A chat about THIS IS US with teenage Kate, HANNAH ZEILE

Hannah Zeile photographed by Bobby Quillard

THIS IS US, that little show that you may have heard of, is proving Season 1’s breakout success was no fluke. Ratings are consistent or rising every week, fans on social media can’t stop talking about it, and I’m sure the tissue makers of the world are happy to see sales on the rise.

Tonight’s all new episode (9/8c) finds Kate facing her first big gig and I spent some time talking with Hannah Zeile, THIS IS US’ teenage Kate, about what’s coming up (no spoilers), working with Chrissy Metz, and binge-watching crime stories on Netflix.

Does it ever get old hearing all these record ratings and series rating highs for this show?
[laughs] No, not at all. HA!

I mean that’s got to be so amazing to be a part of something so, so huge. THIS IS US is huge.  What is that like?
It’s pretty incredible.  For the first season, I was a guest star, I was a recurring guest star, so it was already just a blessing to be working on the show while the show was getting great ratings, but now to be a part of the regular cast, fully part of this family is crazy!!

What’s it been like kind of getting into season two and really diving into a character this year? Are you excited to see what’s coming up?
It’s been so much fun!  It’s funny, because Dan Fogelman and all of the writers, this is their baby!  They’re very careful about what to say, what not to say, they’re very secretive.  I know the work that I’ve done, or other people, I’ve read some of their scripts, but when I get asked questions, I’m always like, sorry, lips sealed!!  I’m just too excited for people to finally get to watch.

Do you have a list of things you are told you can and can’t talk about?
For the longest time, we actually didn’t even know.  Dan wouldn’t even tell us a lot of the secrets, so when people would ask, like how did Jack die, it was like, you know, if you find out, let me know, because I have no idea right now [laughs]. We’ve definitely had to sign a lot of stuff and keep it all a secret.  It’s a lot of fun that way!  It’s self-motivating.  I think it’s more fun to watch people watch it unfold on screen.  As much as people ask, it’s like, there’s a plan. [laughs] You’re going to see!  It’s all going to come together. I think it’s a lot more interesting to watch it!

Do you get the scripts and find yourself crying like everybody who is watching it and crying?
Oh absolutely, there’s times when I’ll come to set and I’ll see Mandy in the makeup trailer and it’s like, “oh my god, did you read the new script? Were you crying?”  And I’m like, yes. [laughs]. We both were like, oh my god, I was a mess. The writing is so beautiful, even just reading it, I get emotional, but when I get to watch my costars bring it to life, that’s a whole new level of emotion, for sure!

Do you and Chrissy take time to “create” Kate together, working on expression, and stuff like that?
It’s funny because the genius Ken Olin, one day when I was doing one of the scenes, he was like, you have Chrissy’s mannerisms, your facial expressions!  I’ve really picked up from watching the show and watching her performance, but also, when me and Chrissy get together, we just hang out like friends. We get along super well, we have a really good time. I don’t know if subconsciously I’m picking up stuff, but we don’t even talk about the show! We just make each other laugh and hang out. I think getting to know her personally has like subconsciously enabled me to pick up stuff from her. I think it’s really cool that she doesn’t give me direction. She lets the teenage version of Kate be my own character and let her be her own entity. I don’t think anyone is exactly like they were in their teenage years; people evolve.  She totally lets me take the reins on my own character.

THIS IS US — “Deja Vu” Episode 203 — Pictured: Hannah Zeile as Kate — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

What can you tease obviously without giving anything away? What are we going to see from the Big Three as teenagers? Will we see more this year than we did last year?
They definitely are diving more into the storylines of the teenage years.  I think with Kate specifically, we saw that she had a really close relationship with her dad, with Jack, but obviously as you saw in the season premiere, they flashed forward at the end to the day that Jack died, so you’re going to see a relationship between Kate and Jack and then also a pretty complicated relationship between Kate and her mom.  We’re definitely going to expand. I think it’s hard because as a young girl, you, for the most part, you look up to your mom and see where you get to learn what it is to be a woman, and Kate, like most young girls, wants to be like her mom, but she feels it’s so unattainable. Rebecca is talented and thin and beautiful, and it makes Kate feel inadequate, so I think they’re going to show a lot more of that.

