TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore first rose to stardom with her hit single Candy in 1999. It made Mandy a teen pop star, following the steps of her peers Britney Spears, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys. But she never wanted to be just a pop star – she had dreams of performing on stage and screen and writing her own music. And for the last 20+ years, Mandy has been doing just that. She’s starred in movies like Saved, The Princess Diaries and I’m Not Here. On TV she’s appeared on Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs and This is Us, the smash-hit, beloved drama that just finished its 6-year run on NBC. Mandy played Rebecca Pearson on the show, a role that earned her Screen Actors Guild and People’s Choice awards, along with Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Mandy is currently gearing up for her first North American tour in over a decade, in support of her new album In Real Life.

Guests: Mandy Moore

Transcript

jesse thorn

Hey, it’s Jesse. NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like you spend time with podcasts. So, please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at NPR.org/podcastsurvey. That’s all one word. We would really appreciate your help to support NPR podcasts. That’s NPR.org/podcastsurvey. All one word. Thanks.

music

Gentle, trilling music with a steady drumbeat plays under the dialogue.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

music

“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks, then fades out.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. Feed your Tamagotchi, jump into those JNCOs, frost those tips. [Music fades in.] ‘Cause we’re going back to 1999, baby.

music

“Candy” from the album So Real by Mandy Moore. Oh yeah So, baby come to me Show me who you are Be sweet to me Like sugar to my heart (oh, baby) I’m craving for you (I’m craving) I’m missing you like candy (missing you like candy) Sweet, sweet loving… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

That song playing is a classic from that year—“Candy”, by my guest, Mandy Moore. It was her first single. She was a teenager. It hit number 41 on the Billboard charts. It went gold. It made Mandy a teen pop star, following in the footsteps of her peers Britney Spears, N*SYNC, and The Backstreet Boys. But Mandy Moore never wanted to just be a teen pop star. She had dreams to act, to write her own music, and it turns out she was great at those things. For over 20 years, she’s been a regular working actor. She starred in movies like Saved, The Princess Diaries, and I’m Not Here. On TV, she’s appeared on Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, and of course, This is Us. That smash hit beloved drama just finished its six-year run on NBC. Mandy played Rebecca Pearson on the show—a role that earned her Screen Actors Guild awards, along with Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. And now, like I said, This is Us has come to an end. When the production wrapped, Moore found herself in a bit of a crossroads in her career. [Music fades in.] So, she started writing music again and recording it. And she has a brand-new record. It’s called Real Life. This is the title track.

music

“In Real Life” from the album Real Life by Mandy Moore. It’s too late to wait until it feels right Now I gotta start the long goodbye I spent every day filling every page How the world revolved around me When I saw your face I knew right away We’d be whoever we wanted to be In real life… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Mandy Moore, welcome to Bullseye! Thanks for being on the show!

mandy moore

Thanks for having me!

jesse

Do you have to think about what the effect of your records is on people that love you from the—one of the most popular shows on network television? [They chuckle.] A completely different thing?

mandy

I don’t think about it, no. And I recognize that there are probably many, many of them that have no idea that I had a music career before and that’s how I started out. And that’s perfectly okay with me.

jesse

Did you ever think about it the other way around from people who knew you from being a pop star and seeing you as an actor?

mandy

Yeah! That’s been a different transition, just because I started my career at 15, in music and then very sort of quickly transitioned into the acting side of things when I was like 16, 17, 18. And that became kind of like my real day job for a good amount of time. And then there have been lulls and ebbs and flows and whatnot, but I just—yeah. I fully expect that maybe people are a little bit more aware of—knew me from music and transitioning into acting has been a bit more of an ongoing thing for the last few years.

jesse

Do you think that professional musician is your career now? Or is it 50/50? Or is music a thing you do because you love it and you’re going to continue to try and be on network television programs?

mandy

[Laughs.] I feel like music has always been a hobby. It’s the thing that I haven’t found the same degree of success with that I kind of have on the acting side. So, I love that! ‘Cause it means there’s no expectation. I have total freedom to make music on my own terms. And although I started out in a very controlled environment as a popstar and making music with A&R folks and—you know—just the whole machinery of like the late ’90s, early 2000s. But again, I think because I never really achieved the level of success that a lot of my contemporaries did, it kind of allowed the record label to like take their foot of the gas. They were like, “Go do whatever you want!” [Music fades in.] So, at 18, like I remember I made this covers record and I covered like XTC and Joe Jackson and Joni Mitchell and all this music that I was like discovering and falling in love with.

music

“Senses Working Overtime” from the album Coverage by Mandy Moore. And all the world is football shaped It’s just for me to kick in space And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

mandy

And they let me put out this record, ‘cause they’re like, “Yeah, yeah. Our relationship is over.” And that was kind of like the transition for me of starting to write my own music and be way more involved, creatively. So—but it’s still like—I’ve never ever found the same degree of success, especially like compared to—well, you know, something like a This is Us in my life over the last six years. So, I feel lucky that I get to feel creatively fulfilled on both ends. But music is less of my day job. It’s definitely just my passion.

jesse

What was writing songs like for you for this record? I mean, like practically. You’ve always worked with collaborators. Does that mean that you’re—you know, the two of you are sitting together going, “Scoobity-doobity-doo,” and that—like, what is the actual functional—?

