NBC’s popular series This Is Us tells the multigenerational story of the Pearson family. This Is Us Season 3 delves into patriarch Jack Pearson’s service in Vietnam.
During an interview for his new war movie, Kevin Pearson (played by Justin Hartley) realizes he doesn’t know anything about his late father Jack’s military experience and goes to Vietnam to hopefully discover what happened there with his dad, and Jack’s younger brother, Nick. He learns that Jack was a hero, saving a fellow soldier’s life and that he lied to his family, telling them Nick was dead – he is, in fact, still alive.
Justin has a plethora of TV credits, getting his first big break as Oliver Queen (the Green Arrow) on TV’s Smallville. Also appearing in Castle, Revenge, and Mistresses. Plus on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama in 2016.
I spoke with Justin at Paramount Studios, on the set of This Is Us Season 3, about his complicated character and the big secret Jack kept from his family.
This Is Us, Season 3 - Chris Sullivan, Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Justin Hartley, Sterling K Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson
This Is Us, Season 3 – Chris Sullivan as Toby, Chrissy Metz as Kate Pearson, Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Justin Hartley as Kevin Pearson, Sterling K Brown as Randall Pearson, Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth Pearson ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Annie Leibovitz

How do you see Kevin’s journey in This Is Us Season Three?

He’s sort of found himself. He’s more comfortable in his own skin. At the same time, he’s gone through hell and back. He is taken a little more seriously now by his peers. In a way, he needed to go through all of that breaking down and realizing how other people saw him and compare that to (how) he wanted to be seen. And (he had to) figure out a way to connect those two dots and get over to where he wanted to be, and away from the perception.

I think it’s wonderful that he’s able to be in his own skin now. I also think it’s interesting because he’s just freshly sober, very delicate, but he’s doing that thing that he always does, maybe thinking he’s more okay than he actually is. He’s kind of built that way.

This Is Us, 303 - Justin Hartley and Melanie Liburd
This Is Us, 303 “Katie Girls” – Zoe (Melanie Liburd) and Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Ron Batzdorff

Can you relate to his life?

Yeah, I hope everyone can. Not the problems that he has with alcohol and drugs, but certainly with loss and feeling alone, and feeling like you might be going a little bit nuts. Feeling like nobody understands you. Feeling depressed. I think everyone has felt sad.

He’s trying so hard and he wants to have all the answers and figure everything out on his own. He’s built that way, just like Jack. Sometimes you’ve got to lean on other people, you can’t do it (by yourself) and Kevin has to figure that out, seemingly over and over again.

This Is Us, 310 - Michael Angarano and Milo Ventimiglia
This Is Us, 307 “Sometimes” – Nick Pearson (Michael Angarano) and Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Ron Batzdorff

What did you think when you got the script that revealed the uncle was still alive?

Our writers are so brilliant. I was like, ‘Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he be?’ It was great; it opens up this whole other storyline where you have this story where the audience is now with the characters. They are not ahead or behind, they’re with them because they thought he was dead too. Sometimes on our show, the audience knows more than the characters, or it’s reversed. I love when the audience goes through it with the characters.

Does it make it easier for Kevin, who has always felt that he didn’t live up to his father, that he finds out that his father maybe wasn’t as high on the pedestal as he thought he was?

In a way, it’s the opposite. Now what? But I think as we tell the story Kevin has a good enough head on his shoulders, he’s a thoughtful guy, so he’s going to ask questions and he’s going to dig deeper. He’s like a dog with a bone now. He’s like, ‘Let’s find this guy,’ and now that they’ve found him, he’s like, ‘I’m not just going to walk away.’ What if he has some answers about his dad? Why do you suppose he told us you were dead? What if he can answer that?

This Is Us, 302 - Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore
This Is Us, 302 “A Philadelphia Story” – Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Ron Batzdorff

Jack was not a lunatic, there’s a reason why (he was) keeping his family away from this guy. Maybe he is dangerous, we don’t know enough about him yet. Not everybody is worth hanging out with, even if they’re family. Not my family or your family.

That’s the thing with Kevin, and that’s what I love about him. He’s not going to leave any stone unturned. He’s going to do everything he can to try and put this puzzle together so that he can have peace. I don’t know if he’ll ever find it, but I think that’s his motivation.

There’s a scene this season when Rebecca, Kevin’s mother, is praising him when he has secretly been drinking again.

Yeah, isn’t that sad? She’s like, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ It ripped my heart out. Just jump out of the car right now. It’s so bad. And she really is proud of him. Again, he’s lying. He’s not telling these secrets, and that continues. That stuff doesn’t go away.

We haven’t seen him with a sponsor, we haven’t seen him in rehab; we haven’t seen him taking care of himself. [However] we saw him get out of rehab, and two seconds later meet a woman, fall in love with her and ask her to move in. Well, that’s how you do it, right?! What about taking care of yourself? He’s wobbly as it is. And he’s inviting more people into his house. I think he’s still more co-dependent and damaged than he will admit.

This Is Us, 309 - Justin Hartley
This Is Us, 302 “A Philadelphia Story” – Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) and Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Ron Batzdorff

How is his career?

It’s better than mine. (he laughs) No, I’m kidding. Maybe that’s what Kevin needs to settle him down, a number one hit network series. I don’t know if it settled me down. I’ll tell you what, I’m still floating.

Kevin’s career is going well, I think, but I also think that this drinking thing can get in the way. It’s not going to be tolerated and he’s got to realize that too. This is a chance that he’s gotten, but every single time he messes up he gets a bigger and better opportunity.

(In the scene) on that football field, he was saying, ‘I did this, and something better came along, and then I wrecked it and it got bigger and better. Then I smashed that and it got bigger and better.’ There’s a guilt that comes with that, I think, like, ‘What is this? I haven’t done anything right; I keep getting all of these opportunities and I squander every one of them.’

You want to shake him, but you also want to hug him, and that’s Kevin.

This Is Us, 302 - Logan Shroyer
This Is Us, 302 “A Philadelphia Story” – Teenage Kevin Pearson (Logan Shroyer) ©2018 NBCUniversal Media, Photo by Ron Batzdorff

Justin Hartley Soundbyte

I asked Justin if the reason Kevin wanted to bring Nick into his family was that he was holding onto his father in some way? Click here to listen to his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.