Mackenzie Hancsicsak - This Is Us
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

As any This Is Us fan knows, Kate Pearson has been through a lot this season. Adult Kate, played Chrissy Metz, experiences pregnancy, miscarriage, and a binge-eating relapse after a lifetime of weight loss struggles. Teenage Kate, played by Hannah Zeile in the flashback-heavy series, blames herself for the death of her dad, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Little Kate, played by Mackenzie Hancsicsak, is the only Kate who remains untouched by tragedy, a happy-go-lucky kid who encounters schoolyard bullies but is comfortable with herself and her life.

Part of that may have to do with the fact that 10-year-old Hancsicsak was kept in the dark about her character's future while filming. Most shockingly, she had no idea that Jack would run into a burning house to save her dog and, hours later, die of complications from smoke inhalation. “I found out how Jack died when the rest of the world found out,” Hancsicsak tells InStyle. “And believe me—I felt the same way you all did about it! We usually get an email with every script, but we didn’t get one for the episode when Jack died. I only got the one page with the scene that I was in, and I got it the day before I filmed it.”

Mackenzie Hancsicsak - This Is Us EMBED
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

"Out of all the episodes, I think that one has my favorite line now: when the doctor tells Jack, ‘You must have really loved that dog,’ and Jack says, ‘I love the girl who loved that dog,’” says Hancsicsak. While she's mourning Jack with fans, she’s happy that her character doesn’t have to. “Thankfully, during my timeline, Jack will always be alive and a part of our lives,” she says. “And because our show always flashes back, Milo will always be a part of This Is Us.” Scroll down for our full interview with Hancsicsak, and tune in for a new episode of This Is Us tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

What’s been your favorite moment on the set of This Is Us? My very first day is something that I will always remember, because when I walked in, I felt like I had a new extended family. I don’t have brothers and sisters at home, so it was so cool to instantly have two brothers.

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What’s it like to have Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia play your parents? Mandy and Milo are awesome. They were both child actors like we all are, so they know exactly how we feel. They’re the first ones to hug us when we see them on set. Milo gave us all little wooden tops to keep in our pockets, and he also brought in an old Gameboy and games for us to play with on set. Mandy also gave me her favorite lip gloss, which was very special to me. And they always take pictures of us and post them like they are our parents and are proud of us. I really love them.

Mackenzie Hancsicsak - This Is Us
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Do they ever “parent" you off camera? They know how to parent us in a fun way. They teach us how to respect everyone on set and they always keep an eye on us, look out for us, and help us practice our lines so we can be the best we can be.

How do you balance being a kid with working on a hit show? I’m still in public school. I’m a girl scout. I love my friends, my puppies, and my awesome parents, who make sure I always will be just a kid.

What it’s like to play a character who struggles with body image and bullies? Some scenes can be difficult, but our show’s creator Dan Fogelman has asked my mom if I wanted help on set or if I wanted someone to talk to about certain stuff. So far, with all the support I get from my “family” on set and from the cast and directors, it’s just been great. Most of my emotional scenes so far have been with Milo. He helps me be the best that I can be as a struggling little Kate, and I get a lot of love and support from him and everyone on set. It makes me feel loved and safe.

Mackenzie Hancsicsak - This Is Us Embed
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Have you ever experienced bullying first hand? At school one time, we were playing handball at recess, and a kid who I didn’t even know said something mean about my mom. I got really sad and one of my BFF’s took off his shoe and chased the kid away. I am so lucky to have such amazing friends.

How do you encourage others to be kind and prevent bullying in real life? I am an ambassador for the Girls Uplifters Team. We try to show young girls how important it is to be kind to one another. It doesn’t feel nice when someone acts mean to me, so I always choose to be kind and to encourage others to be, too. If you can be anything in life, be kind.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from playing Kate? Kate shows me that I can be whoever I want to be, and not to listen to people who tell me I can’t. If you want to sing, you should sing, even if people tell you that you can’t or you shouldn’t. She also shows me how important it is to love myself for who I am. Lots of girls and their moms write to me telling me how happy they are to have someone like them that can relate to on TV. Sometimes they have the same fears or insecurities as Kate, and I hope to help them overcome their doubts and be happy with who they are.

How does it feel to watch yourself on TV? We love to watch the show as a family. I get excited when I see the little “Big Three” on screen. It’s fun to see what parts end up in the episode from what we filmed during the week, and I love watching my mom cry. My dad and I laugh at how much my mom cries every episode.