October 2019

This is Us Actor Jon Huertas Shares an Inside View

Author: Iain Denholm | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

Photographer Krisztian Lonyai traveled to L.A. in September to shoot Jon Huertas for this interview.

NBC’s number-one hit show This Is Us centers around the Pearson family, with parents Jack and Rebecca at its heart. So, the news that, following Jack’s death, Rebecca would go on to marry Jack’s best friend Miquel divided fans. However, as the show moves into its fourth season, viewers are finally beginning to warm to Miquel, which is something that actor Jon Huertas welcomes. Here, the former Castle star explains his thoughts on the show’s impact and discusses how the lessons he learned in the U.S. Air Force have informed his 20-plus-year career as a successful actor.

Why do you think This Is Us has connected so deeply with its audience?
Well, I think it’s because our writers and our creator Dan Fogelman have figured out how to tell facets of a story that touch on anyone’s experiences with themselves or their family members, or even close friends in a way that doesn’t seem like we are trying to do that. It’s just naturally in this family dynamic. There are all these different elements, from having kids to getting married, to relationships, to battles with weight. It touches on what all of us touch on in our lives. We don’t tell anything that’s out of the ordinary. We just have a creative way of telling a story that is about ordinary life.

Going into the show, did you know your character Miquel would end up marrying Mandy Moore’s character, Rebecca?
No. I thought I was just being brought in as Jack’s best friend. In fact, it wasn’t until I got the appointment to go do a life cast—to cast my head for the ageing makeup—and I asked why I needed it, that they told me we were going to be flashing forward into old age and see Miquel married to Rebecca. I was like, “What?” (laughs). It was a surprise.

Did you expect Miquel and Rebecca’s relationship to divide fans the way it did?
No. You don’t know what to expect with something like that, and no actor wants their character to be unlikeable, but it had nothing to do with dialogue and the way the story was moving. It was just that the audience had fallen in love with Jack and Rebecca as a couple, and so they had that visceral reaction to it, which I can kind of understand. I think that it’s taken some time, but people do now have a different reaction to Miquel, which is great to finally see.

After three seasons, that must be a relief?
Yeah, I feel great about it because, early on, I met with Dan and the writers to discuss the audience reaction, and my initial thoughts were how could we make this character more likeable? They reassured me that this needed to be a slow build because they wanted people to view Jack and Rebecca’s relationship as a relationship goal and fall in love with them. So, to have told the story of Rebecca and Miquel too soon would actually have compromised that. We talked about it needing to be a slow process which, in Dan’s opinion, would make them love Miquel as much as Jack in the end. So, it’s really nice to see that our plan has been working over the last three seasons. Now people understand why Miquel and Rebecca may have ended up together, and they understand that there were no nefarious intentions in Miquel’s behavior before Jack died.

What can we look forward to this season?
In season four, we are wrapping up some stuff that we learned last season, and we are finally getting to touch on some stories that the audience has been waiting for, like how Rebecca and Miquel might have gotten together. Also, at the end of last season, we found out that Miquel and Rebecca were moving to L.A. to be closer to Kate and Toby and the baby, so we are switching coasts, which is gonna be an interesting dynamic. We are also dealing with some Jack and Rebecca and Jack and Miquel stuff from early on too. There are some new twists and turns, and there are also some new characters that we are introducing. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s gonna be great.

Movies and TV are often heavily scripted. Do you sometimes feel the urge to break script to express the characters you portray?
Well, for me it is always about a collaborative way of storytelling. I would never just break script, but if you are a trained actor and confident at what you do, you’re always gonna give your opinion and ideas and come to that moment as a true professional. I meet with the writers to discuss my ideas on every project I work on, and in every single one of my roles, I have had something to contribute.

The differing timelines in This Is Us require you to don aging makeup. Does that help you to embody the character or is it a hindrance when acting?
Oh, it absolutely helps you to embody the character. I’m a people watcher, and when you watch people who are older, there is often something uncomfortable with them in the way they move and behave. So, when I’m wearing the prosthetics and the wig—and even the clothes—I’m not 100 percent comfortable, and I let that uncomfortableness come through. Sometimes, when you are uncomfortable, everything kinda slows down, and if you watch people of a certain age, they take their time with the way they move and when they talk about something. They’re not rushing anything, so I think that wearing the wardrobe and makeup absolutely informs who my character might be as an older version of Miquel.

