'This Is Us' postmortem: Jon Huertas hopes 'people root for Rebecca and Miguel' eventually

Warning: This interview about the “Clooney” episode of This is Us contains spoilers. 

As the guy who married his dead best friend’s wife, Jon Huertas knows most This Is Us fans, as well as the Pearson siblings, are iffy at best on Miguel. He thinks (fingers crossed) the mood is shifting slightly, especially after tonight’s “Clooney” episode, in which he swears to Kevin that he never thought about Rebecca romantically while Jack was alive — but promises that he is staying put now no matter how hard that role can be.

During an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, the 41-year-old Huertas teased that more details will be revealed about how things developed with the heartbroken widow in coming episodes (most likely Season 3). Until then, the actor has to take comfort in knowing that “old man Miguel” has at least one big fan. “My wife thinks he’s hot,” says Huertas with a laugh. “It’s a little weird. I think she’s too into him. It could be a problem. What if I don’t end up looking like that?”

Before he starts planning to steal his This is Us prosthetics and wig as a backup, he chatted about what it feels like to portray a character most people are suspicious of, how he found out Miguel would end up with Rebecca, why he thinks Kevin has the biggest problem with his character, and more.

I feel for Miguel. He’s a stepdad. He’s often the butt of the joke. He lives in the shadow of Jack. And he often doesn’t get credit for being a great friend when Jack was alive, like when he rekindled Jack’s dream of starting his own company at the mall. How do you feel about the bad rap he gets?
I’ve gotten used to it, and to a certain extent I understand it — especially the stepdad bit. It seems normal to me because I did not come up in the perfect nuclear family. My mom was married to a guy that I never let in. They ended up getting divorced, but I never got to know him or allowed him to be a part of my life.

Kids get used to their surroundings and their parents and when divorce hits and a new guy or woman comes in, they always feel like they are on the outside of the family at least a little. It is really hard for kids to accept change, especially if it happens at that impressionable age during the teenage years. For the Pearson kids, Miguel was a part of their life when their dad was alive, and losing their dad makes the situation all the more intense and emotionally charged. Miguel is accepted, even if it is weird at times, because Randall lets him been a grandfather to his kids, and he goes to family celebrations and holidays.

Kevin has always seemed to be the hardest on Miguel and they immediately had run-ins when Kevin moved in after rehab. But they also had a great talk.
Kevin has been the toughest for Miguel. Oddly, Kevin is the character I relate to the most out of all the This Is Us characters. I played football and then I became an actor and more than that, I always tried to stand out and impress to get attention from my family that I didn’t feel like I was getting.

Kevin has been constantly feeling like there was a void of attention from his mother since he was a kid, and then his football career ends and his father, who he did get attention from, dies, and he felt like his mother turned to Randall. Then at least eight or 10 years later, you find out she moves on with another man and there is bound to be that honeymoon phase, and he feels like the attention is stolen from him again. And for Kevin, it lined up with when he was becoming a successful actor and he was again trying to get his mom’s attention. In a way, Miguel is almost the new Randall, the new enemy. This is, of course, my own opinion on why Kevin might have had the biggest problem with Miguel. This is not based on anything that we’ve shot or been told by the writers.

Miguel seems very self-aware of his place in the family and yet this week he really stands his ground with Kevin in order to protect Rebecca’s feelings. Going forward, will he and Kevin have more run-ins, or is this the beginning of a new era in their relationship?
I think Kevin and Miguel’s relationship is a very special relationship. What I would like to see, and so far we haven’t seen this in any scripts we’ve been given, is if they had a special bond before Rebecca and Miguel got together and before Miguel moved away. I think that might have happened, based on the scene at the mall when Kevin was a teenager and he was bummed about football being over. Miguel has a bit of a moment with him that day and is there for him in a way that Kevin appreciates. So I hope there is more to that story.

I have been told that we will see more on the romance between Miguel and Rebecca and how it blossoms — but probably not much more until Season 3. I hope that people root for them. People get older and lonely and you don’t have same fire to get out there and meet someone. It is harder to find love. Even at my age, and I am younger than them, I can’t imagine being on the singles scene and trying to date. I would be driving myself crazy. All the rules have changed. I think for those two, it is probably nice that they already knew each other so well and that they had Jack in common. It probably made it so much easier to fall. They both needed companionship.

Since it was revealed that he married Rebecca in Episode 2, do you think audience perception of him changed? Does it change as more information about how they wound up married gets rolled out? Have you had any run-ins with fans?
I don’t know what the audience’s problem is. People can be quite mean to Miguel on social media. I think that everyone fell in love with Jack and Rebecca and just want it to work out. Hopefully after this episode, everyone realizes that Miguel was in love with the idea of Jack and Rebecca too. He saw them as the ideal relationship. It was the kind of love he wished he’d had with Shelly or with anyone for that matter. And a lot of what he did before Jack’s death was to help him not screw it all up. He tries to keep Jack on track at work, with Rebecca, as a dad. That’s the new hashtag, #keepJackontrack.

Huertas and Milo Ventimiglia. (Photo: NBC)

Do you think anyone is on team Miguel?
As social media is an important part of how we promote the show and how most of us interact with fans, I saw support early on from people who were on team Miguel, simply because they knew me from Castle and they just liked me having a new job. I also think some people recognized that Miguel was a good friend to Jack and Rebecca and that he usually was trying to urge Jack to do the right thing. When I would see comments on social media against Miguel, people would come in and stick up for him as a good friend.