mandy

Pretty much! [Laughs.]

jesse

I don’t have a strong understanding of the music making process, I will admit.

mandy

I think it differs for everybody. And it even differs like day-to-day for me. Like, sometimes I will come in with a very strong idea lyrically of what I wanna talk about. Or just—you know, the idea of like, “I really love that one chord progression in this crowded house song.” Like, I’d love to try and find a song that makes me feel that way. I wrote this whole record with my husband, Taylor, and one of my best friends, Mike Viola, who also produced the record. He’s produced my last three records. So, yeah. I think together, the three of us just like have always been on the same page and known—they’ve really be great about following my lead and letting me sort of take the helm and figure out like what this record needed to be. I hadn’t made music in about—over a decade, and I started working on a record that came out in March of 2020. We were four days away from going on the road with it. And, obviously, the world shut down and we had to sort of make different plans. And so, I think that in real life, this album that just came out is a direct reflection and response of how I was feeling during that time, I think. Trying to get a grasp on what was happening in the world and the confusion and the chaos. Writing has always been a really cathartic outlet for me. And to be able to connect and do that with Taylor, with my husband, and then bringing Mike into the fold once it felt kind of okay to do that—after a couple of months. And then I found out I was pregnant like—you know—very early on in the pandemic, as well. So, a lot of this record is also talking about impending parenthood and what this next chapter of my life was gonna look like. And looking back on my life and reflecting on my relationship with my parents and—it just—it really kind of colored everything.

jesse

I’m not that surprised to hear that you put this record together while you were—you know—just realizing you were pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic, because it feels like you’re—in a way—kind of trying to explain who you are and how you got there a little bit. But—and when I say that, like I mean to yourself. [Laughs.] [Mandy agrees.] Like, not—

mandy

Yeah! Not to the world.

jesse

Not like this is—it’s not like “This is My Fight Song” type situation. It’s a—

mandy

It’s a little quieter, I think.

jesse

Yeah, you trying to figure out how to feel right about being yourself.

mandy

Thanks! Yeah! Definitely.

jesse

Were you freaked out at the beginning of the pandemic? Were you freaked out when you found out that you were pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic?

mandy

I was freaked out I think like probably the rest of the population—just what is this world gonna be? What is our life gonna sort of constitute of like—yeah. There was just so many questions and no answers. And just living in a world of fear. So, yeah, I think that finding out [chuckles] that we were gonna become parents was a beautiful, personal silver lining, but it was also like made all the more terrifying just because of the state of the world and how sort of completely protective you immediately felt anyway. And I went back to work when I was like five months pregnant. And that was pretty scary, as well. Understanding that there were gonna be certain protocols in place and I did end up feeling very safe at work, but still! There were like so many question marks. We were one of the first shows to go back into production. And so, I kind of felt like we were guinea pigs, in a way. We would shut down periodically, because someone—you know. None of the actors ever tested positive. I don’t know how, for—you know—a year and a half. And thousands of covid tests—no one sort of on the—in the main cast ever tested positive. But we’d have crew members and people that worked in the office and whatnot. And in the beginning, it like kind of shut everything down for like a week at a time! [Laughs.] And then we’d slowly sort of get back up and running again. And yeah, carrying a child and being pregnant for the first time was a little daunting during that time especially. But it did give me a lot to write about. [Laughs.] A lot to reflect on, a lot to be grateful for.

jesse

So, there’s two lanes of inquiry that I wanna open here. The first of them is: so, I had some interactions with the medical system towards the beginning of the pandemic, and it… one of the scariest and most difficult things about it was just how fraught it was to go to the doctor. [Mandy agrees.] Which is a big part of being pregnant. So, what was that like to know that you were kind of entering an unknown and a little bit scary world just to like go and get an ultrasound or whatever.

mandy

Just to go and get an ultrasound. Yeah! It was strange. It was strange times. But you know, masked up and had your hand sanitizer. You sort of like weaponized yourself as best as you could, going out into the world. And like I tried to keep myself in my little bubble. But yeah, I also knew like I have to enter into the world. Like, this is a big part of our existence, and this is important, and this is an important part of making sure that my health is okay, and the health of my unborn child is okay. So, you sort of like cast aside all those other fears and doubts and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. But it was a strange time. Especially, also you had to do most of that solo. Whereas for the most part, you’d be—you know, hopefully sharing it with your partner. You know. Also, silver lining of the world being kind of closed was that I got to share this time with my husband when my husband’s a touring musician. And like 90% of his life is spent on the road. And I guarantee, we never would have spent this kind of concentrated amount of time together during this very special time. So, I was really grateful that we got to ride the waves [laughing] of that time together.

jesse

What was it like to share your—I’m sure you and your husband each had your own anxieties about parenthood—to share them in a house that you basically never left?

