'This Is Us' Actor Defends Miguel: He's "Still a Work in Progress"

Jon Huertas explains Miguel’s friendship with Jack, the end of his marriage and why the NBC family drama was the right fit after 'Castle.'
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of This is Us, "I Call Marriage."]

Fans of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) definitely got their fill of the onscreen couple during Tuesday’s flashback-heavy episode of NBC’s This Is Us. The storyline shifted all the way back to the couple’s big wedding day, when Rebecca’s present-day husband Miguel (Jon Huertas) was Jack’s best man.

In the subsequent flashbacks, it was later revealed that Miguel and his wife Shelly (Wynn Everett) wound up divorced, something Jack just couldn’t wrap his head around. And so he began to wonder about his own relationship’s lack of steam, even accusing Miguel of having an affair with his receptionist.

To follow up on the Miguel-heavy episode, gain some insight into how his relationship with Rebecca eventually came to be and to get the lowdown on angry Jack and Rebecca fans, THR caught up with Huertas.

Why was This Is Us the thing you wanted to do post-Castle?

Coming off of Castle, first of all it was a bit of a surprise because it looked like we were coming back. But then as I was taking a break and breathing a little bit before jumping into the next thing, this opportunity came up. Reading the material, I just knew I wanted to be a part of this show. It was great because I came in as more of a part-time gig, although I ended up doing 11 or 12 of the 18 episodes. I’m so glad for a show like this because it’s so different than anything else I’ve ever done. It was the best pilot I’ve ever seen and I just knew this was something special.

When you first got the role how much of Miguel’s backstory were you actually privy to?

I wasn’t privy to a lot. They were still developing who Miguel was. The canvas is still pretty open; there are lots of colors to add. It’s something we’re talking about together a little bit now. Dan has a plan and I just sit back and am excited to learn more about him as time goes by. A lot of time when we’re not filming, Mandy, Milo and myself sit around speculating who Miguel is and what the relationships are. We’re always super excited to read a script to learn new things about our characters or relationships. Miguel is still a work in progress, even in Dan’s mind.

Does Dan give you broad strokes?

Dan and I got together about midway through the season and had a meeting, and he did give me some broad strokes for the Miguel character and what his relationship to Jack was, how long they’d been friends. Broad strokes on he and Rebecca. But that’s about all he’s given me: broad strokes. Very broad strokes.

What about in terms of the character himself? Viewers know he has children, for example. Do you know much about them?

Miguel’s kids are about five years older than Jack and Rebecca’s kids. I can’t give away too many things because stuff is coming out in episodes to come, but that’s why Miguel and Shelly will sometimes give advice to Jack and Rebecca on raising kids. I can’t really comment on whether the kids know each other or are friends in their adult years. But he does have kids with Shelly. Good-looking kids too! Gorgeous kids. (Laughs.)

Kids that haven’t been cast yet, right?

They haven’t. But in my mind they’re absolutely good-looking.

Viewers now know that Miguel and Shelly don’t make it thanks to a divorce, but can you break down the scene with Miguel and Jack in which your character explains the reasoning for divorce? What was that like to film?

When Miguel and Shelly divulge their divorce to their best friends it’s such a shocker and Jack and Rebecca weigh their relationship against it. Emotionally between Jack and Miguel, there’s such a deep trust there. So for Miguel to be doing something like having an affair would be construed as dishonest and distrustful. Jack would be blown away if that was the truth. Emotionally for me and Miguel, for a friend to think that’s something he would do, it’s hallowing. Doing the scene, Milo and I talked about it a lot before we shot it. We talked about what it would feel like for a friend to accuse another friend of something he would never, ever do. Jack accusing Miguel of that really cut him and hurt him, and Miguel had to kind of knock that thought out of Jack’s mind with what he says.

What is it between these two that makes them such great friends given all of their opposite traits?

Each one of them have qualities the other envies, but they do have the same sense of loyalty to each other and their relationships. That’s something they share and they envy each other’s qualities. Miguel is a bit more of an ambitious type. He wants to climb the ladder of success and he wants to bring his friend along with him. He got Jack the job at the construction company. He got him the promotion that helped him provide more for his kids. What Miguel envies about Jack is how romantic he is. The relationship that Jack and Rebecca have carved out for each other. As much as they love each other, Miguel doesn’t have that with Shelly and Miguel wishes he did. The fact that they maybe want to learn from each other keeps them together and so tight.

When you play the past scenes, do you play them like Miguel has always had hidden feelings for Rebecca or do you play it as though they developed later?

Miguel has never had feelings for Rebecca in that way in the past. Miguel is not jealous or envious of Jack having Rebecca, he’s envious of what they have because he doesn’t have that with Shelly. He loves Jack more than anyone. Other than Shelly, maybe. Miguel knows what Rebecca has done to improve Jack’s life and his being. He would never have feelings for Rebecca like that in the past. I play it like, ‘Don’t be stupid, stay on track.’ That’s what I try to do with Miguel.

Are you excited for people to see this other side of Miguel and maybe get some love back from passionate viewers?

I am excited for them to learn more about Miguel, but I don’t mind them having suspicions about him. I like that, actually. A complex story and character is more interesting than handing them exactly what they want. Allowing them to feel one way now and maybe feeling another way later — and the challenge of that as an actor to get there — is super exciting to me with this character and story. Because of the broad strokes I know that not everything people have seen is what they think it is. There’s more behind the curtain and the curtain is being pulled open slowly. That gets viewers to come back every week and learn a bit more about each and every character.

Thanks to Kevin and Sophie’s conversation on the subway, viewers also now know Miguel and Rebecca have been together for over a decade. What kinds of conversations have you and Justin had about the bad feelings in the Miguel-Kevin relationship?

Justin [Hartley] and I have gotten pretty tight — he actually guest-starred a couple of years ago on Castle — so it was really nice to come onto a show where you know people and there’s an easy working relationship. It’s easy for us to sit down and talk about that relationship; it’s actually one of my favorite relationships. What it’s becoming is one of my favorite parts of the show. I’m super excited for the future of Miguel and Kevin, it’s a huge opportunity to really overcome an obstacle between two characters. It’s interesting to work with Justin and figure out how are we going to make it feel like there’s nothing between these characters and possibly grow it to something deep. There’s fun stuff coming up.

The last time viewers saw them together was the “Pilgrim Rick” episode. Was that a turning point?

I think so, yeah. Kevin obviously holds the most animosity against Miguel and Rebecca’s relationship. If anyone has kept Miguel from participating in the family traditions, it’s been Kevin. Miguel had to be brave enough to ask Kevin — the one man he knows doesn’t like him the most — and ask him permission to play Rick. Kevin was going through his own stuff … Justin and I talked about how Kevin was going to give up the hat. It was one of those things that was so unexpected for Kevin to give up the hat, but Justin was so present and genuine with how he noticed Miguel was upset and how he ended up giving him that hat.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Here’s one thing I’d like to add: #TeamMiguel.

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

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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