‘This Is Us’: Justin Hartley Says Kevin’s ‘Rock Bottom’ Is Yet to Come

This Is Us - Season 2
Spoiler Alert
Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Justin Hartley as Kevin in the "Number One" episode of This Is Us

[Do not read ahead if you have not watched “Number One,” Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us. Major plot points and spoilers ahead.]

Is there any show that’s rocking our emotional world weekly like NBC’s This Is Us? They got us again (in the best way) with this week’s episode, “Number One,” which focused on a fragile Kevin (Justin Hartley) returning back home and facing some of his demons. (Don’t worry, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown) get their episodes next.)

This week’s episode takes adult Kevin back to his high-school alma mater, where he is being honored but—post screwing things up once again with Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge)—we find him swimming in his painkiller addiction, excessive drinking and general self-loathing.

What’s not helping is that being back in his former high school has Kevin thinking a lot about the past, which we know he is not a fan of doing. Even harder is that the portion of his past is when, as a teen, young Kevin (an amazing Logan Shroyer) injured his knee and saw his football career go up in smoke. Topping things off from the same period is a deep dive into his complicated relationship with his father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia).

To delve even deeper inside Kevin’s journey and what’s coming next, Hartley talked to TV Insider and warned us that Kevin’s rock bottom may not be losing his father’s necklace.

When you first read the script for this week’s episode, what went through your head?
Justin Hartley:
I was excited. You wait your whole life to get a script like that, really. I was just excited and thrilled that they trusted me enough to give me all of that. Also, it was so well-written. Plus, it’s thought-out and put together in such a great way that when you get something like that as an actor, you’re just like, “Wow, this is going to be so much fun!” Hard work, but fun, you know? I’ll take that any day of the week.

Kevin is so joyless through the whole episode due to what he’s going through. How challenging was that to maintain for you? There’s really no happy moment for Kevin in this episode!
That’s an interesting point you bring up. I don’t know, how did I do that? [laughs] I’ll have to ask Chrishell [Stause, who he recently married]. Maybe I was a complete jerk when I came home. I have no idea. I’ve found that sometimes in between takes, because sometimes it gets so heavy, I need to tell a joke or I need to get loud, or I need to laugh. So there was probably, oddly enough, a lot of laughing and a lot of joking around going on on the set. As joyless as the scenes were, sometimes I need that to sort of refuel my batteries.

Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Justin Hartley “This Is Us”

In your words, how do you see the past story with young Kevin connecting to the present story?
Obviously, his father is going through a similar thing with the addiction and everything that Kevin’s going through. I think his father dying and there never being really any closure to that story, Kevin was never able to express everything that he probably wanted to express to his father, and vice versa as well. I think he’s finding that now he’s going through a similar thing and he’s trying to do it on his own, the same way he kind of deals with his father’s death. He buries it, he doesn’t talk about it. “I’ll handle it on my own.” You can’t go through all that stuff on your own. It just doesn’t work that way.

We see at the end of the episode that he goes to Randall. As close as he is with his sister, the one person he chooses to go to is Randall, his twin brother and say, “I need help.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do that. We’ll see him go through a few more pretty hard to watch and deal with struggles before he gets better. I feel like, unfortunately, it’s not in his DNA to ask others for help and that’s really the only way you get through stuff like this. We’re going to see some more hard stuff.

When Kevin does finally say something, like in his speech at the award ceremony, he tells the audience, “Don’t love me.” He opens up his soul a little bit and nobody hears him, which is really heartbreaking.
Nobody hears him. Yep, it is heartbreaking. In fact, they hear what they want to hear and they start cheering and applauding and things like that. I think that’s what sort of fuels that scene out on the football field. I’m literally telling people I’m bleeding and it’s like that old saying: I’m drowning and you’re describing the water. You’re not understanding what is actually happening here.

Then when he’s sort of inaudible and just crying like a baby when he loses the necklace, it’s like he’s already said everything that he can possibly say. I was saying that I kind of equated it to like a baby when they don’t know how to speak. They just yell. They’re overwhelmed. It’s just too much.