mandy

[Chuckles.] That we couldn’t escape each other? Well, we discovered over the pandemic that we very much like each other, which I was grateful for, and really enjoyed spending 2+ years confined together. It was—yeah! I loved being able to share those—there were—there were fears, but we had actually been trying to start a family for a while. So, I think there was more relief in it finally coming to fruition and gratitude than there was—I mean, obviously as things progress and you actually see this child growing in you physically, it becomes more real and you’re reading all the books and taking weird Zoom baby classes. And that’s—for sure, it elicits conversations about what kind of parents do we wanna be, what kind of influence do we wanna have on our kids? What do we want the future to look like? Where do we wanna live? Like what kind of schools—? I mean, all of those things that, yeah, you don’t really think about I guess until you’re in that situation. It’s more fun to just ignore that stuff and think about—you know—romanticized version, I guess.

jesse

Even more still to get into with Mandy Moore after the break. Stick around. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

music

Thumpy synth with light vocalizations.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is Mandy Moore, the singer-songwriter and star of This is Us. Let’s get back into our conversation. Did you have to make a plan with your husband on what to do about having a baby when he is a touring musician, you’re a working actor and sometime touring musician, and there is a deadly pandemic spreading through the land?

mandy

Did we have a plan in place?

jesse

Yeah! Did—how do you—how did you figure out like—? [Mandy laughs.] ‘Cause normally, it would be like, “Well, our parents come to stay with us for as long as possible.” Or maybe if you’re lucky, they live in the area. You’re shaking your head “no”.

mandy

Well, I mean, no. The only plan we had in place was—he wasn’t working, ‘cause he wasn’t touring. And I was working, and I went back to work in fact like a month after Gus was born. So, our plan was to have the support that we needed in order to ensure that like I could go back to work. And I was nursing him, and so I needed to have someone there to kind of like help facilitate that. And Taylor was around to do that some of the time, and we had someone else that would step in and help when he couldn’t do it. And it was great, actually. It ended up working out really well. I feel lucky that I have a job that I love that allowed me to bring my child to work like consistently, without hesitation. No one—no one felt put out by it. No one—whenever I was like, “Hey guys, I need—you know—ten minutes to go nurse my baby or I need to take a break to go visit him or I need to eat something,” like no one questioned that. And I felt very—yeah, very supported and very understood in that whole situation. It was really lovely.

jesse

I’m sorry to ask you such a dumb question, but did you ever find yourself at work feeding your child in old lady makeup.

mandy

I did. A lot. I have lots of pictures of it, too. [Jesse giggles.] Just for like therapy purposes later, for Gus.

jesse

[Laughing.] Just because there’s parts of this—of what you were filming where you were—what?—like 85, right? Onscreen?

mandy

Yeah. I wasn’t quite ever that age nursing him, but I was in my early 70s. [Jesse affirms with a laugh.] And I would call myself grandma mom when I would—[laughs] to nurse him, then. Yeah, looots of photographic evidence of that happening.

jesse

Just I think all mothers can relate to that moment when their baby looks up at them and wonders why they’re 80s years old!

mandy

Why they’re 40 years older? [They laugh.]

jesse

[Imitating a confused baby.] “Waaah-huh?”

mandy

Yeah. “What happened?” I think he smelled me and recognized my voice, ‘cause he was never confused. But yeah, I mean, from an early age, he saw me in like different wigs and I guess he’s—I don’t know. Again, you gotta give him something to go to therapy for later in life. Right?

jesse

It must have been odd to be going through that beginning in your life as you were doing the work that was the end of this show that—you know—had been—had redefined your career—defined your career, to some extent. [Mandy agrees.] And like, to be there, like look around with these people that you’ve been working with for seven years or whatever, say, “This is the last time I’m gonna see them. Also, I guess I’m a parent now for the rest of my life.”

mandy

Yeah. Strange juxtaposition of like starting this very—the most important chapter of my life as—you know—something that is very seminal and important to me is ending. But also, something really beautiful in that as well. And I’ve tried to embrace that and I’m excited, because I don’t really—beyond like this record and going on the road—I don’t know what comes next, beyond being a mom. And I’m excited about that. And I’m really—I’m—it’s lovely to have job security, but I’m like, “Oh, I’m gonna give myself some time to process what I just experienced and lived through for six seasons.” And also like, I went back to work with him when he was a month old! Like, I’d love to just have a moment to be mom and then figure out what comes after.

jesse

And also go on tour. [Chuckles.]

mandy

Go on tour and bring him on tour. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

jesse

Your husband is going with you, right?

mandy

He is. Yeah, my—

jesse

Is he also gonna be performing on this tour?

mandy

I mean, he’ll be in the band! Yeah! My husband and my brother-in-law. So, it really will be like a Partridge Family situation. We’ll bring Gus with us and—yeah. Just bring him around the country. And it might be the worst idea of all time, but I’m also like, “You know what? This is gonna be like some weird family summer vacation.” And it’ll be fun to tell him one day. Like, “You went to 25 cities around the country when you were 15 months old.”

jesse

So, [laughs] let’s talk a little bit about your early career—your teenage years and before. I know that you started singing and acting—you know—the way that children start singing and acting, when you were a child, when you were 10/12 years old. [Mandy confirms.] Did you aspire at some point to do it professionally immediately? Like, did you ever say to your mom like, “Bring me on auditions,” or— [Mandy confirms.] “Get me a record deal,” or whatever. [Chuckles.]

