Getting to know Mackenzie Hancsicsak who plays young Kate on ‘This Is Us’ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

NBC’s This Is Us is one of the most talked about shows today. The stories about the Pearson family have resonated with viewers.  A fan favorite character is Kate, who is played by three talented actresses Chrissy Metz, Hannah Zeile and Mackenzie Hancsicsak.

While everyone still wants to know exactly how Jack died, but the Dan Fogelman and his ace team of writers still keep us on edge.  We were fortunate to speak with the delightful and ever-so sweet-natured 10-year-old Hancsicsak about her life, work and goals for herself and the world. And no, she wouldn’t give any more details about Jack’s demise.

Southern California native, Hancsicsak achieved something that almost never happens, she earned a role on a hit show on her first audition. When she is grown up she will probably use the money she earns from acting to pay for tuition to become a veterinarian and perhaps buy one of those tiny homes that she loves.

Mackenzie Hancsicsak and her mom, Melinda, spoke with Michelle Tompkins for this exclusive interview about how she got interested in acting, what she likes best about being on This Is Us, what Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore are really like on set, what she likes to do for fun, how to deal with mean people, what it was like to get fitted for a red carpet dress on Gown and Out in Beverly Hills, why she loves StickerBeans and more.

THIS IS US, Mackenzie Hancsicsak
Photo by: Maarten de Boer/NBC

Michelle TompkinsNow, how old are you?

Mackenzie Hancsicsak:  I’m 10.

MT:  And where are you from?

Mackenzie:  California [laughter].

Melinda Hancsicsak:  She was born in Burbank right by the Disney studios.

MT:  Oh, wow. So very local girl. And do you still live in the same area now?

Mackenzie:  No.  We live in Santa Clarita, by Magic Mountain.

MT:  Oh, nice. Now, do you have any brothers and sisters?

Mackenzie:  I have a half-brother.

MT:  And do you have any pets?

Mackenzie:   Yes, I have two.  One is a terrier and one’s a mix.  They’re rescues, so we don’t know what they are, really.

MT:  What are their names?

Mackenzie:   Bear and Finn.

MT:  Well, Mackenzie. How did you know you wanted to be an actor?

Mackenzie:  I saw a girl named Jojo. She was in a play, and I was like, I want to be in a play. I want to do acting.

MT:  Now, how long have you been going on auditions as a professional actor?

Melinda:  This Is Us was her first audition.

MT:  Well, tell me about the audition process for your part of getting young Kate.

Mackenzie:  So, I went in there. Mom thought it would only take 10 minutes, but it took 45. And the person that was in there with me, he was really nice. He helped me do stuff. And he kept saying, “Let’s try it again. Let’s try it again.” And he was helping me do it.

Melinda:  Tell her about your callback.

Mackenzie:  For my callback, I told producer Ken Olin that ‘my mom loves you.’

Melinda:  I was a big fan of thirtysomething, and when I saw the list of the executive producers, I saw that he was one of the executive producers. And I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. Mackenzie, your grandma and I would watch thirtysomething every week. It’s so great. I really want to meet him.’ So she went in there for a callback and when he introduced himself, she said, ‘You know, my mom’s in love with you.’

He was like, ‘Is your mom sitting out there right now?’ And she said yes. And after a while, he came out and he went to shake my hand. And I said, ‘Oh, no. I’m getting a hug. I don’t know when I’ll ever see you again. I’m getting a hug.’ So he was probably like, ‘call security.’

MT:  Now, did they have the kids either who you end up playing, either young Randall or young Kevin talk together to see if you guys felt like a family?

THIS IS US, Parker Bates, Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Lonnie Chavis
Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

Mackenzie:  Yeah. We all went in to the producers and they asked for a little improv. Then, Dan, he said, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is the best TV show. All righty.’

Melinda:  He said, ‘This is already the best thing on NBC,’ when they were doing their improv, and I thought, if she doesn’t get it, that just made my whole life hearing him say that about my kid. So that was pretty cool. He gave them a little improv — somebody took the money out of their mom’s wallet, and you’re trying to cover up for your brother — and they all just started doing it together. They did great together.

MTNow, we know you got your hug from Ken Olin. What did you do to celebrate, Mackenzie?

Mackenzie:  I was actually at an art class doing an art lesson when Mom came out and she said I got the part. I was…

Melinda:  You can’t see her, but she’s jumping all around.

MT:  Oh, I’ll bet [laughter]. What kind of art class is she in?

Mackenzie:  I was in a clay art class where you make clay, and then you have to paint it.  It’s called Kid’s Art. They do painting and charcoal and clay.