Is the This Is Us set fun to work on?
Oh absolutely. The amount of laughter I hear on set makes me look at our show very ironically because we do have this heartfelt emotion on our show. But if people only knew how ridiculous some of the situations are behind the scenes, they wouldn’t cry as much as they do when watching it. I love that it makes people cry, but there is so much laughter on set and there are so many funny cast members, it’s so much fun to be a part of. I love it when Mandy is on set because firstly, she is such a wonderful actress and so dedicated to the craft of acting, and secondly, she laughs at all my dumb jokes, and her laugh is so infectious. When she laughs, the people around her laugh.

Before becoming an actor, you spent eight years serving in the U.S. Air Force. What was the biggest lesson you took from that experience?
The biggest thing I took away from the Air Force was discipline and initiative. You have to have discipline to never give up, to make sure that you always do your job effectively, efficiently and safely. Then, if you have initiative, you don’t just stand around waiting for someone to tell you what to do or how to do anything. If I hadn’t had those two things, I wouldn’t have been able to crack into this business as an actor. Without initiative, I would have sat around and waited for someone to give it to me, which would never have happened. And if I hadn’t had the discipline to just not quit every time I didn’t get a job, then I would never have made it. I know people say you have to be ready for a lot of rejection when you become an actor, but when it comes to this business, I don’t believe in the word rejection. I think it just wasn’t your job. You’re gonna be right for something; you just have to get into the room and, in order to get into the room, you gotta have initiative and discipline. So, I think that’s what I took away from the military, and I continue to use that in my daily life. They also paid for 75 percent of my education, so it was a great time in my life. I learned a lot and have since gone on to have a whole different type of career. I’ve got way more experience in this one now than the military, which is crazy.

Did you always plan to move into acting?
Oh, I had planned on becoming an actor ever since second grade Catholic school. I started out on stage back then, but I so loved movies and television and plays, and I just always thought that I was destined for it.

Growing up, who were your acting role models?
As a kid, I really looked up to Ricky Schroder and Robert Duvall. I thought that they were two of the most talented actors I’d ever seen, but I didn’t really grow up seeing a lot of people that looked like me or who reminded me of my experience, on screen until I saw Esai Morales in Bad Boys. It was only then that I thought maybe it was possible for me to be a professional actor myself.

Your own military experiences must have informed how you approached your role in HBO’s Generation Kill.
Yeah it did, but we also had great technical advisers, and we really made sure that we were upholding the integrity of these guys when we were telling the story. Also, I can’t take anything away from Eric Kocher and Rudy Reyes and Geoff Carisalez, as their characters were part of the actual story we portrayed. Any time you are telling a story about real people, you have to make sure you uphold the integrity of those people and are truthful to their legacy.

Of all your roles, which did you feel you connected with the most?
Definitely Espera from Generation Kill. Being a veteran myself, I really made that connection. Also, Esposito from Castle, because we made that character so much of who I am. Also, there was an independent film that I did called Reparation. My character’s journey in that movie was very complicated, and I felt like there were a lot of people like him, whose stories are skewed.

What is the biggest misconception about success?
That all successful actors are rich (laughs). That’s just not true. We don’t all drive around in Ferraris and Porsches and stuff. There’s a middle class that most of us live in as far as the entertainment business goes, and it’s harder today than ever to make a living as an actor in the middle class, even if you’re on a television show that goes for three or four years and you’ve got people that love you and wanna get your autograph. Once that job is done, the likelihood of getting another job is so slim. So, that’s the biggest misconception that even I had before I moved down here.

You did?
Oh yeah. I thought that as soon as I got a TV show, I was gonna be rich, because back in the day, William Shatner was on Star Trek for three seasons and that dude was rich after that. Like, he was buying racehorses and stuff (laughs). But back then, residual income and inflation hadn’t crushed us yet. Now, with inflation and the value of the dollar, it’s a lot more difficult for certain actors, including myself. I’m not wealthy. I’m doing okay, but by no means would I ever call myself rich. As a kid, you dream of getting that big job and of being rich, but every time you get a role, you have to plan your life like you might not get another. Like I said earlier, it is not about rejection; it’s about whether that’s your job, whether you’re right for that job, and those could be few and far between. For me, it always goes back to what I learned in the military. Thank God for initiative and discipline (laughs).

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