In this Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, everyone was dealing with change. Jack and Rebecca were mourning their teenage children getting older, Kate and Toby were figuring out how to best support their blind newborn, and Randall and Beth were helping their kids adjust to a new life in Philadelphia. And for their daughter Tess—who came out to her family back in season 3 and is slowly trying to figure out her identity—that meant participating in a back-to-school rite of passage: a new, dramatic haircut.
Here, 14-year-old Eris Baker, who plays Tess, talks to ELLE.com about cutting her own hair for the episode, what she felt like the first time she read the script, and how she’s been hiding the spoiler all along.
What did you think when you first read the script for this episode?
Before I even read the script about me having to cut my hair, they went to my parents, and my parents came to me. They asked for my permission to even write the script, to even have my hair cut. I thought that it was beautifully written, and I was so excited to portray this role and portray this character for millions of other people who are in Tess’s position.
Is this the first time you’ve gotten a dramatic haircut like this?
This is the first time. I’m always used to my big hair so this transition was huge for me. When I first heard about it, I was bawling my eyes out. If it weren’t for the show, cutting my hair wouldn’t even be a thought in my mind. So when I first was about to cut my hair, I had to understand that I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for the kids, the people who are going through what Tess is going through, and that definitely pushed me to want to portray this character to the fullest.
Do you mean Tess figuring out her sexuality and how she wants to present herself?
I would just say how she’s confused about her identity in general. She is just very confused on where she’s at right now, and I know there’s so many kids, so many people in general, that are very confused and trying to find themselves and that means changing themselves. It’s kind of a transition day by day, and Tess’s first big transition was her hair.
How do you feel about your hair now?
I couldn’t be happier. At first, I was so hesitant because I was going into high school. I was so nervous because I didn’t think I was going to be confident, but right now, I feel like I’ve never been so confident in my life.
Your Emmy’s looks was so confident and glam. Was that inspired by your new cut?
It definitely was. We couldn’t show my short hair on the red carpet, so we wanted to do something hiding my haircut but also making a bold statement, so we did a hair piece. It was awesome, and I think it looked beautiful, and we definitely couldn’t have done that with my big, natural hair.
So the look was hiding a spoiler for the show?
I love that. I do think it feels so real to see a teenager trying to find what makes them feel good in their own skin. Are there any hair or fashion styles that make you feel most like yourself?
When I did have my beautiful big, natural hair, my go-tos were my cool buns and my braids. I’m not saying I regret cutting my hair, but I’m definitely going to miss it because rocking my afro puff, wearing my braids, those little things I’m going to miss.
Obviously, This Is Us is famous for making people cry every week. Is there a TV show that always makes you cry?
I recently watched When They See Us with my family. That definitely was a show where, just watching the first episode, I will go into tears.
Did you watch it because Asante is now on the show?
[Editor’s note: Asante Blackk, who played young Kevin Richardson on When They See Us has joined the This Is Us cast for season 4.]
No, actually! I watched it before he even got announced as playing Malik. But then when I found out he would be on the set, I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so exciting, I can’t wait to talk to him about the show.”
Is there anything else you’re excited to see with Tess this season?
This season, I really hope that Tess does find her confidence. I’m really praying that Tess will help people figure out their identity because I know that there are so many Tesses in this world, and I hope my character is creating a pathway for somebody else.