amount of success in music, or at least not to the degree that the other side of my life has brought [including prominent acting roles as far back as 2001’s The Princess Diaries]. So I’ve always felt music didn’t have the same stakes. I’m so proud of this record and so glad it’s out.”
Of course, Moore was happy to chat about almost anything during our second interview since 2020, while we both experienced a touch of deja vu after tackling similar subjects — only on different levels — this time around. Quarantines and coronavirus checks weren’t primary concerns, though “knock on wood” remains one of her go-to expressions. And conceivably nothing will prevent Moore from taking her musical show on the road for the first time in 15 years. There will be even more songs to select for her act after making In Real Life, which was a fairly quick turnaround considering Silver Landings arrived 11 years after her previous album, 2009’s Amanda Leigh.
Living Up to Rebecca
In a dreamland filled with second chances, reset buttons, and do-overs, Amanda Leigh Moore, born on 10 April 1984, is taking her place in line, ready to make the most of this latest opportunity.
“Oh, how the world has changed,” she expresses joyfully, thrilled — and quite relieved — to return to normalcy after saying goodbye to Rebecca Pearson — the hard-luck but kind, understanding, and devoted mother she played on This Is Us. Rebecca gave up a music career and lost two husbands in six seasons before bidding adieu to her now-grown children (dubbed the Big Three practically all their lives) and remaining family members. Her sendoff took place in the series’ penultimate — and unforgettable — episode called “The Train”, written by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman (the “genius mastermind,” according to Moore). The bravura performance surely will earn previous nominee Moore her first Emmy if Television Academy voting members truly award excellence (and have hearts bigger than the Grinch’s).
She’s not thinking about that at the moment, though. There’s territory to cover, but it’s essentially a replay of what transpired two years ago: album release, impending tour, and wrapped TV season to explore. Another hot topic involved Moore and her husband — guitarist-singer-songwriter and Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith — and how they were enjoying each other after more than three years of marriage. So logically, the fast and the curious had to know: When they weren’t making music, were they considering making babies?
During our first interview (for another outlet) that took place 11 March 2020, just before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, Moore was asked if playing Rebecca ever made her want to be a mom — In Real Life. “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,” she answered. “I’d love to [have kids] if that’s what’s in the cards. Who knows. I guess I’m not entirely in charge of that.”
In the weeks following the Silver Landings release, Moore wasn’t pregnant, saying, in this new interview, she and Goldsmith had been thinking about starting a family for over a year, and “I guess that was the personal silver lining of the pandemic in time at home was that becoming a reality, finally.”
So while the world was suffering and artists were struggling, Moore and Goldsmith were confined but stayed artistically active, playing shows from their home on Instagram Live and keeping in touch with fans on other social media platforms.
“There was a lot of fear and confusion in trying to make sense of what was happening but there was solace in music always,” Moore shares. “And solace in Taylor and I doing something together, and it wasn’t really a way to promote the record. It was just a way to like, ‘Hey, we have this pent-up creative energy.’ … It felt like just a great way to reach out and feel connected to the world when we were so isolated.”
Moore even revealed during an Instagram performance on 12 April 2020 — Easter Sunday, almost a month after her first scheduled concert and the rest of the tour were canceled — that she was learning to play guitar. Asked now how that was working out, the voice of reason whose new album was recorded last July in Los Angeles, chuckles, then confesses, “Yeah, that was a pandemic hobby that really didn’t (laughs) come to fruition. It didn’t pan out. … I’m just not sure I have the patience at this point in my life for it. I’ll leave it to Taylor.”
Two for the Show
Once she knew there was a baby on the way, announcing her pregnancy on 24 September 2020, Moore was cautious but not feeling too threatened by the lingering pandemic before returning to the This Is Us set with the cast and crew for another season.
“It certainly added a different element just because there were so many question marks about the world and trying to be as safe as possible,” she explains. “But because there wasn’t really an option of going out and living your life in the way that we all are used to, it did feel safe. It felt quite lovely again to just have this time for the two of us.”
She and Goldsmith, married on 18 November 2018, welcomed August Harrison Goldsmith on 23 February 2021.
“He’s the best!” exclaims Moore, who celebrated their son’s first birthday at a park a few months ago by “hanging with the family” and “some of his friends. Very mellow and low key. But it was perfect.”
Nicknamed Gus, he’ll be traveling on the touring vehicle Moore calls “The Gus Bus” in his honor when she and the rest of the entourage hit the road beginning Friday (10 June) at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. There will be stops in 25 major cities throughout the United States, along with Toronto, Ontario, on the In Real Life tour. A likely highlight will be her first stage appearance at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on 25 June.
Asked about how their first child has changed her life, Moore exudes warmth and awe. “Oh, God! How much time do you have?” she asks. “In every way imaginable. It’s like all the cliches come to life. … Everything is different. Every color is technicolor. … It’s beyond anything I ever could have comprehended. It is hard. It challenges me. It has given me an idea of what it means to have boundaries, to be able to advocate for myself and therefore advocate for him.
