Jon Huertas Talks Directing ‘This Is Us,’ Crying on Set & Those Flash-Forward Scenes
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 9 of This Is Us, “The Ride.”]
This Is Us continues to raise the bar with its emotional Pearson family narratives. Its latest episode, “The Ride,” is a layered look at what it means to expand one’s family as Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) all head home from the hospital (in different time periods, of course) with brand new babies in tow. To direct it, the show turned to one of its own stars.
Fans know him as Miguel, but this time around Jon Huertas was behind the camera directing an episode filled with babies, car rides and a (real life) pregnant costar, all under COVID restrictions. Below, Huertas talks to TV Insider about his first big directing gig, amping up an action scene, his hopes for Miguel and Rebecca’s love story, and much more.
Congratulations on directing your first episode! How did it happen?
Jon Huertas: The first season, before I even started [shooting], I had a conversation with [executive producer] Ken Olin about directing because I was supposed to direct on Castle before we got canceled. So, I’ve been biding my time since then. Once things hit in the first season, [everyone] and their mother wanted to direct the show, so I had to get in line with people who had so much more experience.
I wanted to make sure I directed an episode I wasn’t in, so the window just felt perfect. And then we had all of these other things, like COVID, Mandy Moore being 37 weeks pregnant, about eight babies in the episode so I really think that [creator and showrunner] Dan [Fogelman], if he was going to sabotage my directing career, this was the episode that he thought he could do it with. [Laughs]
I was going to say, this episode seemed incredibly challenging to direct.
Oh yeah, and it had the shortest turnaround time. I just finished shooting this thing last Thursday, and it’s already airing. I actually think it’s amazing. We started prep in January, it took us a month because of COVID. All of the other episodes that we’ve been working on have all taken longer.
The joke about Dan sabotaging me, it was actually the opposite. He gave me the biggest gift that he could in having an episode with so many challenges. If I could do this, then any other episodes that I do will be [a piece of] cake.
So how did you handle juggling all those balls, from COVID to shooting in cars to a lot of crying infants.
I like juggling all the balls. Because we did have a lot of cars, one of the things they let me do is amp up the moment when Jack is a cut off by the other driver [on his way into a gas station, where he buys some liquor]. It wasn’t as big of a moment [in the script]. I think coming from Castle where we did a lot of car chase and stunt stuff, there’s a part of me that missed that, so I was like, “Hey, let’s put a stunt in our episode.”
Also I thought it was better for pushing Jack towards that tiny bottle of liquor. I think it needed to come from a bigger place for him to want to do that while he’s got kids in the back of the car.
Maybe I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.
Jack drinking definitely felt earned, but it was nice to see he made better choices as the episode progressed.
Yes. And I think the challenges were there, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the cast and the crew. I think they’re the best in the business.
[In rehearsal], the moment when Kevin finds Jack with [his newborn] kids [in a dream sequence at home], the way Milo turns around with those babies and looks at Justin in awe, and Justin looks at Milo with so much sweetness, for me, as a guy who didn’t really grow up with a father, I started crying. We hadn’t even started shooting yet. That’s how good Justin and Milo are. I turned to the writer, Julia Brownell, and I almost wanted to say, “You have to take over. I have to go.”
Speaking of Justin and Milo, they’ve both directed episodes. Did they offer any pointers?
A lot of times you really just don’t have time for advice, especially in the COVID era. I was never going to get the opportunity to say, “Hey, let me ask you, how did you handle this?”
But as actors, when I was trying to get a certain emotion or I was trying to get a certain moment or a certain pace in a scene, they completely understood [what I was looking for] because they had done it before. They understand that I’m not just thinking about being in the moment like an actor is anymore, I’m actually thinking about, editorially, how are we going to make this work? And [they were] so good.
Last year I spoke with Mandy about where Rebecca and Miguel’s story was heading and mentioned that an episode might focus on their love story. Will we see that at some point?
I think Rebecca and Miguel story’s very important for a couple of different reasons. You want to see how this love story came to be because he has been such an important piece of her later adult life. He’s grounded her [with her kids] and of course, the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. But there’s the stepparent that a lot of us have had in our lives who always gets that short end of the stick. I think it’s important to speak for those stepparents.
What we’ve heard is that next season is when we’re really going to dive into what it is Miguel and Rebecca do for one another when it comes love and support.
Part of your directing gig involved one of those famous flash-forward sequences. Do you know who was in the car pulling up to Kevin’s house in the final moments?
I do know, yes. And I think there’s a big possibility we’ll find out who was in that car before the end of the season.
This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC