Mandy Moore walked into the second season of This Is Uswith the weight of the show's biggest mystery on her shoulders -- Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) death. That pressure was only compounded when it was revealed that the pinnacle event for NBC's most watched drama would air after the Super Bowl, putting potentially millions of fresh eyes on Moore as she lost her TV husband on screen.

"I think it was written and presented in such a way where everybody had a beautiful moment because we knew that maybe people are going to be watching the show that hadn't seen it before," the actress recounted for TV Guide for our Best Performances video series. "I feel like it was a feat for my character because it's not often that you have to discover somebody losing somebody on screen. I felt a ton of pressure to make sure that that moment had the power and the resonance that I believe it deserved."

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The episode celebrated the event by kicking off with a gigantic house fire that forced the entire Pearson family (except for young Kevin) to escape through a second story window. To pull off the stunt, the crew built a replica of the Pearson family house set an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, where the show films, and burned it to the ground. The audience was set up to believe that Jack would die at the house, leaving room for his shocking heart attack later at the hospital. Moore, as Rebecca, had to carry the audience through the steps of acceptance once she heard the news that Jack had died, beginning with shock and denial when the doctor informed her that Jack had passed away.

"I love the way Dan wrote that scene because people accept news like that in a multitude of different ways. I truly believe that Rebecca was so utterly confused and that then morphed into almost embarrassment at him and then admonishment of like, 'Do you understand how wrong it is, what you just did? There is some poor woman who's husband just died and you're telling me about it' as if like, 'That is so inappropriate,'" Moore explained. "It's almost like all she can do to just back herself out of that situation, and she cannot wait to go tell Jack...Then obviously she walks into the room [and discovers the truth], but I think she fully expects, until she walks in that room, to see her husband."

Moore had prepared for the stunning moment when Rebecca walks into Jack's hospital room to find him dead by reflecting on the 30 previous episodes worth of memories, but Ventimiglia surprised her on the day by actually laying lifeless on the hospital bed to help her go the extra mile.

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"I thought Milo had left for the day, so as they were preparing this set-up for this particular scene of me walking down the hospital corridor right into his room, I was curled up in the fetal position. I had my headphones in, and I was listening to music. I was just in my own world," she said. "To walk into that room and to see Milo lying there with his shirt off, with the paddles lying on the bed next to him, his eyes open, staring at the ceiling not blinking -- it was everything I needed but didn't know that I needed. I was truly grateful in that moment," Moore recounted.

"We've never really talked about it, but it was this unspoken thing of, 'I'm going to be there for you in this moment.' I don't think it would have been the same without him because we only ended up doing two or three takes. I think it was the very first take that's in the episode...It just made it all the more real being able to lay my eyes on him," she added.

The tears didn't stop with the discovery of Jack's body. The following scene forced Rebecca to have to tell her kids that their family hero would never come home again. With a break in her voice, Rebecca informs her dead husband's best friend Miguel (Jon Huertas), that he has to hold it together because she has to go ruin the rest of her kids' lives. While Moore is restrained in the scene that made it to air, it took several takes of her losing it before she could find that calm center.

"It's funny because I think there were several takes of that where I just fully exploded. In a way I feel like you sometimes have to do that to then get to the other side of being able to hold it back... Sometimes you just need to pop the balloon and let the dam break a little bit in order to then pull it back," she told TV Guide. "I know that sounds weird, but for those kinds of super emotional things I felt like I needed to go there because [Rebecca] would have gone there by herself. She would have gone there by herself in the car or at the hospital and then pulled it together in order to go face telling her children."

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The emotional resonance of Moore's performance, not only in "Super Bowl Sunday," but in the episodes that followed Jack's death have once again put her in the conversation for a Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy nomination, which would be the first of her storied career. Moore's quiet, heartbreaking sadness through the season's final episodes helped sway the court of public opinion -- which had prematurely judged Rebecca during This Is Us' initial season -- into seeing her as the strong mother that she is. This transcendent performance helped the millions of viewers at home process their own grief of losing the family patriarch.

"I felt like I was in this emotional dead zone for a good month because we shot this episode and then the next episode with his funeral. It was just a month of crying. Of unabashed just tears flowing all the time," Moore said. "You have to find this weird, quiet place to live, which is super uncomfortable and scary and just a really icky feeling. At the end of the day, you want to go home and take a nice bath and have a glass of wine and listen to some happy, mellow music to lull yourself out of that."

We can toast to that.

This Is Us is now streaming on Hulu. Nominations for the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced July 12 with the ceremony airing Monday, Sept. 17 on NBC.



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