Mandy Moore was just 15 years old when she became a pop icon with the single “Candy” in 1999. After her debut album went platinum and her second and third albums went gold, she then segued into movies like The Princess Diaries and A Walk to Remember. You might also vaguely remember Vincent Chase proposing to her (and getting rejected!) on a five-episode arc on Entourage, in which she played herself.

Now some 10 years later, Moore has landed her first television lead in the NBC drama This Is Us, premiering September 20 (10/9c), which uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to tell the story of several people who share the same birthday. (Heroes’ Milo Ventimiglia and The People vs. O.J. Simpson’s Sterling K. Brown co-star.) It’s a new beginning for Moore, who finalized her divorce from musician Ryan Adams back in June. As she explains in this surprisingly honest interview, she has a fresh outlook on life, her career and music. But not Vincent Chase, apparently.

“Nobody could pay me money to go back 10 years ago. I know who I am. I feel comfortable in my skin more so than I ever have.”

You’ve done voiceover work, but we haven’t seen you on TV since Red Band Society two years ago, and you haven’t released an album since Amanda Leigh in 2009. Good to have you back, but where were you?
I spent a good portion of the last years of my life really pouring all of my energy into my life and relationship, and now that that’s not part of my life anymore, it’s not a coincidence to me that things opened back up, and I’m able to focus on myself again. It’s been great to be able to take all of the chapters in my life and be able to pour it into a job like this because it all helps. It’s all fuel.

What got you through when times got tough?
Just being patient and having faith that things will work out. I just keep plowing ahead and try to find things that I’m really passionate about.

What was it about This is Us that drew you?
I read this script in October of last year. Immediately it was like, “I would do whatever I can to be a part of this.” This show has so much cathartic potential and aspects of life to explore with each of these characters. It’s been a soul‑crushing thing to be a part of pilot season for year after year and for things not to move forward, but I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. I could not be more thrilled about this.

The writing is so good. I didn’t see the twists coming at all. But even before that, I was really compelled by who Jack and Rebecca were and what they were going through. They have these kids in the course of the first episode, and then it’s their journey of being parents and raising three kids at the same time and the toll it takes on them as individuals and as a couple. That was exciting to me as an actress. Having never played a wife or mother, it felt like it was ripe with opportunities to really dig in.

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Do you miss music?
I do. A lot.

Why did you stop?
I just think life put it on the back burner. Even though I started in music, acting and being in films and trying to do television has always been such a huge priority to me. I feel like it continued to give me way more opportunities than music did. Now that this part of my life is up and running again, it’ll allow me to be able to focus back on the music.

What are you writing songs about?
I’m writing about my life, but I think I’ve just lived a whole bunch more of it. The ups and downs and trials and tribulations, love, career, family, friends, loss—all of that. I have a lot more colorful experiences to bring to the table at 32 than I did at 22. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be. But I feel empowered. I’m really happy. Nobody could pay me money to go back 10 years ago. I know who I am. I feel comfortable in my skin more so than I ever have, and I want my music to reflect that.

I don’t want it to be a trip down memory lane. I don’t want it to be about heartbreak necessarily because all of that stuff has sort of brought me to where I am and I feel great. I’ve been writing in the seven years since I put out a record, so I have a trough of music to choose from, but I also still feel like a lot has happened in the last two years of my life that I want to be able to put into music, and it’ll be cathartic.

You have a movie coming out in October—you’re shark bait.
Yes, In the Deep. It was a tough shoot, so I’m excited that people are going to get to see the fruits of our labor!