mandy

Stat! No, I was very self-motivated. I don’t know where it came from. No one in my family is artistic. No one’s remotely creative. My dad’s an airline pilot—or was an airline pilot. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. Yeah. I—but I remember we were fortunate enough to go to a really great school in Orlando, where I grew up. And it was a private school, and every kid had to attend drama and music class. So, I think that was my introduction. I don’t know if I would’ve been introduced to music or theatre in any regard if it weren’t for school. And every kid had to participate in the fifth and sixth grade plays, which they put on at like the big, touring theatre in town where all the touring Broadway shows came through. And I was six, and I saw the sixth-grade production of Oklahoma, and the girl who played Laurie—I just remember her singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”, and she was incredible. And I remember like sitting up in my seat and looking all around me at like the audience in awe at how talented this girl was. And I’m like, “I wanna do that. I wanna make people feel like that.” It’s something like electricity pulsed through my body, and I remember I would like walk around the house mimicking a song and asking my parents if I sounded like her. And I’d sing The Little Mermaid, and that quickly transitioned into just like finding theatre. Like, Broadway musicals and like cast recordings and listening to those. And I remember my mom went to like a Bette Midler show when I was kid, and she got one of those like souvenir like books from the tour, and I would just thumb through it. And with Bette Midler and all of her like crazy costumes! [Laughs.] But I remember thinking, “I wanna do that!” And I remember, you know, from like 10 or 11 or 12, seeing Beaches—which far too young to see that movie, but being so moved by it—I just loved Bette Midler.

jesse

I mean, some would argue that Bette Midler, not necessarily for children in general.

mandy

Not—no, no, no. But for me—

jesse

Wonderful as she—Bette Midler, go on Bullseye. You’re always welcome here. We’ve tried to book Bette Midler before. You’re always welcome here.

mandy

Oh my gosh. Come on, Bette.

jesse

But maybe not the main thing that she’s for—

mandy

For a ten-year-old? No. I—yeah, I was not her target demo, but somehow I found her and found her music and she was just on a pedestal to me. And I wanted to have a career like that. I wanted to do movies and Broadway and TV and—

jesse

Play bathhouses.

mandy

Play bathhouses in New York City with Barry Manilow!

jesse

Make catty remarks!

mandy

Yeah, exactly! And that evolved into finding—The Orlando Sentinel used to have an audition hotline on Fridays where you could call and find out like what the local, upcoming auditions for all age groups were. And I would write down whatever was in town, all across town, in far, little-reaching suburbs around Orlando, of what was casting for people my age. And then my parents were very kind to schlep me across town and audition for like—you know, a local production of Gypsy or something. And I just—one thing led to another. I sang the national anthem at sports events. Anything I could do to just sing and be out there and performing, I wanted that opportunity.

jesse

I mean, I imagine that at some point, when you were trying to sing the national anthem at sporting events, you must have figured out like, “Oh, I’m actually pretty good at singing.”

mandy

I don’t know if I ever felt that way. I felt good singing. But I never remember a time where I was like, “Ooh, I’m good.” Like, I just—I loved it. I loved the feeling that overcame me. And that was the driving factor. I was like, “Ugh! I can’t get enough of this! I can’t get enough of like being onstage and feeling that like magic.” I don’t know!

jesse

This question contains no judgement. How much of it was the act of singing—like the way that you feel when you’re singing in the kitchen while you’re doing the dishes? How much of it was the act of like entertaining an audience, knowing that you’re like touching them and changing them and they love you?

mandy

Entertaining an audience, for sure. Just miles of difference. I mean, I still love being at home and like puttering around the house singing, but there is something different about being onstage and getting to do it for an audience and like, again, something that sort of gets turned on in you. And the reciprocal thing of you give them energy, they give energy back to you. It’s—that dynamic and that rush of adrenaline is something that can’t really be reciprocated in any other place.

jesse

I feel like you’re having a sense memory right now. [Chuckles.]

mandy

Totally! I am! I’m like taking—you’re taking me waaay back!

jesse

Your gestures have gotten much stronger since we—

mandy

[Laughing.] Sorry. Sorry!

jesse

You’re—it’s great! I’m enjoying it.

mandy

I get excited, yeah.

jesse

You’re selling the national anthem, right now. Here I am at the Orlando Magic—

mandy

I would have my pitch pipe, and I had an American flag hair bow. Like, I got real into it. And I remember I was at an Orlando Magic game once with my dad. We had season tickets during the Shaq-Penny Hardaway days, the glory days of the Orlando Magic. And we—I watched a girl my age walk out and sing the national anthem, and I had no idea. And that’s when it dawned on me I can do that. I wanna do that. And so, I sent in an audition tape. My mom dropped it off with fresh-baked cookies. I think that really sealed the deal. And I got asked to do it, and then one thing led to another. I became the national anthem girl for like the Orlando Arena, as it was called at that time. And I sang for the roller hockey team, the ice hockey team, the arena football team. Like, I kind of made my rounds there.

jesse

That was the golden age of professional roller hockey.

mandy

[Laughs.] The golden age! I think they were the Orlando Jackals, if I remember correctly. But yeah, I became like their good luck charm during the playoffs one year.

