She Is Us: Susan Kelechi Watson Plays An Everywoman With A Full Heart
Kate Szatmari

We adored Susan Kelechi Watson’s Beth Pearson the moment she appeared onscreen rocking shoulder-length twists, a knowing smile and quiet power as her spouse’s confidant on NBC’s juggernaut This Is Us. It didn’t take long for Watson and Sterling K. Brown’s alter egos to become #relationshipgoals, not just for marrieds with children, but for anyone figuring out a love thing. It takes a special kind of woman to bake her dying father-in-law weed brownies or say, “I call marriage,” the night her perfectionist hubby’s make or break deal coincides with their daughter’s chess tournament.

“It’s wonderful to watch people who aren’t tiptoeing around the relationship,” says Watson, who has also appeared on The Blacklist, Veep, Billions and Louie, as Louie C.K.’s ex-wife Janet. “Not just the flirty part, the cute, or the bubbly part, but to see people who are in it with each other… I have friends who say, ‘Why do you make it look so easy? I’m trying to do what Beth is doing.’ ”

Watson also makes all her red carpet and TV gorgeousness look effortless too. So it makes sense that PEOPLE magazine named her one of the World’s Most Beautiful early this year. In person, she’s the very definition of Black don’t crack, and underneath the surface is a calming spirit whose words sound like poetry: heartfelt and purposeful.

It’s probably related to all that Shakespeare she studied at the University of Oxford, that time Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington sponsored her and a few classmates to study The Bard across the pond. Or maybe it’s because she was an English major for a hot minute before jumping ship for her beloved theater department at Howard University.

Whatever it is, please know the Brooklyn native takes her craft seriously. That’s why it’s hard to picture the daughter of Jamaican parents as a rebellious teen who decided to skip college because disciplined environments weren’t her jam. Her plan? “I thought I’d hang out with my boyfriend and find a job, ” she says between petite bites of eggs Florentine. Watson chuckles at the memory. “Thank God I applied to Howard. It’s where I belonged. That’s where I was supposed to be and NYU’s [Tisch School of the Arts].”

The same can be said of her role on the Emmy-nominated This Is Us, which returns this fall. While Watson, 35, is tightlipped about the season’s secrets—we’ll be sure to keep tissues on deck—she hints that it’s Randall’s turn to be in Beth’s corner.

“[The show’s creator Dan Fogelman] is constantly mining life for the truth that he can bring to the series. It’s his homework and he takes seriously,” admits Watson. That authenticity also extends to how Watson wears her natural tresses on the series. The “hair adventurous” star has given us everything from braids to buns to ponies to curls. “This is my little shout out to Black women,” says Watson who started relaxing her hair in the sixth grade. “Just to let us know, this is beautiful what we have on top of our heads.”

Amen to that.

This was originally published in the October 2017 issue of ESSENCE.