It was easy to dismiss Justin Hartley's performance in "This Is Us" — at least initially.
In the debut season of NBC's time-jumping family drama, which follows the five-member Pearson clan through various phases in their lives, characters dealt with such fraught subject matters as loss of a baby, weight issues, addiction and feelings of racial otherness. For adult Kevin Pearson, the member of the Big Three siblings portrayed by Hartley, much of the character's first-season storyline revolved around him being a recognizable actor who quit the popular sitcom he headlined because he was striving to be taken more seriously. Boo-hoo, right?
But jump ahead to Season 2 and the depth emerges.
After landing a role in a Ron Howard movie, opposite Sylvester Stallone(!), an old knee injury resurfaces and Kevin finds himself on a Vicodin spiral of dysfunction and poor choices — a supercharged version of his father Jack's alcohol dependency. Much of the season, in relation to Kevin's development, worked to show the impact Jack's addiction and his early death had on Kevin during his formative teen years and into adulthood.
And there was one person with whom Hartley didn't want to discuss the ways in which history was repeating itself: Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack.
"Milo is such a good actor—so, for me right now, he is Jack Pearson," Hartley said when he recently visited the L.A. Times video studio. "I felt like — and we'll never know — but I felt like, if I talked to Milo about it, it would kind of be like counseling a little bit. If I got his perspective on how he manages this and how he does this character and all that, I didn't want to hear from Jack Pearson. I didn't want Kevin Pearson to get advice from Jack Pearson … I wanted to make sure that I didn't get it."
Hartley also shared what it was like working opposite Stallone, what he imagines future Kevin might be like, and the moment in Season 2 where, for a split second, he wondered if he might be out of a job. Check out the full conversation below — and don't worry, no tissues will be needed!