MT:  Now, what other extracurricular activities do you participate in?

Melinda:  She did play soccer. She did play softball.

Mackenzie:  I got hit a lot in softball.

Melinda:  She got hit in the face and her nose started bleeding in softball [laughter].

Mackenzie:  But I kept going.

Melinda:  You kept going.  She likes doing art.

Mackenzie:  Yes, it’s fun. And I like math.

MT:  You like math?

Melinda:  But because of the show and the schedule, she doesn’t have a lot of time that we can really join a team or something because she might have to miss practices and things like that. We don’t know from week to week if she’s in the show or how many days she works, so it’s kind of hard to sign up for another extracurricular. But she does go to public school. She’s not homeschooled.

MT:  Oh, that was one of my next questions. So you go to public school?

Mackenzie:  If I can go.

Melinda:  Well, we try to have you go as much as you can go [laughter]. Yes. And then she has a set teacher when she’s on set. She has to do three hours of school every day she’s on set.

Mackenzie:  And sometimes, it’s 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Melinda:  Yeah, her teacher’s very strict on set. She doesn’t let her get away with a lot.

MT:  Now, what’s your favorite thing about being on the show?

Mackenzie:  Everybody’s so nice and they help run lines and they just help us with everything if we need help with something.

MT:  Now, do you have a favorite episode?

Mackenzie:  I would have to say the pool episode because I got to swim after we filmed it.

MT:  That sounds fun. Did you swim with the other kids and other people on the set?

Mackenzie:  No, the only people that swam were the people with their swimming trunks.

Melinda:  Well, there were 130 extras on that shoot. We filmed in Long Beach for three days and after the second day, Milo said, ‘You know, we’ve been at this pool two days and we’ve never been in the water.’ So it was his idea and everybody just jumped in because their scenes were like outside the pool or whatever.

We were really getting hot, and Milo’s like, “What the heck, let’s get in the pool.” Yeah.

He’s pretty fun. He’s pretty fun with the kids, he was very good.

Mackenzie:  And yep, we got a slip and slide on set one time and Milo will set up a coffee truck or an ice cream truck.  Sometimes he and Mandy will just get stuff for everybody because they’ve been working really hard. It’s usually every Friday.

Melinda:  Neither of them has kids in real life, but they’re very good with these kids. They’re very kind and they’re very loving and very supportive. They’ve both been around the business a long time so I’ll tell Mackenzie, ‘You need to emulate them, you need to look what they’re doing,’ and they’re kind to everyone. I said, ‘You can’t stay in this business for 30 years and be a jerk.’ They’re both very kind people, so she’s very lucky.

MT:  Oh, that’s good news, I think people would love to know that. It seems like everyone involved with the show everyone seems to think Milo is like a father figure.  Word is that everyone really likes him.  

THIS IS US, Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Lonnie Chavis, Parker Bates
Photo by: Maarten de Boer/NBC

Mackenzie:  He’s a father figure to everyone in the set and the crew. He knows everyone’s name. When people can do that I think that’s such a rare gift, but he meets you once and he knows your name. And he’ll remember like, ‘Oh, you said you were going to San Diego this weekend, how was your trip?’ And he doesn’t need to do that, he doesn’t need to talk to everybody and be kind to everybody, but he does and he is like the patriarch of the whole set and the whole crew. He really is really nice.

MT:  Now, do you have a favorite character or storyline on the show?

Mackenzie:  I don’t have a favorite character— well, I like myself [laughter]. I like Hannah. And Chrissy.

Melinda:  They play teenage Kate and adult Kate.

MT:  Well, I’m glad you like the people that you play [laughter].

Melinda:  But she doesn’t get to work with them which is a bummer. Chrissy’s super nice, but we don’t get to do a scene with her because they’re playing the same person.  We see them at events and we hug them and we see them, but we don’t really get to work with them.

MT:  Oh, maybe one day they’ll a dream sequence and bring you all together with an ancient person who may be hired to play old Kate.

Mackenzie:  Well, Sterling they did that.  It was called “The Trip.”

MT:  Oh yeah, when he interacts with the father at the cabin, that was great.

Melinda:  So they were doing a scene and the kids had to be playing Monopoly or whatever and Sterling had to stand there and scream—

Mackenzie:  And I kept smiling.

Melinda:  And she kept smiling and the director would go, ‘Mackenzie, it’s like he’s not there, pretend he’s not there [laughter].’ She couldn’t stop smiling and looking at him, which was hard because he’s right there screaming in front of them.