“It’s taught me things and shown me things about myself sometimes that I’m like, ‘Oof! I really want to work on that.’ (laughs) But the love, the immediacy of the love, there’s nothing better. There’s nothing like it in the whole world. It’s truly the best thing ever. And it’s what I’m most excited to have some time for when we’re done with the road because I don’t really have anything on the books and I’m just excited to hang out and be Mom. And not have Mom and work duty for a second.”
So the inevitable follow-up this day involved one storybook stork, and if delivering a little brother or sister to keep Gus company might happen in the near future.
After a laugh, Moore plays coy, offering, “We’ll see. We’ll see. That sounds like fun, but we’ll see what the universe has in store for us.”
If there was a secret itching to be told, she sure knew how to keep it. On 3 June, 11 days after our interview, Moore shared the news on Instagram that a second child would be joining the Goldsmith family.
“One incredibly seminal chapter of my life just ended and the next one, as a mother of two, is about to start… and are we ever so deeply grateful and excited,” she posted with a photo of Gus in his “big brother” T-shirt and baby blue cap. “Baby Boy Goldsmith #2 coming this fall! Tour is gonna be slightly different than I expected but I can’t wait and Gus is gonna be the BEST big brother!! Xo”
On his Instagram page, Goldsmith added, “There’s a good chance I’m the happiest, luckiest person you know (or just follow) and now we’re gonna double it.”
Odes, Nods, and Keys to Our Past
As the Gus Bus gets a little more crowded, the songs on Moore’s new album carry even more personal significance. According to the former pop princess who was 15 when her debut single “Candy” was released, all 11 In Real Life tracks were written after she and Goldsmith first teamed up for the sweet, gentle glow of “Every Light” in April 2020. While the expectant mom and dad, along with the rest of her family, managed to dodge COVID-19 that year (“knock on wood,” she repeats), impending motherhood soon weighed heavily “on the brain” during the writing process.
By the time they got into the studio last July, many COVID restraints were lifted, so Moore and Co. could breathe a sigh of relief … somewhat.
“There were vaccines and whatnot, but it still felt precarious, and everyone tried to be as careful and healthy and safe as possible,” she said. “But it certainly wasn’t July of 2020. … It’s still strange times being creative during these past two years. And the way we wrote the record and how we had … just the simple fact of ‘Yeah, let’s go sit outside in the backyard and sit six feet away from each other. We’ll keep our masks on and try to sort of read what each other is saying, like through the masks.’
“It was, yeah, bizarre, to say the least. But we got through it. I feel like I’ll be able to listen back to this record years from now and really just remember what a moment in time that it was.”
Earning gold records and pop credentials as a teenager growing up in Orlando, Florida, Moore was barely old enough to remember the ‘80s. Yet her latest album has nods to sounds from that decade. The romantically resplendent “Just Maybe” brings to mind Maria McKee and the Streets of Fire soundtrack; the thumping bass of “Heavy Lifting” sounds like it could motivate Aimee Mann and ’Til Tuesday to remake “Voices Carry”; and the snappy pop-rocker “Living in the In Between”, with Moore playfully trading call-and-response lines with bandmates amid violins, violas, and a cello, is what she’s called “our ode to R.E.M.” about “a she-devil type who lives according to her own crazy logic.”
That respect and admiration for musicians from another era should be no surprise, since Moore in 2003 recorded Coverage, an album packed with her renditions of tunes from a wide range of artists who made their mark before she was born, from Joni Mitchell and Carole King to XTC, Blondie, and Todd Rundgren.
Writing her own, family-focused songs this time around, though, she’s sticking with artists closer to home. Besides Goldsmith (guitars, piano, vocals) and his brother, Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith, other musicians on the album include her three-time producer (and multi-instrumentalist/arranger) Mike Viola (guitars, keyboards, drums, vocals), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Sharon Van Etten, Phoebe Bridgers), keyboardist Lee Pardini (The War on Drugs, Aimee Mann), and label mate Madison Cunningham (electric guitar on “Little Dreams” and “Living in the In Between”).
Also heard throughout are beautiful strings and the golden pipes of guest vocalists such as Inara George (“Just Maybe”) and the two incomparable co-founders/lead singers of Los Angeles-based Lucius.
“Oh, I love those girls,” Moore proclaims after hearing the mention of Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who became friends with Viola and the Goldsmiths through the LA music scene. “They were kind enough to come in and put their gorgeous voices on this record,” supplying backing vocals on “Heartlands”, “Four Moons”, “Little Dreams”, and “Little Victories”.
For Moore, it’s the title track, which she cowrote with Goldsmith and Viola, that’s the most personally meaningful cut, she admits.
“It sort of encompasses everything that this record in its entirety sort of is and stands for,” Moore contends. “I think even sonically, it’s just a step in a cool direction. Like if Silver Landings was a bit more guitar-driven, I think this record is led a little bit more by keyboards and synths. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just sort of what unfolded in the studio with the band live.”