jesse

I think Orlando is a very interesting place to come up in the entertainment industry, because—you know, there’s places like—you know, Chicago has a world of people who are doing theatre at the highest levels within Chicago. Right? And they get the occasional job on a movie that’s shooting in Chicago or whatever. Mostly, they’re performing with Steppenwolf or something. [Mandy agrees.] If you’re in Los Angeles, you’re like living within the television and to some extent film industry completely just because you’re in Los Angeles. If you’re in New York, maybe you’re doing a Broadway thing. And Orlando is not Kansas City where it’s like regional theatre or nothing, because Orlando is a place with lots of professional entertainment, but it is a very particular kind of professional entertainment. Right? It’s like when you see a show on a cruise ship and you’re like, “These people are for real professional entertainers, and they are in this lane doing this thing.” Right? You’re like, “This person can really sing. They know how to work this job, and also they’re working on a cruise ship: the weirdest place you could ever work in the history of the world. Right? And Orlando is full of jobs like that! [Laughs.] Right? [Mandy confirms.] There’s 75 theme parks. There’s 1000 cruise ships. There’s many tourist attractions of various kinds. And then I’m sure there’s also just regular, regional theatre. [Chuckles.] But…

mandy

Yes. Yeah, it’s weird ‘cause I just feel like I was a normal kid who lived in the suburbs. I had no connection to like The Mickey Mouse Club or like any of the so-called industry that was there. I truly was just like a normal theatre kid that could’ve been in any town across the country. I think people hear Orlando and the time period in which my career kind of started and they’re like, “Oh! Were you friends with all those people?” I’m like, “I had no awareness of any of that stuff.” It wasn’t until things sort of started for me that I kind of made that connection.

jesse

Did you wanna be a teen Bette Midler?

mandy

I wanted to be on Broadway. Yeah.

jesse

Sing “Castle On a Cloud” or whatever.

mandy

Sing—exactly! Oh my gosh, that would’ve been the dream, to be in Les Mis or some show in New York or something. For sure.

jesse

So, how did you end up becoming a pop star? [Mandy laughs.] Besides being good at singing. I mean, you’re an exceptional singer.

mandy

Well, that’s debatable, but—oh, you’re kind. But I think I was—

jesse

I think the marketplace has proven that you’re good at singing. You’ve been a professional singer for 25 years or whatever. Yeah.

mandy

Oooh goodness. Well, I was singing the national anthem at the ice hockey team, and as I was coming off the ice to walk to my dad—who was sitting in the penalty box—these two gentlemen like waved the two of us over, and my dad and I like walked over there. And they were like, “That was great.” “Thank you?” And they told me that they worked in a recording studio. One was an engineer; one was a songwriter. And they had some music if I ever had any interest in recording in a studio. Which, you know, is the shadiest way to open a conversation to a 13-year-old and her dad.

crosstalk

Jesse: It’s a shady way to open a conversation to an adult man, yeah. Mandy: Open any conversation with anybody. Correct, correct. Jesse: Like—

mandy

But! I like just jumped at that prospect, and my parents were like, “Well, you’re going into high school—freshman year of high school. You have some money from some local commercials that you’ve done. If you wanna spend your money—you know—for five days in this recording studio, recording some original songs, like it’s your money to spend. So, go for it.” And I did. And it was probably—oh my gosh, like day three, a guy who worked for FedEx who had been in and out of the studio and knew all the goings on there, approached my parents and these two producer/engineer guys and said, “I have a friend who is the head—” Like, “I have a friend of a friend of a friend who’s the head of Urban A&R at Epic Records, and I can send this like demo off to him.” Nobody told me anything, in case it never came to fruition. And they did! They sent this demo. This man, through whatever chain of friends he had, sent my demo off. And this guy, David McPherson, who used to be the head of A&R at Jive Records—he signed The Backstreet Boys—had just moved over to Epic Records. And he heard something he liked, and he flew down to Orlando, and I sang for him, live. I sang a song from a Broadway show, because that was [chuckles] the nerd I was.

jesse

Like in an office?

mandy

In a recording studio. And I sang a song for him, and just like had a normal conversation. And at this point, it was like early fall. And I had started high school. And I remember I was way more concerned with this meeting getting over, because it was a Friday night and I wanted to go to my homecoming football game. Like I had no concept of this really being a reality that could happen to me and change my life. I was like, “This is cool that this man flew down from New York and I get to sing for him,” but I really—I had just started making friends and I wanna go to my homecoming football game. And that was the meeting that sort of changed everything. It changed my whole life.

jesse

I had not spent a ton of time thinking about the process of becoming a teen pop star until I started preparing for this interview. [Mandy laughs.] But something that I thought about as I was doing this was I was like—one of the craziest parts about it, to me, is that like you’re a freshman in high school, so you’re like 14 or 15.

mandy

14

jesse

And you were at the top of the pop star hill—or at least, the—you know, the second highest crest of the pop star hill like 18 months later or something! [Mandy confirms.] So, like the thing that I couldn’t wrap my head around is the idea of how much changes sooo fast! And like things move slowly when you’re a teenager, relatively, but like I was like, “I can’t even—!” Like! [Struggling for words.] I know that—

mandy

It was less than 18 months. This was the fall of 1998. I started making my debut album in January of 1999. And by May, I had come out to LA and done my first music video, and then immediately flew back across the country and started the N*SYNC summer amphitheater tour, where I was like the opening act like [chuckles] on this stage that is outside the mainstage. You know, it’s the second stage. You come through like the turnstile after they tear your ticket stub and there’s like—you know—four people watching. I started out there.