Mackenzie:  And he’s right in my face because that’s where I was sitting and he was right in my face [laughter].

Melinda:  Yeah, and you had to pretend he wasn’t there, so that was good acting that day.

MT:  Now, when you auditioned for this part, did you know that Kate would be struggling with issues about her weight?

Mackenzie:  I don’t think so because the script that we got, this unit we got, it didn’t really mention a lot about it.

Melinda:  Well, but you said, ‘I’m only eating fruit today.’  That was the first scene she had to do, the scene with Mandy where she says, ‘Mom, I only eat fruit today,’ and her mom says, ‘Honey, I don’t want you to just eat fruit, I want you to be happy.’ and, ‘Now, are you feeling happy?’ and you said, ‘I’m feeling–‘ what did she say? She said, ‘I’m mostly okay.’

MT:  Well, I think one of the most important moments in the show came when Kate was loving her little Care Bear bikini, and then she was rejected by some very mean girls. This scene was really hard for a lot of people to watch. How did that make you feel?

Mackenzie:  It felt like — I know they’re not really mean because I met them and they were really nice — so it was hard to think that they were really mean.

Melinda:  But you’ve had people be mean to you at school, so you kind of were trying to imagine what that would be like to have kids be mean.

We’ve had parents write to us, and they say, ‘It’s so nice to see someone on TV that looks like my kid.’ There’s a lot of people on TV that are just tiny, blonde, blue-eyed, perfect, and these kids are like — it’s kind of seeing someone that looks like them, and they really relate to it. And they cry when they meet us. And they’re like, ‘This has meant so much to us, and she’s so beautiful, and she does such a great job.’ And I tell her all the time, ‘You mean a lot to a lot of people. A lot of people get a lot of joy watching you perform.’

MT:  What advice do you have for someone who has mean people say mean things to them?

Mackenzie:  It doesn’t matter what people say. It matters what’s in your heart, and it matters what you say. And don’t say mean things just to say them because you are having a hard time. Say nice things, because then you and the other person feel better.

MT:  Well, what do you think when someone comes up to you or your mom and says, ‘Thank you for bringing other kinds of people to TV’?

Mackenzie:  It feels good. I feel really good about myself because I’m making them happy and they’re making me happy.

MT:  Now, have you ever been bullied?

Mackenzie:  I haven’t been bullied, but I have been hurt — people will sometimes say mean things.

MT:  Unfortunately, no one gets out of growing up unscathed.  I think there will always be some people who say bad things every now and then.

Melinda:  She has a good group of kids at her school that have her back, one kid said something really mean to her, and then one of her friends, took off his shoe and he threw it at him.

MT:  Yikes.

Melinda:  And I said, ‘I don’t necessarily condone hitting other kids, or whatever.’ But I said, ‘I’m glad that your friend had your back and he knew to stand up for you.’

MT:  Yeah. Now, for some kids, it’s hard making new friends. Do you have any tips on how people can go about making new friends?

Mackenzie:  Just be yourself. And be kind. Be kind, and be sweet and don’t be mean. Be nice.

So if you have a new kid at your school be nice.  Sometimes, when kids are new, they might be shy and so you can say, ‘Hey, come sit with me and come sit over here for lunch.’

MT:  That’s a good thing to do for a new student.  Now, what do you want to be when you grow up, Mackenzie?

Mackenzie:  I want to be a veterinarian.

MT:  Really?

Mackenzie:  I really want to work on cats and dogs.

MT:  Now, where do you want to go to school? Do you know yet?

Mackenzie:  I want to go to UCLA or New York.

MT:  Okay. Both are good areas for school [laughter].

Mackenzie:  Her cousin just got accepted to UCLA…

Melinda:  And my dad, her grandpa — she was named after her grandpa, Ken — he went to UCLA. But she loves New York. We’ve been in New York several times, so she kind of likes it there too.

Mackenzie:  I like the M&M store and Hershey World.

Melinda:  Yeah, well, that’s not where you’d be going to school, at M&M World. You could work at M&M World, but they’d probably lose a lot of inventory. You might take a lot home.

MT:  Now, where are some places you’ve traveled to?

Mackenzie:  I’ve been to Hawaii, to Mexico, to San Diego.  I tried to go to Catalina, but I just didn’t make it. So I went to Canada. Yellow Knife.

Melinda:  Her dad’s in Canada, and her half-brother lives in Yellow Knife.  So we went there to visit him. And where else have we gone?