But after Episode 2, when we found out he and Rebecca were now married, a majority of fans did think there were nefarious intentions on Miguel’s part and that he probably did swoop in and steal the wife or made his move at the funeral. Until the reveal that they reconnected on Facebook years after his death, they were on the lookout for evidence to support their assumption. And because they were leaning toward the worst being true, small things were misinterpreted. People saw things they wanted to see.

I was a little guilty of that. And I was also relieved when we found out that many years had gone by and that Miguel never thought about her in that way while Jack was alive. When were you told that bit of backstory? Were you relieved? 
When I first took the job, it was pretty soon after Castle was canceled. I wasn’t looking to jump right into another major network gig. I wanted to do something smaller, maybe a 10-to-12-episodes kind of thing. I was told it was a recurring role and that I would not have to appear in every episode. All I knew is that it was playing the best friend of the lead character Jack. Figured I could handle that. Then I got a call that they needed to do a makeup test. I thought, “Weird, I’ve never had to do that before for a show. Do they have to figure out what color brown to use?” But I got there and it was a special effects makeup house and they are doing a life cast of my whole head so they could do some old-age makeup. I did not understand what was happening. It was actually the makeup artist that told me I was married to Rebecca in present day.

The writers and producers had been keeping things under wraps, but I realized I’d gotten myself into something even more interesting than I’d thought. We never really talked about how it happened exactly until the beginning of Season 2. From that point, I sat down with the writers to talk about the plan, and they are really receptive to the input I give. It has been very collaborative. We talked about how she has three kids to raise and will she have to get a job. Will Miguel step in and help with things? When would they become romantic? I think he had to go away and become rich before reentering her life. Miguel was the ambitious one and he was always trying to bring Jack up with him. But once Jack was gone, I felt like he would still eventually go off and find his fortune. Once she had time to grieve and accept, he could come back in her life, which inspired the Facebook thing. I liked that they tied it into social media, and how old people were starting to use social media and reconnect with old friends. Because that made it feel very realistic.

A week earlier though he told Toby and Beth in the bar, “I married my best friend’s wife. I’ve been on the outside of this family since I entered it.” He also warns Beth when she is close to overstepping into his no-fly zone when she talks about Saint Jack. During that conversation, we were reminded that Miguel lost something very important when Jack died too.
He absolutely did. We will see more about how Jack’s death affected Miguel as the season goes on and in next season as well. I actually like that Miguel and Rebecca’s relationship is the long lead storyline. It is taking the longest to tell. We get very little information about them and when we do get it, it is very small bits. It is going to take three or four seasons to tell, which is fun for me because it creates a lot of anticipation when I get a new script. When I read this episode, I was so glad that I finally get to tell Kevin that I never had feelings for his mom when his dad was alive. I think that not only answered Kevin’s questions but put the audience at ease about Miguel too.

What era of Miguel’s do you dislike the most, in terms of how he looks? 
The era I dislike the most is the late ’80s and early ’90s, because the clothes and the hairstyles are absolutely horrendous. It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror. My favorite era is the ’70s. Those clothes and that hair are so much fun, and we get to play younger. It is also nice to play that age because that’s my real hair that they haven’t let me cut in two years now. It’s like being paid to dress up for Halloween.

I would have guessed that was a wig!
I have never had hair this long. Not even in high school. I got it cut short for college and then I was in the Air Force for eight years so it was even tighter. For Generation Kill it was bald and for Castle it was tight all the time because I was a cop. I got used to that, and now I have to do things like Keratin treatments because they are blow-drying my hair all the time, and when I play old man Miguel, they actually glue my hair back with this product that is the basis of hairspray. It goes on like honey and turns your head into a Skittle and requires chemicals to take it out. My hair gets destroyed. I now feel a woman’s pain and have the utmost admiration for their haircare routine. I wear a lot more hats now so I don’t have to do all the work to make it look good.

Are other tricks employed to achieve the old man Miguel?
There are prosthetics on my face and neck. Those also take chemicals to remove. It takes Mandy and me about three and a half hours to get on the old people makeup and about 45 minutes to an hour to remove it. Sometimes I am in a hurry and they just use all the chemicals and chisel it off.

Rebecca asks Jack to remind her to pick up batteries and at the end of the episode, the audience realizes that they forgot them and that they were meant for the fire alarm. Given the age of the kids and this new information, it seems like we are ramping up to the big reveal of the day Jack died. Given how pivotal that moment is and how much we talk about it and speculate, are you excited for the show to get there or are you dreading it?  
That’s a good question. There is a part of me that is excited because I want to see how great the storytelling is and how the audience responds to the storytelling because I have so much respect for the writers and how they are revealing this complicated and emotional story.

But at the same time, once you show people how Jack died, there is no going back. I am apprehensive about how people will react. It’s like the first night of a new play. On opening night, you have no idea how the first audience will react. Are they going to like it or hate it? I think people are prepped to a certain extent because we have known for a long time that he is going to die. But it is going to be rough to watch. But it is well written, well thought out, and well acted. A lot will fall on Mandy’s shoulders but she can handle it. She is a brilliant actress. She puts a 110 percent into her work and that is really going to make that episode better whenever we do get there.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC at 9 p.m.

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