After coming of age in the public eye, Mandy Moore opens up about life, love and the pursuit of happiness in Hollywood.
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It’s as much of a shock to Mandy Moore as it is to you that her debut single, “Candy,” first flowed from radios, CD players and iPods 20 years ago. “It is weird to think that this year is a milestone in that regard—I can’t believe it,” says Moore, considering the scope of her career since her teenage hit. “This is all I ever wanted, to be able to stick around somehow, and I’ve managed to do that. I feel like that’s a feat in and of itself.”
Stuck around she has. “Candy” launched a journey of shifting incarnations: a sweet pop-music princess who’d emerge as a singer-songwriter of increasing depth and sensitivity over the course of six albums; an ingénue with an acting résumé veering from highs (A Walk to Remember, Tangled) to not-so-highs (American Dreamz, a string of TV girlfriends du jour); and her current status as a seasoned performer deftly portraying matriarch Rebecca Pearson from her early 20s well into her 60s in This Is Us, the beloved family drama and one of the few remaining broadcast network series to still spark passionate watercooler buzz.
“It’s hard to reconcile who I was as a 15-year-old with who I am now,” says Moore, 35, who speaks with a velvety, spinless candor. “I definitely have more affection and fondness for her as I’ve gotten older. I used to… not trivialize, but I was slightly embarrassed by some of the choices I’ve made. Any of us would be if we look back at our teenage selves. It just happens to be that my job put me in the public eye. But it all led me to where I am today.”
Now, characterizing some of her past choices in music and film roles as “questionable” but not regrettable, Moore has a sound perspective on the inevitable ebbs and flows of fame, fortune and opportunity. “I was just a random girl from Orlando,” she says. It was her triumphant sixth-grade stint in Guys and Dolls that fueled the natural singer’s aspirations (“I was like, ‘This is it. This is the peak. This is the greatest moment of my life and nothing will ever surpass that!’”).
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Her nonshow-bizzy parents—airline pilot dad, journalist-turned-stay-at-home mom—schlepped her to tryouts far from home, and she dutifully dialed a local weekly audition hotline. When the music industry came calling unexpectedly, she seized her opportunity. “I wasn’t on The Mickey Mouse Club; I had no other means of getting a leg up in the business, so I was thrilled to be doing anything.”
As she gradually segued into making music more suited to her own tastes and from playing girls next door to girls next door who’ll step over your corpse, Moore strove to defy expectations, with critics repeatedly issuing surprised appraisals along the lines of “Mandy Moore was much better than expected!”
“For quite a number of years, I was really trying to redefine myself; I was hungry for a challenge that people weren’t willing to just give me permission for,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘I know I can do more than just be America’s sweetheart.’ That’s certainly an aspect of who I am, but that’s not all I am. We all contain multitudes.”
Finally came This Is Us, which offered Moore her most challenging role yet while also being uniquely suited to her skills. The youthful Rebecca benefits from the actress’ inherent likability and singing talents; middle-aged mom Rebecca is marred by her husband’s traumatic death; and 60ish Rebecca navigates tricky, often prickly situations posed by her adult offspring.
“With this show came the recognition, ‘Oh, she’s now a 30-something-year-old woman. She’s not just a kid anymore. She’s not a young woman, even. She could be a mother. Oh, she can be a grandmother too!’” says Moore. “I feel lucky that everything aligned at the right time in my life, where people were willing to see beyond what maybe they had expected of me earlier in my career.”
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“Mandy is a vivacious and bubbly person in real life, but she is able to completely disappear when she’s playing sadder or darker material,” says This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman. “Very early on, we started realizing that no one had ever utilized Mandy’s full array of skills, and we started challenging ourselves... and her. ‘How many ages can she play? How big and intense a monologue can she handle as 65-year-old Rebecca?’ We realized there was nothing she couldn’t do. It was like the world had a Ferrari and never drove it past 25 miles per hour.”
As the show offered a fresh professional beginning, her personal life also underwent a significant rebirth. Her marriage to rocker Ryan Adams ended after six years, a period she recently characterized as “dark,” “lonely” and “painful,” alleging that Adams was controlling and manipulative in their relationship. But Moore found love anew with singer-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith of the rock band Dawes, and later married him in an intimate backyard ceremony at their Los Angeles home last November.
“It was inevitable—it was always what was going to happen,” she says of their union. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is how life is supposed to unfold.’”
Moore didn’t come to the relationship guarded or damaged, she explains, but eager to find the kind of love she’d been missing. “I was very hungry. I was not apprehensive at all. I knew that past situations didn’t define me and didn’t even define what love or marriage or relationships or any of that had to be. My experiences in the past were singular to that. I knew, even before I met Taylor, I would love again, and I would get married again, and I would have a family. And all the things I always hoped for and wanted, I still believed were out there and possible. Not to say that I didn’t have my own grief and pain and trauma to tend to, deal with, overcome and heal from, but it never affected how I feel about love.”
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And now, a decade since her last album, Moore is making music again. “I feel like it’s time,” she says. “I feel like I’m on the precipice of something that’s undeniable to me, popping back into a large part of myself that I think has been dormant—or I’ve ignored, for multiple reasons—for many years. It just feels comfortable, like, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to ride a bike. I’ve done this before.’ It’s very soul-fulfilling. It’s nourishing a part of me I think I’ve ignored for a really long time.”
“Life is a roller coaster,” she says, recognizing she’s at a pinnacle point with more plunges and peaks ahead of her. “I know this is an extraordinary time, and I am present. I’m literally devouring every morsel of it and appreciating it for what it is because I remember when times did not feel the same.” Yes, her bucket list contains some predictable career goals like appearing on Broadway, but it also includes learning to juggle, drive a stick shift and really whistle. “I just want to take stock of all of it and do what I love,” Moore says. “This moment isn’t gonna last forever. I want to really dig my heels in while I can.”
Photographed by Annabel Mehran; Styled by Jill & Jordan