In the past story, Kevin has some obvious animosity towards Jack and his sobriety. How would you explain that?
Kevin puts a lot of pressure on himself to be perfect, and be number one and be great and be wonderful, and he does it all to impress his father. He’s got this idea of his father that is this wonderful, perfect guy that can’t do anything wrong and then he finds out that that’s just not the case. He’s got this alcohol problem and I think along with the embarrassment comes, in a weird way, there’s this feeling of betrayal where it’s like, “You led me to believe that you were this guy and I’m trying to be just like you and you’re my hero, and yet this is who you are. You’re nothing like that.” I think when you’re 17 and that happens, I think that you can believe that that’s the case.

When young Kevin dismisses the Pitt coach who come to visit the house, is that because he’s so arrogant? Or is it kind of a “f**k you” to his dad?
I mean, it’s both, but it is like a “f**k you” to his dad. Kevin’s not a bad person and he’s also not an idiot. He’s saying things like [Joe] Montana went to Notre Dame. He’s not saying that for any other reason but to just be like, “This whole thing is ridiculous. I’m going to be better than you. Why do you have this Pitt guy in my house? I’m going to be Notre Dame. Not only am I going to go to Notre Dame, I’m going to be the best there ever was. Then I’m going to rub it in your face.” He’s angry with his dad. He’s embarrassed and he’s mad and he doesn’t have the tools to figure out how to deal with that anger.

Let’s talk about the necklace a little bit. Did you have all the information on the necklace and how Kevin got it, which we see in this episode?
What’s interesting is for me is it’s part of my wardrobe. I put it every single day and they have different ones. If it’s going to be outside my shirt, I have to wear a certain one and if it’s going to be inside my shirt, that a different one because they look different. The microphone hits one of them and not the other. I’m very aware that I always have it on.

I think last year Milo and I had this conversation about it. I know when I went in at the beginning, Kevin wore jewelry. But I said I don’t want him in that much jewelry because he’s already sort of a D-bag guy. Then I saw that Milo actually wears one in his personal life. We were talking about what if Jack gives his to Kevin. What if that becomes a story point? I don’t really remember if that was part of the story before we had that discussion or not, or if that’s something that sort of got brought up and people were like, “Oh, okay, we can do that.” But I knew from the very, very beginning of season one that it was going to be something. I didn’t know that he was going to lose it. But I knew that it was very special to him and something that his dad gave him.

How much do you and Logan work together? I know you’re technically not in scenes together, but especially in this episode, I so buy that you guys are the same person! He’s got you down!
I heard him say a couple times that he watches my mannerisms and stuff but he’s a good actor. He’s studying and doing his work and the backstory is all there. I’ve seen him walking around in life and it’s really uncanny that his mannerisms are a lot like mine. It’s really weird. We didn’t even know each other before this show. I’m like, “that really is strange. That’s how I walk!” We are very similar physically in that regards.

After shooting this episode, do you look at Kevin any differently because you did have to go to such depths with him or were you already there with him?
I’m already in there with him. In order for this story to be told, we can’t just show that Kevin’s this guy that talks about things. He’s just a bomb waiting to go off. It’s a quiet bomb, or a quiet storm and then all of a sudden, an explosion. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. There have certain things that have happened where I will see, “Well, Kevin doesn’t talk about that.” He’s going to hold it in. Maybe if you re-watch the show they will be there, but I’m glad that it finally came out and people can see that there’s a lot of depth to this guy. Sometimes Kevin will say stuff and you’ll be like, “Wow, okay. Well that’s kind of profound coming out of Kevin’s mouth!”

We know the next two episodes are Kate and Randall’s episodes. What can we expect moving forward for Kevin?
I will tell you that when Kevin goes at the end of [this week’s] episode to Randall to tell him what’s going on, Randall says, “Kate lost the baby.” So that window shuts. He’s not able to ask for help, so through the next two episodes you see a few things happen to Kevin that when you thought it was rock bottom when he lost the necklace, that isn’t necessarily rock bottom.

This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC.