This Is Us viewers were blown away by the pilot episode’s revelation that Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore) were an 80s couple, but since that finale shocker fans have seen the time travelers and their triplets in several different eras. In a new webcam chat with the Gold Derby, This Is Us production designer Gary Frutkoff says it was not easy to get the retro look needed for the show’ throwback scenes set in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 80s.
“From the get-go, [This Is Us creator] Dan Fogelman wanted a blue collar look,” the This Is Us production designer revealed.
“There’s a grittiness and an earthiness [to those Pittsburgh scenes] that’s actually pretty challenging to portray on screen.”
Frutkoff pointed out that a working class couple like the Pearsons “wouldn’t have brand new furniture,” so his team had to scour for household items and furnishings from the late 1960s and early 70s.
“It’s very hard to get those kind of furnishings these days,” the This Is Us designer said. “People throw their stuff out.”
This Is Us was one of the biggest hits of last fall’s TV season. The show has earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Drama Series and Best TV Supporting Actress (Moore and her TV daughter, Chrissy Metz), as well as a Screen Actors Guild nod for co-star Sterling K. Brown. The show has even been recognized on the revamped MTV Movie and TV Awards.
Last fall, Architectural Digest featured a spread on This Is Us set design and the show’s locales in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, including Jack and Rebecca’s 1980s kitchen and Randall’s contemporary, 2016 living room. Frutkoff noted his team’s attention to detail, explaining that the biggest challenge with This Is Us is dealing with the changes in eras.
“There are period TV shows, like Mad Men, but they’re stable within their years,” he said. “Ours, so far, has gone from 1980 to present day. The different locations have been challenging. They have to support the story.”
Jack and Rebecca’s kitchen has already been seen in several eras, and the set designer says it had to be designed “from the ground up,” says
“The creator Dan Fogelman was pretty set on really getting down to a blue collar family home,” he said, adding that set designers “aged the walls and put up crayon marks or scrapes” to depict a real-life look for a family with three young children.
In addition to the blue collar house look, the This Is Us wardrobe department keeps busy with the changing eras. In an interview with Fashionista, This Is Us costume designer Hala Bahmet said she was worried about her part in the pilot episode’s timeline ruse but was happy it was successfully pulled off,
“I’m so glad that everyone was faked out because that was our greatest concern,” the This Is Us costume designer said.
“What I tried to do was make Rebecca and Jack look just like cool, interesting, timeless young people and just use classic things.”
The This Is Us pilot featured Jack in classic Levi’s 501s, work boots, and a jean jacket, with a pregnant Rebecca wearing “decade-ambiguous leisure-wear.” It wasn’t until the very end of the episode that the cameras pulled back to reveal the hospital circa 1980, complete with cigarette smokers in the maternity ward.
“It was really fun for us to cut loose finally in that hospital scene and put people in their ’70s polyester leisure suits, embroidered denim ponchos and nurses in their traditional white uniforms,” Bahmet says of the reveal.
While the This Is Us designer says Ventimiglia “fits into Levi’s like a dream” and is dressed almost entirely in authentic vintage, she has to dig deeper for Moore’s wardrobe which spans a couple more decades.
“We [maintain] a through-line to make sure that whenever we see Rebecca, whether it’s 1975 or 2016, [she has] some cohesive elements in her wardrobe,” she says.
This Is Us fans have already become familiar with some of the pieces that have been used more than once—like Rebecca’s’ knit beret cap and Jack’s “magic” green T-shirt from Daytona Beach.
While most of This Is Us has been set in the late 1980s, mid-1990s and the present day, the This Is Us designer points out that there has also been scenes from 1914 (the Pearson’s ancestors) as well as 1952, 1960 and several years in the 1970s.
Bahmet revealed that she hits costume houses, vintage shops in Los Angeles, and eBay and Etsy, to find vintage pieces suitable for all of the show’s older eras.
“We found beautiful ’40s pieces for Mandy in the Goodwill,” Bahmet says. “We have a mix of expensive pristine pieces, from the high-end vintage stores that are really curate and beautiful, and then mix with something great from a thrift store.”
This Is Us returns to NBC in September.
[Featured Image by Mark Davis/Getty Images]