jesse

What was the show? Was it you and a mic? Did you have dancers?

mandy

It was me and four backup dancers. And like a track and singing live but—you know—doing some bad dance moves, ‘cause I’m the worst dancer in the world. But—

jesse

I saw Faith Evans do that one time.

mandy

[Excited.] Really?!

jesse

With two backup dancers, opening for Nas. And like Faith Evans can sing! [Mandy agrees several times.] Like for real. So, Faith Evans is there just like blowing the house down with her singing. [Chuckles.] But also, the stage is built for Usher. And she just has these two dancers and a track. Like, she had huge hit songs! Like, this is not before she was famous or anything. And it was the—it is one of the oddest forms of performance.

mandy

Yeah. And that was such a moment in time, when that was happening, too. Where you had the backup dancers and—

jesse

I saw Kelis do that opening for The Roots one time. [Mandy reacts with excitement.] Just Kelis and two dancers opening for The Roots! And you’re like, “What is this?!” [Laughs.]

mandy

So strange. Yeah! That was my life too for a minute, at least! From N*SYNC, it went to The Backstreet Boys and their Millennium tour. You know, “I Want It That Way”, that record. And we were in giant arenas, and their show was in the round I remember. So, here I was like at 15, fearless! Just walking up with my background dancers and like doing my 30-minute set. You know, like five, six songs or whatever and then bouncing. But I just had like not a fear in the world. I was like, “Oh yeah! I—” Even though my life had changed exponentially! I—it wasn’t like an expectation of like, “Oh yeah, this makes sense.” It was more of like, “Oh, cool! I have this opportunity. Like, I’m gonna take it! And I’m gonna run with it and appreciate it, and this is so cool!” And I went form watching these guys on MTV like getting ready to go to school in the morning, and now I’m like—my tour bus is parked next to theirs. It was wild!

jesse

I watched the video for your hit song, “Candy”.

mandy

Oh gosh.

jesse

Which is—it’s just amazing. Like, there’s this part—first of all, everyone is wearing those kind of like slightly flared cargo pants. Like slim cargo pants. [Mandy confirms.] That all—I mean, we’re very similar ages, so I remember these things very vividly myself, from my own post-adolescence. But like—and everybody—you have a long shirt on. Everybody else has a midriff shirt on, and you all climb into a lime green Volkswagen new Beetle. And as I saw you driving this Beetle in the video, I thought, “I bet she doesn’t have a driver’s license.” [Chuckles.]

mandy

Oh, correct. They were towing the car. [Jesse laughs.] Yeah! I was 15. Didn’t even have my learner’s permit. But it was epic! I was so excited to even pretend and get behind the wheel of a car. Yeah, it was so much fun.

jesse

How sanguine were you about the fact that being a teen pop star is not typically a lifelong job?

mandy

Hmm. I… yeah, I was aware of that. And I think that’s why, when I was lucky enough to get any sort of foot in the door, I was like, “I wanna try my hand at all of this. I wanna act. I wanna be on Broadway. I wanna—yeah, I wanna do movies and TV and anything anyone’ll let me try.” [Chuckles.] And so, I knew that like music wasn’t going to be the only thing on the resume, hopefully. But I was just happy ‘cause I’m like, “Oh!” It like—you know, it opened the door, and other opportunities did present themselves because of it.

jesse

We have so much more to get into! Stay with us; it’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

promo

Music: Relaxed, cheerful guitar. John Moe: Hey, it’s John Moe. Join me on Depresh Mode for conversations on how mental health shapes our life. This week, David Sedaris, with stories of his late father that he’s finally willing to tell. David Sedaris: I think there’s a difference between—you know—a good person and a good character. Like, he was a good character—my boyfriend, Keith. And my father was another one of those people. He was a really good character, but he wasn’t a good person. John: Depresh Mode with John Moe, wherever you get your podcasts. [Music ends.]

music

Thumpy synth with light vocalizations.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is Mandy Moore. She starred on the acclaimed drama This is Us, which just aired its final episode last month. She’s also a singer/songwriter. She recorded a handful of hits as a teen pop singer in the early 2000s, and she’s writing and recording still. Her newest album is called Real Life. Here's another track from it. “Little Dreams”.

music

“Little Dreams” from the album Real Life by Mandy Moore. What’s the missing puzzle piece That’s gonna make me whole Is it some kind of alchemy Turning lead to gold Shifted priorities Shaking up my house Deep dive on a memory Got me overwhelmed Something ‘bout the little dreams Gets us through another day Rolling with the little dreams Instead of waiting on a bigger wave [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

I remember when A Walk to Remember came out. And I don’t think it’ll shock anyone in the audience to know that I did not rush to the theater to see the film. [Mandy affirms.] Not—not the—[chuckles] not the type of movie that—

mandy

You weren’t the target demo, yeah, yeah. [Laughs.]