Why do you think this is a show that is breaking records?
Probably because the stuff that the writers touch on are real life issues. They don’t shy away from it, they don’t do it in a sugar coated way.  It’s uncomfortable stuff that people don’t want to talk about or want to see on TV when you watch these perfect family lives. We touch on complicated issues that I think people can relate to, and be like “oh my gosh, I’ve gone through that, too.” It’s cool to see it played out on screen.

You all seem like a real family. Is it a conscious effort for you and the family to work on that bond, or is it just a natural feeling of wanting to be together?
 We definitely do spend time outside of the set, especially with the big three of my age, just getting to know each other.  Also, Milo and Mandy are genuinely so kind.  They make it so comfortable. The first that I filmed, Milo literally came up to me and was like “welcome to the family!” They’re super cool; they’ve always said, if you want more family history, if you want to talk about our characters’ relationships, here’s our numbers, you know where to find us.  They made it really easy to make a connection and as you spend more time together and do more stuff together, it just comes naturally.

I like that you know there are the names we recognize like Milo, and Mandy, Sterling coming off of AMERICAN CRIME STORY, but there are also people who we haven’t seen before and everyone is giving their own share of heavy-lifting, emotionally.
I always say that it’s crazy – there is so much trust. We all rely on each other to do our part to make everything function properly.  Everyone does their job so well, and that includes the crew so well.  Everyone does their job and knows how to do it really well, while being really kind and having a good time, so we all just function at a really fluid motion and have a really good time together.

THIS IS US — “Deja Vu” Episode 203 — Pictured: (l-r) Hannah Zeile as Kate, Niles Fitch as Randall, Logan Shroyer as Kevin, MIlo Ventimiglia as Jack — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Do you feel like you are a bit of a role model in this in this role? Do you feel like people are looking up to you?
It’s hard to think of myself as a role model but I definitely do see people saying that they relate really strongly to Kate’s storyline and that’s really cool. To have a voice and to be able to touch on a topic of insecurity and self-esteem and weight.  I know that there are a lot of people who struggle with that, so it’s really cool to have a voice and be able to relate a lot of people.  That’s what is cool about social media, too. I can see the feedback from people and reply to them right away.

I just talked to somebody about it the other day it was like five years ago we didn’t have this access.
Oh absolutely, it’s crazy!  The night of the premiere of Season 2, it was two waves of tweets because there was the East Coast feed, and then everyone where it hadn’t premiered like, stop spoiling, we haven’t watched it yet! This is so crazy. They’re literally watching it as we’re speaking!!

What else are you watching when you get a chance to kind of sit and watch some TV for a bit?
I do the typical binge-watching on Netflix. I watched STRANGER THINGS in like, 2.5 seconds. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. I just finished watching FAMOUS IN LOVE. I’m currently looking for a new show to binge watch. I went back and watched GILMORE GIRLS as well [laughs].  I’m looking for something new to watch. I like crime shows a lot.

I just watched AMERICAN VANDAL which is a take off of MAKING A MURDERER. It’s so serious and hilarious!
Oh my gosh. I should watch that because I did watch MAKING A MURDERER!  I also just watched THE CONFESION TAPES, have you heard of that one?

My cousin just told me about it!
If you’re a crime show lover like I am, you’ll love it. It’s really, really good!

It’s such a crazy time in TV. You can think of something and it exists and you can find it somewhere. And there’s so many platforms. It’s such a weird time because there’s just so much stuff there’s no time to watch anything. And I want to watch it all.
It’s so crazy how accessible they’re making everything. It’s like, oh you missed it live, oh it’ll be online somewhere tonight, I’m sure!

What else do you have coming up besides THIS IS US that we can look forward to?
I’m really just taking everything day by day. I’m also really into music, so I kind of work personally on some music stuff, some songs, and singing as well.  I think it would be really cool to do a move in the hiatus.  I’m kind of just riding the wave right now and taking everything day by day right now because this has been so crazy and such a blessing that I don’t want to take anything for granted or blink and miss anything.

Music genre of choice?
I’m really into R&B / Pop, I guess!  I don’t know, maybe you’ll see something coming soon!

THIS IS US airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.
Hannah can be found on Twitter here.