‘This Is Us’: Jon Huertas on Directing & What That Flash-Forward Means for Kate and Toby
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 6, Episode 2 of This Is Us, “Four Fathers.”]
This Is Us continues to raise the stakes with each passing episode of its final season and “Four Fathers” is no exception.
The episode chronicles the struggles of dads within the Pearson family, and helping bring those challenges to the screen is star Jon Huertas. The actor who portrays Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) best friend and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) second husband is no stranger to the director’s chair after tackling an episode in Season 5.
Taking that experience, Huertas approached the pivotal episode with care and consideration as the show began to peel back the layers behind the story of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) relationship demise. Below, Huertas discusses directing, and some of the episode’s most revealing moments.
This episode was all about the Pearson family fathers. Did you have any choice over which episode you’d direct?
Jon Huertas: I knew that I was going to be directing one or two episodes this season and when we were getting into it, I didn’t think that it would be one of the first five. We were about a week away from filming our first episode and I got a call from Dan [Fogelman] and he said, “Hey, I think Episode 3 would be great. Are you interested?” And I said, “Dan Fogelman, that’s a dumb question. Of course interested,” [Laughs].
I’ve always had kind of father issues. When it comes to anything that has to do with fatherhood, because of my own background of not really growing up with a father, I always am affected emotionally. So, I thought this would be a really great episode to take on. Dealing with how [dads] are trying to deal with fatherhood was so interesting.
The fathers all struggle in their own ways during this episode, but who do you think is struggling the most?
I think the two characters that are having the toughest time in my episode are probably Toby and Kevin. What’s funny is that they both have something in common, their living situations are really affecting their ability to be present fathers. And then Jack and Randall are dealing with wanting to connect with their kids. It’s not necessarily a problem, it’s just an effort being made because maybe there’s a fear of not being connected the way that they want to be.
The last episode focused primarily on two different storylines, but this installment was filled with several plotlines. Is that exciting when it comes to directing?
Yeah. The thing I love about working on the show is that [I’m] the time traveler. Mandy and I are time travelers, we get to be in all aspects of time on the show. But for the most part, you’re kind of compartmentalized in each episode, when you’re directing an episode, you get to work with everyone and that is such a joy. And you get to see the story from its inception on paper until it airs and you’re part of that entire process. You really get to appreciate every little thing that the actors do to make sure you’re getting exactly what you need to make this episode feel like it was intended.
You’ve directed before on the show. How did that influence your approach to directing this episode?
It helped me immensely and I definitely leaned on my experience from the first time working on the show. The production was a lot different because the first time I directed it was [during the early days of] Covid and it was tough. It took a lot longer. This time felt easier because of the first time and the actors, trusted me one hundred percent. Maybe the first time I did it, they were like, “ah, Jon’s never directed us or even television before, let’s just see what happens.” This time they were like, “Let’s go, Jon, what do you want to do?” And it was exciting.
The episode’s flash forward with a grown-up Jack Jr. (Blake Stadnik) hints at the end of Kate and Toby. Does this episode serve as the first building block of their relationship implosion?
Well, I think it’s not necessarily a building block. It’s more fertilizer. The seed was planted at the end of last season when we saw there was a wedding. Now in [this] episode, we have this fertilizer, we’re going to help the seed grow a little bit more. And we definitely see [when we] open up the episode with adult Jack Junior. We kind of get a sense that something he’s dealing with has to do with the imminent breakup of Kate and Toby and the moment that sent major shock waves through their relationship. We see that they’ve been having a little trouble because of Toby’s remote job, but it’s definitely going to get worse as we go along.
And it was really great to do this. Working with Chris Sullivan, he’s one of my favorite people as well as one of my favorite actors. Both him and Chrissy are just amazing sports and the fact that they allowed the writers and me to specifically come in and tell this part of their story, it was truly special.
I think that fans should always read into things and I think that fans should always keep an open mind. I think we should always be that way. I’ve known [Jennifer] a long time and finally getting to direct her was so exciting. She’s so good, and even though she’s not in my episode a ton, it was still one of the best days working with her on set. But I think that we don’t know what’s going to happen with Kevin and his love life at the end of the show. I think that Cassidy has a very special place in Kevin’s heart, so I want the audience to definitely read into it. They might not finish the book when they’re reading, but they can read into it.
The episode ends on a somber note after Jack learns that his mother has died. What can you tease about the upcoming episode?
I can’t one hundred percent say, but I think with Jack, he’s always had this really difficult relationship with his family. And I think this is one of those odd moments that Jack really doesn’t know how to deal with emotionally. And he’s going to have to realize that [he] can’t do this himself. He’s not a superhero, he’s a human with a heart that realizes sometimes you need help. Sometimes you need to lean on others to help you through things.
This Is Us, Season 6, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC