Mandy Moore admits she was more than willing to take a very unexpected career plunge when she agreed to star in the underwater thriller “47 Meters Down” as one of two scuba-diving sisters trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. But there was one area in which she was glad to stay in her personal comfort zone.
“What I loved about this film was showing up for my costume fitting and there were all kinds of cute bathing suits and bikinis,” she remembers, “and I was like, ‘I will not be wearing that. Just let’s get that out in the open from the start.’”
She giggles at the memory, but her preference was as grounded in character logic as it was in modesty. “I was like, ‘I’m not that girl. I’m not going to wear a bikini. I want to wear a wetsuit. I feel like that would be the most realistic. This girl is hesitant to go on this journey to begin with. The last thing she’s going to do is be in a cute bathing suit.’ So luckily, no one defied that…I am in a wetsuit the whole time, which was awesome.”
Once wardrobe issues were settled, “47 Meters Down” proved to be the first step in a string of game-changing career choices designed to nudge her out of the romantic comedies and Disney animation that had defined a screen career she’d kicked off when she was 16 and in the midst of adolescent pop music stardom. It was a physically and emotionally demanding role that required her to master new skills: “I could cry underwater, which is a weird sensation with the scuba mask on!”
The film, for all its pulpy suspense, challenged her “in a way that I never had been before,” she says. “It came at a time in my life where I was really hungry for something that was going to get me out of my head, and get me out of L.A. I loved the script. No one’s ever thought of me for a role like this before, so I was like, ‘I should probably jump at this opportunity.’”
“I took on this challenge just simply to be able to check that off my bucket list and say, ‘Wow, I did something totally unexpected and something that scared me,’” she says. “I think I needed to do that on a multitude of levels, personally and professionally … and this was a full six months before I even read the script for ‘This Is Us.’ But I guess it was the start of this shift.”
“This Is Us,” the NBC’s family drama sensation known for wringing tears out of its viewers week in and week out, was the next step in Moore’s on-screen evolution, playing aspiring singer, wife and mother-of-three Rebecca Pearson from the Seventies to the present day. She earned her first Golden Globes nomination this year.
“I’m definitely at a new juncture, and I’m grateful for it,” says Moore. “I haven’t played a mother and a wife before, and in this sort of dramatic ensemble piece that really leaves the door wide open in terms of story. It felt like the next step in being an adult — and not being a 17- or 18-year-old that people sort of associate with certain characters, or kinds of movies.”
It’s one thing to be part of a hit show, and it’s entirely another to be entrenched in a full-blown TV phenomenon. “It moves us,” Moore says, her voice catching a moment. “I get emotional just thinking about it. We’re in awe of the reaction.”
Playing a mother also has her feeling a tug toward parenthood. “I am ready to have a family,” she says. “it’s definitely something that’s been really on my mind lately.”
And Rebecca’s on-screen singing has Moore itching to get back into the recording studio after nearly a decade away. “I miss it. I have a lot of stuff that I’ve written over the last six or seven years,” she says, noting she frequently pens songs with her musician boyfriend Taylor Goldsmith. “I don’t know how the whole machine works. I don’t have a record label. I don’t have a music manager — it’s a totally new world. But I also think I’m using that as an excuse. … Just get the music out there!”
Having successfully navigated the frequently fin-infested waters of Hollywood, she wouldn’t mind doing a real-life shark dive — and she’s surprised that the publicity machine behind “47 Meters Down” didn’t suggest that she and costar Claire Holt try one as a publicity stunt.
“It would just be like ‘The Today Show’ gone awry. But I would love to. I think I managed to convince Claire too. I’m like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun just to be able to put a pin in it and say we did it?’ As long as they guarantee we have plenty of oxygen, just in case.”