jesse

Yeah, 21-year-old or whatever I was Jesse Thorn would run to see. But I remember very vividly—you know, it’s not the kind of movie that is gonna get ecstatic reviews, but I remember very vividly—I think I was watching Siskel and Ebert or something—or maybe I was just reading a review. And I remember hearing that you were great in it. Like— [Mandy “aw”s.] That this—sure, this is a—you know, this is the kind of movie that it is. It’s a nice version of that. But you know, it’s not Werner Herzog or something. But—but just [chuckling] being like, “Aw! That’s great! Way to go, Mandy Moore!”

mandy

Aww! Thanks, Jesse!

jesse

You know what I mean? [They laugh.] But did you have the same attitude about starring in a movie that you did about going onstage before The Backstreet Boys? Like, did you know to be scared?

mandy

I was definitely more scared of that, for sure. I don’t know why, but yeah. I mean, it—well, I guess I do know why! It’s—you have, you know, the machine of like 200 people around you putting together a film. Whereas you go onstage, and all that responsibility is just on your shoulders. So, you forget the words, or you mess up a dance move, like that’s only on me. And I can take responsibility for that.

jesse

Mandy, I don’t mean to be rude here, but normally the other way around is how it’s supposed to work.

mandy

I know! I’m—I’m—but I—no, I was fine to sort of go up there and feel like I have confidence in myself and like what I can bring to the table. And I know these songs, and I’m just gonna go up there and enjoy myself. And I feel my best when I’m onstage. But not really having had any real experience on a set, I didn’t know how to hit a mark, especially during A Walk to Remember. Thank goodness I worked with kind people who were like, “This is how you basically do anything on camera.” [Laughs.] I didn’t know—I just really didn’t know anything. And it was a real like tutorial on how to be an actor. So, that scared me a lot more. But I loved it, too! Well, I did The Princess Diaries first, with Anne Hathaway, and that whole group, and Julie Andrews, and Garry Marshall directed it. I mean, it was amazing. And that kind of solidified, “Oh, I wanna do more of this.” ‘Cause it was a summer camp experience. I was 16, and I was surrounded by like a bunch of people my age. And—

jesse

Garry Marshall had a rep for being like the nicest man in show business.

mandy

He was the loveliest. Oh man! Yeah.

jesse

Just hanging out at his theatre in Toluca Lake.

mandy

Yeah. He was just—what an incredibly gentle soul. And so—yeah, I’m so grateful that was my entre into this wild world. I feel like I was ushered in with—[sighs] yeah, just he was the best. So, that experience was great and it—again—opened the door to more opportunities and A Walk To Remember and Saved and just like getting to do fun, random, crazy things from there.

jesse

I was thinking that you’ve had multiple new starts in your career, because you were still a pretty young woman when you had your first marriage—which, by all accounts, was kind of lousy, and you were not making a lot of music. You were working some as an actor, but not working a ton as an actor. And you know, This is Us came when you were in your 30s, I guess, if I’m counting correctly. And it’s like a—it’s like a whole new set of stuff. So, when you got out of your first marriage and you had to be like figuring out what your career was going to be, what did you decide? Like, what’d you decide for yourself or what did you—you know [chuckles]—tell your manager you wanted? Or—?

mandy

[Chuckles.] I don’t think it was any coincidence that like, yeah, work was just not an option. It wasn’t—nothing was firing on any sort of cylinder while I was in a really unhealthy relationship. And it’s wild to me, but again no coincidence that months later the skies parted, and the world opened up, and this opportunity—not fell in my lap; I worked for it! But there were years and years of just like trying to find my footing and nothing sort of sticking, and that sort of overwhelming sense of rejection, which is very much the life of a creative person in any context. And—

jesse

An actor, especially.

mandy

And an actor, especially. And I—it’s not like I hadn’t been through that before, but I just kept walking away with this feeling of like, “Maybe the universe is trying to tell me this is—like, I’ve had my moment and I should be grateful, and just figure out if I wanna go back to Florida, if I wanna go back to school, what this next chapter’s gonna be. Because I don’t think this is working, and this is just crushing my soul with each like continued ‘no’ and door closing.” And I remember very distinctly like the kind of shifting teams and sort of getting a whole new group of people around me, and—with the idea of like, “Okay, so there’s—you know—a pilot. A traditional pilot season, out here in Los Angeles.” It’s like January to May, and it’s where all the networks like—you know—figure out what shows they’re gonna make, and you make your first episode and then they figure out which ones they’re gonna pick up and put on their fall lineup or mid-season line up. And I had been auditioning for the shows, and nothing was working. And these new folks in my corner were like, “Let’s put that aside, and let’s look at the bigger picture of like if you wanna do television and films and stuff, let’s look at like—you know—the new world of streaming services. Those kinds of shows are casting all year round.” And I was like, “Great, I love this gameplan.” [Chuckles.] And then two weeks later, I get this script sent to me for the untitled Dan Fogelman project on NBC. I’m like, “What?! This is exactly what we said we didn’t wanna do! I just don’t know if I can—you know—face something not coming to fruition again.” And then I read the script and thought, “Oh, this is why they sent it. It’s excellent.” And just thinking I’ll do whatever it takes to be a part of this, because I knew Dan Fogelman’s work, and I had actually worked with him on the animated film, Tangled. So, I knew him on the periphery. ‘Cause those films, it’s like there’s—the Disney animated films, and there’s like 500 people in the control room, and one of them’s the writer. And there are two directors, and it’s—yeah. It’s a totally different experience. So, I knew him on the periphery, and then I knew the director’s John Glenn. I loved Crazy, Stupid, Love, a film they had directed. And so, I was like, “Even if this doesn’t happen and move forward, I feel like if I’m lucky enough to be a part of this, we’ll make something we’re really proud of.” And then, I ended up getting cast, somehow! And I remember watching the pilot for the first time going, “Oh yeah! I think this is gonna get picked up! Like, this is fantastic!” I mean, it was such a special first episode of television. And it only just grew from there!

