“I didn’t see it coming!” Hartley tells Us of Toby (Chris Sullivan) collapsing and subsequently flatlining on Christmas Eve. “Every single episode is like that for me. I’m like, ‘Welp, didn’t see that coming!’ I don’t know if I’m stupid or what, but I’m always shocked by their storytelling. It blows my mind.”
Hartley promises we will get answers to Toby’s fate once the show returns in 2017.
“It picks up directly where we left off. So you’ll get some immediate answers – not immediate like act one answers — but you’ll get some answers in the first show,” Hartley says.
The fall finale also gave viewers a heart-wrenching scene between William (Ron Cephas Jones) and his surprise former lover, Jessie (Denis O’Hare) — a rare twist Hartley admits he saw coming.
“That is like the only thing that I think maybe I did see coming, just because I did it by process of elimination, I was trying to think if there’s anything we haven’t covered,” the 39-year-old explains. “And that was one of the things, and I was like that would be really, really cool. Then a couple months later here we go with this wonderful story line. I love that story line!”
Hartley also says that once the show returns, William’s relationship — and how it affects his biological son Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — will be addressed.
As for Kevin, Hartley says his journey to find love will continue when the show picks up — but stays mum on whether it’s with Olivia (Janet Montgomery) or Sloane (Milana Vayntrub).
“Kevin is continuing down this path where he’s looking for love and all that kind of stuff, but then something happens, someone comes back into his life and he’s trying to figure out that situation, and then maybe someone else comes back into his life!” he says. “I think Kevin realizes who it is that he’s longing for, and it’s one of those things that This Is Us kind of does where it’s like, man, that was right there the whole time, but you just didn’t see it. And you sort of experience it with Kevin, which is one of the things I love about our show, when the character is experiencing something, as an audience member you’re kind of going through it with them, and I kind of love that sort of team work of our storytelling.”
The recently engaged actor (he popped the question to actress Chrishell Stause in July) shares more with Us.
Us: How do you think Toby’s medical emergency will affect Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin’s relationship?
Justin Hartley: I think in any time of crisis it does one of two things — it either pushes people together or pulls people apart, doesn’t it? These two are so well connected and their bond is so deep that I think it’ll probably pull them together, and I think maybe it’ll feel like the Big Three bond over it and you’ll see the family sort of rally around her.
Us: What was your reaction to seeing how young Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak) and Kevin (Parker Bates) bonded when Kate got her appendectomy?
JH: How great is that? That one moment right there where it was like, that tells a huge story about, that tells so many things about their bond and how it’s special and it’s just different, right? They shared a womb. They’re kind of the same person.
Us: The kids on the show are so good!
JH: They really are! It’s remarkable! I watch it sometimes and I’m like, I’m so proud of them! I think they are fantastic little kids. They’re great and they’re really funny and nice and normal little kids, but they’re also like such seasoned actors, aren’t they?
Us: It was pretty surprising to see Kevin play the role of Sloane’s boyfriend for her Hanukkah dinner — what’s the deal with their relationship?
JH: He’s looking for some kind of stability, and he also sees in her this woman that is the opposite of Olivia. So we’ll have to try to figure out if she’s a rebound or if it’s something else. He enjoys being around this woman who makes him laugh, and she’s sweet and she’s sincere and she likes him. I think they’re developing quite a friendship, and Kevin has an interesting way of befriending people, I’m not sure he knows exactly how to be friends with a woman, like platonic friends with a woman. So we’ll see what hot water that gets him into.
Us: Do you think Kevin and Olivia could have actually been a thing? Or could they?
JH: I think he’s looking for something pure and there is something missing in his life, and the way I see it, he’s open to sort of everything because he’s afraid he might miss it if he’s not open. It might be one of those cases of trying to put a square peg into a round hole, but at the same time he doesn’t just want to assume that it’s not going to work and therefore he misses it. I hope he finds it. Whether it’s in Olivia or Sloane or someone else — I don’t know. But he’ll definitely keep trying to find it. It’s love! He’s looking for love! It’s quite wonderful actually; it’s a great love story.
Us: He’s also looking for success so much that he is willing to invest his own money in Sloane’s play.
JH: He’s either going to sink or swim, right? This is it. People are either going to laugh at him or people are going to be surprised by him, and it’s up to him. He sort of controls his own destiny, especially now that he’s producing the show. I love the fact that he’s taking control of everything and the evolution of this character — this guy who the first time we saw him he’s sitting on a bed with these two models that he didn’t even know their names probably, on his birthday, drinking like bourbon in the middle of the day, sort of like…hopeless. And now he’s sort of grown up. And kind of in an instant, hasn’t he? It’s great. He’s not attached to his sister at the hip and dependent on her for every single thing and he’s sort of trying to figure out what it is that he wants and he’s looking for it, he’s not afraid to put himself out there and he’s vulnerable and he’s become more and more self-aware, I think. I really love that.
Us: You have to tell me — when are we going to find out what the deal is between Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Miguel (Jon Huertas)?
JH: That’s coming up as well. We tell tidbits of that story. If you watch the rest of the season you’ll see how that kind of unfolded as well, what were the circumstances that sort of led to those two being together and how Jack’s death happened and how Miguel and Rebecca are together and why the kids sort of resent him, or at least Kevin does.
This Is Us airs on NBC Tuesdays at 9 ET.
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