Mackenzie:  We’ve been to San Francisco. Vegas. We have family in Vegas. Disneyland. Yeah. We’ve been to Disneyland and Disney World. And Epcot.  And San Diego Sea World. We love Sea World.

MT:  Where are some places that you haven’t been to, but you really want to go?

Mackenzie:  Catalina.

Melinda:  You said you’d like to go to Australia.

Mackenzie:  Oh yeah, Australia maybe. Maybe London. But I really don’t want to go on a plane [laughter]. I just want to teleport.

Melinda:  I don’t want to be on a plane with her going to Australia. Too many hours for mama. A hundred years from now, maybe we can have flying cars and medicine that makes you younger.

MT:  Medicine that makes you younger, okay. That’s good. That’ll be good to have. Now Mackenzie, what do you like to do for fun?

Mackenzie:  I like to hang with my dogs and my friends and family.

MT:  Now is there a kind of part you want to play but haven’t played yet?

Mackenzie:  I had a callback and audition for a horror movie, and I kind of want to be in a horror movie [laughter].

MT:  Oh, that’d be fun.

Mackenzie:  Because Kate is all perfect, and pretty and kooky and cute and stuff like that. And horror movies can be dark, and scary and stuff like that [laughter].

MT:  Now, what are some of your favorite movies and TV shows?

Mackenzie:  I like Friends [laughter].

Melinda:  Yeah. All the 10-year-olds out there, don’t watch Friends. It’s not appropriate [laughter].

Mackenzie:  Well, it’s not like — they don’t say the F-word or anything.

Melinda:  I know. That’s good [laughter].

MT:  Well, there you go then.

Melinda:  We watch a lot of NBC shows, right?

Mackenzie:  Rapunzel. Yeah. We watch Tangled. But we watch The Good Place, Superstore and Will & Grace.

MT:  You watch that?

Mackenzie:  Sometimes it’s not appropriate, and [laughter] what else? And we watch This is Us [laughter].

MT:  Of course.

Melinda:  She likes to watch that tiny homes shows. She’s kind of obsessed with that [laughter]. She wants to get a tiny home when she gets older.

Mackenzie:  And I don’t have to pay for a dorm.

MT:  Well if Mackenzie goes to New York, that’ll be about the size of her first apartment anyway [laughter].

Melinda:  I think if you live in New York you could adapt better, but I think it would be really hard to go from 2,000 square feet to 162 square feet [laughter]. We have too much junk, right? She has too many pairs of shoes and not all of them fit.

Mackenzie:  I would have to get rid of a lot of things.

MT:  Now, are there any charities that you guys support or work with?

Mackenzie:  Pet Me Happy.

Melinda:  She has a friend that was on The Thundermans and her mom created a group called GUT. It’s Girl Uplifters Team. She created a group of girls that can support each other. So it [focuses on] the areas that you start kids out young, teaching them how to say positive things and be positive, cheer up your friends and give them hugs when they’re down, give them high fives when they do something good.

We just went to an event down in Del Mar. It was like 180 girls and their moms, and we were on a rooftop doing yoga, singing and hugging. And it was a very nice movement that she created. Her daughter said, ‘We should have something like this.’ And then her mom made it happen.

McKenzie’s one of the ambassadors for that. They started with 13 girls and some of them are on other shows. They’re kind of looking to them to show what a cool thing this is for other girls because there’s a lot of mean girls out there. So we’d rather be a girl that brings people up, rather than puts them down.

MT:  Sounds good. There are far more nice people that aren’t, but I think the bad ones are the ones we can see more often. So I think it’s always good to celebrate the good ones.

Melinda:  This was a cool event. And she goes to a lot of different events, and we run into other people from her show, but just raising money for cancer event — we have friends that are going through cancer treatment, and she’s going to do a run, and she’s going to the Elizabeth Glaser event for pediatric AIDS. Anything that has to do with kids, or kids that are sick and going through treatment. I said, ‘You know, we’re so lucky that you’re healthy. And we’d like to give back, support kids that aren’t healthy and can’t do all the things that you do.’ So it’s fun to go to Disneyland and all that, but you also need to give back to kids and your community and show how appreciative and grateful that we are that you get to do all these fun things.

MT:  Now you were recently on a show about helping you pick out a dress. Can you tell me about that?

Mackenzie:  Oh, it’s fun. At the end, you got to see how it looks and how it fits, and it was fun. It was really, really pretty. I liked it.

Melinda:  She got to pick colors and work with the guys. That was her first designer dress, but they measured her, and they picked out the material, and…

Mackenzie:  And we went on a cruise, and then we came back and I lost 10 pounds.