jesse

What would’ve happened had you moved back to Florida?

mandy

I think I would’ve gone to school and studied journalism. I always loved journalism.

jesse

Don’t recommend. [Mandy laughs.] I do not recommend.

mandy

That was like my backup plan. That was something that I had been tossing around. But even just like getting out of California was high on my priority list. And where I would sort of go from there? I don’t know, but I just—yeah, I needed a change of scenery, I thought.

jesse

I could see like a Colin Hay type lifestyle for you, where—you know—you’re writing like cool singer-songwritery things. You got a residency somewhere cool in—you know, somewhere cool. And then just once in a while, when being a cool singer-songwriter isn’t paying the bills, you’re just like, “Well, gotta go perform my hit songs for a couple months.” [Mandy agrees with a laugh.] Those are great hit songs, in both cases, but—

mandy

Oooh my gosh. Oh, I love them. That’s a cool plan! That’s good to know. I’m gonna keep that on the back burner.

jesse

That’s on offer. I want you to know.

mandy

Thanks! Thanks, I love that idea.

jesse

I think, technically, that The Princess Diaries—in which you were the mean, popular girl—is playing against type, but [chuckles] I wonder if—I wonder if six years of radiating warmth on an emotionally rich, heartstring-pulling network television program has led you to like be ready to like—you know, make a—

mandy

Be a serial killer?

jesse

Make a—yeah, I was gonna say make a show about being addicted to pills, for Showtime. [Mandy agrees.] Starz is on the phone. They want you to—

mandy

For sure! I wanna do something wildly different, if possible. Yes. No more network ensemble family dramas. I feel like I’ve checked that box. And it can’t get any better, so I gotta look elsewhere. [They chuckle.]

jesse

Do you have a dream thing that you would kill to do? I would like to be Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man.

mandy

Ooooh!

jesse

I’m willing to do any major regional theatre. I’m putting it out there on NPR right now. I can’t afford to do like a community theatre, but regional theatre—I’ll go to Portland. I’ll go to Boise. If you got a—if you got a 600-seat theatre or something like that, I’m in. Professor Harold Hill. Let’s go. What’s yours?

mandy

You’re their guy. You’re putting the bat signal out there. I don’t really…

jesse

We’re manifesting, here! Let’s do this!

mandy

I mean, if we’re talking musicals, one day I would love to be Mama Rose in Gypsy. I don’t know if I could ever pull that off, but man. I mean, just—you’ve got my brain thinking about Bette Midler and her sort of seminal roles. Yeah! That would be so much fun. But—or Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. That was always like my big, big, big fantasy. But I don’t know! I don’t know. I’m open. [Music fades in.]

jesse

Thank you very much, Mandy, for taking the time to be on Bullseye. It was very nice to get to talk to you.

mandy

It was nice to talk to you, too. Thanks for the thoughtful conversation.

music

“Four Moons” from the album Real Life by Mandy Moore. I can see four moons all at once One in the sky One in your eye And two more in our cups [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

Mandy Moore. Her new album is called Real Life. It’s out now. The song you’re hearing behind me is from that record. It’s called “Four Moons”. As we said before, she’s also the star of the NBC drama This is Us. You can stream all six seasons on Hulu.

music

[Volume increases.] Where do the days go? When did the clock start ticking? Picking up tempo There ain’t a step I’m skipping I’m in a free flow (free flow) Looking at you and thinking I can see four moons all at once [Music fades out.]

music

Thumpy synth with light vocalizations.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye, created from the homes me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California. Today at my house, I fixed my toilet after my five-year-old got angry, [trying not to laugh] said she was gonna pull the pipe out of the wall and did. Oh boy. The show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producers are Jesus Ambrosio and Richard Robey. Our production fellow at Maximum Fun is Tabatha Myers. It is a small pipe! But she really—wow. We get booking help on this show from Mara Davis. Our interstitial music’s by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme music is by The Go! Team. It’s called “Huddle Formation”. Thanks to The Go! Team for sharing it with us, along with their label, Memphis Industries. Bullseye is also on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. You can find us in those places and follow us, and we will share our interviews with you there, as well. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

jesse

Thanks for listening to Bullseye. NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like you spend time with podcasts. Please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at NPR.org/podcastsurvey. All one word. That’s NPR.org/podcastsurvey, all one word. Thanks

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

If you would like to pitch a guest for Bullseye, please CLICK HERE. You can also follow Bullseye on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. For more about Bullseye and to see a list of stations that carry it, please click here.

Get in touch with the show

People

Producer

Associate Producer

Maximum Fun Producer

Maximum Fun Production Fellow

How to listen

Stream or download episodes directly from our website, or listen via your favorite podcatcher!

Share this show

New? Start here...