Eris Baker is wearing a lavender puffer jacket, silver boots, and rhinestoned jeans for her Elite Daily photo shoot. Her makeup is natural and her hair braids fall to the middle of her back. Stepping out of the elevator, Baker looks me in the eyes and gives me a firm handshake. She's only 13 years old, but her confidence is sparkling (with jeans to match). The shoot is a week before the This Is Us Season 3 finale, where Baker plays Tess Pearson, the oldest daughter of Randall and Beth. Through our conversation, it's clear Baker is embracing her This Is Us character in ways you might not expect. And if her captivating in-person presence is an indication of what's in store for Tess, fans should start preparing.
Baker was only 10 when she started on the hit NBC show, and she's become a household name since its 2016 premiere. Within the three seasons, Tess Pearson gained an adopted sister in Déja, met and lost a grandfather, established herself as an exemplary big sister to Annie, internalized her parents' arguments, and came out as gay. The last was a show-stealing moment that elevated both Baker and Tess in the audience's eyes.
This is how a young black girl is supposed to live out her dream.
"When I first read Tess’ story, I was excited because I knew that that scene was going to have an impact on so many people. So I was very excited to see how people would respond, and the response was so positive," Baker explains, smiling. Her smile grows larger as she details fans' reactions. "My mom posted a picture on Instagram or Facebook and there were just thousands of comments from girls and boys, young people, and their parents just saying, 'Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I can’t wait to talk to my parents about this,' or, 'Thank you so much for inspiring my daughter to speak up.' It was so motivational for other young people, and you can see how that scene impacted so many of their lives."
The power of This Is Us is not lost on Baker. The impact of the show resonates with her in a way far beyond her years. Brushing a braid behind her ear, she thinks for a moment before explaining what she hopes fans take away from Tess Pearson. "She’s not afraid to be who she is, and she embraces herself, and she has self-confidence. And even if she’s sometimes confused about her sexuality, she spoke up about... The scene is all about embracing yourself, and embracing love, and just embracing unity."
Baker is invested in her career, and she takes her role as a big sister seriously — both on and off screen. "I’m an older sister of three; I have three little sisters who are so amazing," she says, sitting up a bit straighter. "So I really want to be a representation of my sisters, showing them this is how a young black girl is supposed to live out her dream. I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for you."
Baker's real-life experiences lend themselves to This Is Us, where Tess is always helping her younger sister Annie and taking on an almost maternal role when it comes to making Déja feel welcome in the Pearson home. Tess' relationships on the show grow stronger as she ages, but as eagle-eyed viewers will notice, her relationship with Rebecca might not be what it seems.
Tess was one of the first "future" characters audiences met. An adult version of the character went to tell Randall it was time to go see "her," who we now know is Rebecca. While that mystery is now uncovered, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
"The future version of Tess is confident, she’s being who she is, and you’re going to see who she becomes and how she’s dealing with all the hatred in the world of her being who she is," Baker tells me.
In the Season 3 finale, audiences see the future version of the Pearsons arrive at Kevin's house. On the positive side, we meet Kevin's son, we know Kate and Toby's son Jack is doing well, and Beth and Randall are still happily together. However, in typical This Is Us fashion, it's not all happy. The final scene shows an aged Rebecca on what looks like her deathbed.
If the bit about Tess and Rebecca's less-than-perfect relationship is news to you, Baker advises you to watch a bit more closely. "For the future Tess and Rebecca, the writers are dropping little hints here and there that you can kind of see why future Tess doesn’t want to see Rebecca. We’re dropping hints every single episode that sometimes you might want to watch back because it's definitely there. So, there are definitely clues, and it’s like a puzzle piece if you put them all back together — some of you might already know why."
Fans should be sure to keep a watchful eye on Tess in This Is Us and an even closer eye on Baker's budding career.
Photographs by Ben Ritter
Hair by Kari Williams
Makeup by Camille Ariane