Melinda:  She lost weight. Usually, when you go on a cruise you gain weight. So now we have to refit it because she actually lost weight. So she has several fittings for that. That’s with Pol and Patrick of Gown and Out in Beverly Hills. And the guys were very kind to her, very nice to her. And she had a great time doing that.

MT:  Now McKenzie, how do you like people to connect with you? Because of COPA laws, she is not allowed to manage her own social media accounts.

Melinda:  No, I do it, but people write to her, and then she writes back, and she likes to do in real time conversations where people are writing to her and she can say, ‘Oh, hi, Andy. Hi, Sarah.’ Whatever. And they get so excited when she gives them a shout out when they write to her. And she set up a P.O. Box so she got her first piece of fan mail and she was very excited about that. We always write people back. We send them pictures and they’re very excited. But I said, ‘If people are taking the time to write you, then that’s the least we can do is write them back and say thank you so much.’ And it really makes her day to get mail. Nobody does mail anymore. Everything’s online, so to actually get a piece of mail was very exciting.

MT:  I recently interviewed the actor Vicki Lawrence, who was on — might be a little bit over Mackenzie’s head — but she was on The Carol Burnett Show, and she’s now in the TV show, Good News. She got her first gig by writing Carol Burnett a fan letter.

Mackenzie:  Really?

MT:  Yeah, she did. She wrote Carol Burnett a fan letter, and she was just talking about how writing letters is such a lost art, and how a well-written letter can yield very good results in a way that, really, emails and text messages can’t do.

Melinda:  Well, I was raised that we write thank you notes on an actual piece of paper, and she gets birthday presents, and we write thank you notes to everybody, and we just write thank you’s for coming to the party. Thank you for making my day. I just think actually getting a card in the mail is very important.

MT:  Can you please share the P.O. Box so people can write to Mackenzie?

Melinda:  It’s P.O. Box 801705, Santa Clarita, California, 91380.

And she makes me go by and check every day [laughter]. Every day.

MT:  Now, Mackenzie, what’s something you want people to know about you?

Mackenzie:  That I love all of our fans.  And my dog friends.

Melinda:  She loves her dogs. She’s hugging one of her dogs right now.

MT:  So what are StickerBeans?

Mackenzie:  They are glittery, cool stickers that you can put on your phone. You can put on your backpack, on your shirt and they’re fun to collect.

Melinda:  She has them in a little book, and she keeps them and trades them. They’re just a lot of fun. She loves stickers that you can just stick on everything.

MT:  Where can you find them?

They have them at Staples, Nordstrom — we were in New York and they had them in a gift shop, and there’s a place in the San Fernando Valley, it was in a floral shop. And whenever we see them, we’re like, they have them and here’s one I don’t have.

MT:  So, Mackenzie’s an ambassador for them. Is she a spokesperson?

Melinda:  Not really. She just likes them, and so if she can promote them — it was founded by two moms that wanted to do something nice for their kids.  I think that it’s really cool that moms can come up with an idea and they can make it work, and they can still have time for their kids. So we met them in New York and they were very nice. And we went to a shop, and she picked out a bunch of stickers. So she’s just having fun with them. She likes to do things that are more kid-friendly, kid-oriented and she can share them with her friends.

MT:  Now, I have one more fun one for Mackenzie. Do you have a celebrity crush?

Melinda:  [laughter]  She better say no or her dad’s going to be very unhappy.

Mackenzie:  No. I have celebrity friends, though.

Melinda:  We saw Jordan Fisher performing and she liked Jordan. He’s very talented and he’s very nice.

MT:  We just interviewed him when he joined Dancing With The Stars a couple weeks ago.

Mackenzie:  Yes, he’s very talented and he’s very — he seems very nice, like a very humble — we’ve met a lot of people from Disney and they’re just very, very kind and nice. Again, they’ve had such wonderful careers that they take the time and they talk and hug, and they say, ‘We’re fans of yours,’ which is exciting, but they’re all very, very nice to me. He’s very kind.

MT:  Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, Mackenzie, you sound like a great kid. I’ll be looking forward to continuing to seeing you on This Is Us. I hope you do well in everything you want to do. Is there anything you want to add? Is there anything else you want to say to people other than you love your fans?

Mackenzie:  Peace to the world [laughter]. Peace in the world. So how about everybody be nice to each other for a change?

Catch Mackenzie Hancsicsak on an upcoming episode of ‘This Is Us’ that airs on Tuesdays on NBC.  Follow her on social media @MackenzieHancsicsak.

 

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