Though writing “In Real Life” began while Moore was pregnant for the first time, she didn’t complete the mellow, synth-driven number until after he arrived. “Before Gus was born, my life was completely about me, and not necessarily even in a selfish sense — you just put one foot in front of the other and make your way through the world, and hopefully try to be the best version of yourself,” Moore reveals in a track-by-track description. “But then this person enters the equation, and all that gets turned on its head. I wanted to write something that distills all that down, and also acknowledges that this is the most important role that I’ll every play in my life.”
Train of Thought: All Aboard
That brings us back to Rebecca Pearson, whose matriarchal patience, tenderness, and love for her family lived on until the day she died following the cruel onset of Alzheimer’s. According to this Instagram notice Moore shared on 24 May, the day of the This Is Us series finale that she thought would feel like “a warm hug” for viewers, Rebecca Malone Pearson-Rivas was born in 1951 and died in 2033.
The young woman first encountered her future husband Jack Pearson (gallantly played by Milo Ventimiglia) in 1972 after she sang Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” on an open-mic night at a Pittsburgh bar called Ray’s. Following their City Hall wedding on 16 May 1976, they dealt with the typical marital problems a couple of experiences but were on their way to a happily-ever-after ending. Then on 26 January 1998, the love of her life met a shockingly tragic ending. On the previous night following one of their traditional get-togethers — this one to watch Super Bowl XXXII on TV — Jack rescued his wife, two of their kids, and the family dog from a fire that burned down their house. The saving grace of the household couldn’t be saved at the hospital, though.
We all died a little while viewing the tearjerker titled “Super Bowl Sunday” (Season 2, Episode 14). But, thankfully, that superhero of a husband and father never disappeared from our TV screens, shown in flashbacks and in Rebecca’s mind (or afterlife during the series’ closing chapters).
In “The Train” (Season 6, Episode 17), Rebecca — possibly hallucinating or dreaming before reaching the afterlife — takes a figurative walk down memory lane through some railroad cars to communicate one last time with friends and family.
Her real world eventually fades to black as she imagines the end of the line from her deathbed in the caboose of the luxury train with her first husband, dearly departed long ago, at her side. In the touching scene set in the future — with Rebecca squeezing Jack’s hand on her way to a (hopefully) happy hereafter with him — she was in her early 80s.
“It was difficult for all of [the cast] to say goodbye to our characters,” acknowledges Moore just weeks after the show wrapped, keeping in touch with her fellow actors on group texts and bringing them into the “In Real Life” video. “It’s just six years of a really seminal chapter of our lives. Collectively, there’s a lot to say goodbye to. … The cool thing is I feel personally like I always get to tap into her [character] if I want forever, and we all can go back and revisit the series and watch it from the first episode. I think a show like that really will stand the test of time.”
Before announcing her second pregnancy, Moore was contemplating what she might want to do next professionally, seemingly up for anything “different,” from Broadway to films to even a return to TV.
“Just not an ensemble family drama,” Moore responds with a laugh. “I feel like we’ve checked that box very, very well. And nothing could ever come close to what this experience was.” Yet while expressing an interest in roles on edgier premium cable programs (with bursts of “Yeah! Yeah!”), there’s no doubt which HBO hit series she would choose between Succession and Euphoria. “Succession, sure!” she states emphatically. “Who wouldn’t want to be on a show like that?” And who wouldn’t enjoy watching that transformation? Just avoid pitches from network executives seeking to create a home improvement show called Moore With Mandy or This Is Real.
Trust Moore to stay grounded in her own reality, anyway. This Is Us memories will be enhanced through mementos she was allowed to keep from the set, including the No. 12 Steelers jersey she wore in the “Super Bowl Sunday” episode, along with Rebecca’s wedding ring and moon necklace. Her most prized possession might turn out to be the elegant, cranberry-colored dress that was a fitting outfit for the stunning passenger on board for “The Train”.
“I’m actually going to get it,” a thrilled Moore announces about the garment she was eagerly waiting to add to her wardrobe. “I’m very excited about that.” Yet Moore won’t consider showing it off during this upcoming tour. Her plan — even before sharing the news about Baby Boy No. 2’s fall arrival — was to keep the concert attire sharp but casual.
“These are intimate theater shows,” she notes. “It’s definitely not gonna be formal. I’m not expecting the band to be in a suit. (laughs) The guys are gonna be in jeans and sneakers and whatnot. But I will hopefully try to step it up a little bit. I always like to look nice and presentable. But not formal! I will not be wearing, like, a tiara, by any means.”
As for the gorgeous gown, “That [already] feels a little constricting to have to move around in,” Moore adds with a laugh. “I think I will let that just hang in my closet.”
Now that TV is out of the picture (at least for the moment), let the music play as Moore gets to thoroughly enjoy some honest-to-goodness mama-drama — while having the time of her real life.