Eris Baker, who plays Randall and Beth Pearson’s oldest daughter, Tess, on This Is Us, got a big story arc this season, as her character came out to her family right before the series’ midseason finale.
Paste had a chance to talk to the eighth grader about Tess’ arc this season, what it’s like balancing the show with school, and what viewers can expects as the show wraps up its third season. [Editor’s note: The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.]
Paste: How did you first find out about Tess’ storyline this season?
Eris Baker: My parents told me. [The producers] actually told my parents first and then my parents talked to me about, it making sure I was OK with it.
Paste: What did you think when you first heard about it?
Baker: I was super excited. I definitely wanted to inspire and spread the word that we should be loving and caring and have respect for everyone.
Paste: What kind of feedback have you received since Tess came out to her aunt and her parents?
Baker: The scenes were very powerful. I’m very thankful for that, because going in I had no idea about the LBGTQ community, so I had to do some research about that, and knowing everything that they had gone through, it really breaks my heart. I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to spread love.
Paste: What kind of research did you do to prepare?
Baker: I actually have a friend who came out to me before. When she came out to me, you could just tell in her face that she was scared to tell me, and she was scared because she didn’t think anybody would accept her. I felt so bad just realizing how the world is so discriminating, so I talked to her about that and she gave me some wonderful feedback.
Paste: What did you learn from her that you took to the scene?
Baker: When she first came out to me, she told me she didn’t feel accepted. I took that to heart. You could tell how Tess was scared that her parents weren’t going to accept her.
Paste: Why do you think Tess chose to come out to her Aunt Kate [Chrissy Metz] first, before her parents?
Baker: [Tess and Kate] have both faced challenges throughout their [lives], so I think they can relate to all the pain that’s been happening throughout their [lives].
Paste: Switching gears a bit, how did you get started?
Baker: When I was younger, regular kids would ask for toys for Christmas, but I told my parents I want to be on TV and they signed me up for classes. Probably some advice I would give to children who want to be in this industry is make sure your parents know of it. Once I told my parents, they were completely with me. I would pretend to be a Disney character and my mom would pretend to be Cinderella’s godmother.
Paste: Do you get to know the big secrets on the show beforehand? Like how Jack died or who the “her” was they are all going to see this season?
Baker: I did not know how Jack died. I was a viewer. I was at home as surprised as anybody. But because Tess was a big part of who “her” was, they told me beforehand.
Paste: Is it hard to keep the show’s secrets?
Baker: Definitely. You also want people to be surprised. I love surprises. Knowing that it was Rebecca and we could surprise so many people, I was super happy about. My mom would ask me. My family would ask me. I would just say, “You’re going to see. It’s going to be amazing. You’re going to be flabbergasted and you’re going to love it.”
Paste: Wait! You didn’t even tell your parents who “her” was?
Paste: How is it balancing school with the filming of the show?
Baker: It’s definitely hard. The struggle is real. I know that school comes first. Since I’m not home-schooled, I still get to have a social life at school, which I love. And I have super teachers who are really supportive of my career, so they work with me, which is great, because I know lots of teachers who aren’t. I’m definitely thankful that I have such supportive teachers. When I’m on set, I always get my homework early from my teachers so when I’m done working I’ll go back to school and be caught up just like everybody else.
Paste: Do your friends watch the show?
Baker: My friends are very supportive, but more so my friend’s parents watch the show. My friends don’t really watch the show that much. They always say, “My mom says to tell you you did a great job.”
Paste: What else are you working on?
Baker: I’m also creating a planner that helps teens to plan and set their goals and crush them, because I’m very diligent about planning. I love stationery. I’m working with a graphic designer right now.
Paste: What can you tell me about the rest of the season?
Baker: I can’t tell you a lot but I definitely want to tell you that Tess’ character is definitely going to be evolving this season. It’s amazing. You’re going to be crying so much, always.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .