‘This Is Us’ Writers Originally Pitched ‘Crazy’ Backstories for Randall’s Dad, William

2016 marked the debut of This Is Us and with it came the introduction of Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) and his journey to finding his biological father. Randall spent his entire life wondering about his biological parents. As an adult, he went in search of answers. 

Ron Cephas Jones as William and Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson
Ron Cephas Jones as William and Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson | Maarten de Boer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

When it came time for the writers of This Is Us to introduce Randall’s father, William Hill (Ron Cephas Jones), they came up with all sorts of backstories for the character. Ultimately, the most realistic version won out. 

William and Randall meet early in ‘This Is Us’ Season 1

This Is Us Season 1 Episode 2: “The Big Three” is when Randall first met his birth father. He wondered what his father would be like seeing as he abandoned him at birth.

He soon discovered there was more to William than he thought. Randall learned that William was a kind man who loved poetry, once played in a band, and was dying of stage 4 stomach cancer.

He also learned that his biological mother had long since died and that when he was born, William had been using heroin. For that reason, he decided to give Randall up.

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William’s backstory was almost much more sinister on ‘This Is Us’

A shy, quiet musician on This Is Us, William wanted to get to know his son before his death. However, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the This Is Us writers initially wanted to make the character a villain.

Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson and Ron Cephas Jones as William Hill during a scene from 'This Is Us' Season 1
Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson and Ron Cephas Jones as William Hill during a scene from This Is Us Season 1 | Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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“I remember we came in with pitches about how he was going to come in and con Randall, or that maybe he wasn’t his father,” Kay Oyegun, a writer on the series, said. 

Oyegun continued, noting Dan Fogelman, the creator of This Is Us, dismissed the pitches.

“There were all of these crazy things, and they would work on any show, but Dan was like, ‘Well, what if he’s just a guy who wanted to get back in touch with his son?’” she said. “Like, ‘What if he’s just an old man who’s lived this long life, and now is dying and wants to reconnect with his son? What if that was the story?’”

“For me, that moment crystallized what this show is and what it means for people. At its core, This Is Us is about decent, good intentioned people,” Oyegun added. 

Sure enough, that’s what happened. William became a fan-favorite character on This Is Us, bonding with everyone including Randall’s wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), and his grandchildren. 

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William dies in ‘This Is Us’ Season 1

William didn’t have much time with the Pearson family. Finally on This Is Us Season 1 Episode 16: “Memphis,” the character died. But not before Randall took William on an epic road trip.

The trip ended with Randall saying a tearful goodbye to William in a Memphis hospital. Jones won an Emmy Award in 2020 for “Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series” following his performance as William.

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