When This Is Us premiered four years ago, Kevin Pearson was a mess.
According to Kevin's portrayer, Justin Hartley, "[At the beginning of the series] he seems kind of this surface guy that kind of is just not taking life too seriously.
"And I just thought to myself, you know, that's a mask that he's putting on. He's afraid. He's horrified. He's scared of people finding out who he really is. And he also has no confidence. And if they do find out who he is, he feels like they're going to find out that he's a fraud and a fake.
"And he questions everything. He's questioning his talent. He's questioning whether he's right or wrong. He's the kind of guy that in a room full of crowded people-- I've always said this-- he feels totally alone and like he has no voice. Because if he opens his mouth, people are going to think he's stupid."
For Hartley, though, that was not always an easy mindset to find. He says, "I would say I'm way more like present day Kevin now than I am - and it's not even close - than I am like Kevin when we found him. So for me, it was trying to find that sort of still waters run deep kind of guy with Kevin at the very beginning.
"That was kind of hard to find - not hard to find, but important to find that part of him that was more like this really, really deep guy that was just too scared to kind of-- and lacked any confidence that it'd take to speak up in a group of people and say, well, this is what I think. Or I think this is a good idea.
"So now we see this guy who is - he's a leader. I mean he's a leader of men. He's a leader of his family. He's a leader of his friends. He's a movie star. He's doing all of these things that sort of his dad knew that he had in him.
Justin Hartley: I think Kevin had to go through all of that stuff to kind of get to the place where he is now to be able to see that light at the end of the tunnel and be like, oh, this is my path.
"But I think Kevin had to go through all of that stuff to kind of get to the place where he is now to be able to see that light at the end of the tunnel and be like, oh, this is my path.
"And sometimes, unfortunately, you have to stumble and fall and scrape your knees up a little bit to really appreciate what it is that's coming your way.
"And I also think he felt guilty about the fact that he had all these opportunities coming his way. He was like, well, I messed this up, and then it came back to me. And then I messed it up again. Then it came back to me again. And then I fucked it up for a third time. And then I got another opportunity with it. So he's started feel guilty about that.
"Now I think he's starting to feel like these are warranted, like he worked really hard. He's really working hard on his sobriety. He worked hard on his relationship with his mother, his brother, figuring out a way to deal with his father, that grief and that guilt, the rehab, the therapy, all of that stuff.
"So he's really becoming a man right before our very eyes. And I always say, you know, he's a little late to the party, but it's better late than never, you know?"
"He's figuring it out. And I will say, he was so far behind four years ago. And he's caught up tremendously. The growth in the four years has been generations. I mean, it's been 20 year growth in four years for him. "
Hartley: I'm proud of [Kevin]. And I attribute everything to the writers because they're the ones writing the story and thinking about all of this stuff. And obviously without that, we don't have anything.
Hartley is happy with Kevin's progress, but he doesn't take all the credit. He says, "I'm proud of him. And I attribute everything to the writers because they're the ones writing the story and thinking about all of this stuff. And obviously without that, we don't have anything. I'm certainly not going to write it.
"I think that as his approach to life changes and also, how he starts to feel about himself and finding his own value. As that changes, I think as an actor, you have to. You have to kind of change your approach to the character. Because the character has changed. It's almost like playing two different people. He's almost like a different person, you know? Almost completely.
"I would say that humor is pretty much the only thing that's remained consistent with him.
"He's become a dad. I mean, it's incredible. It's a totally different character almost."
While Kevin was going through changes, Hartley was also growing. He directed an episode of the most recent season. He says, "That was great. That was great. It was daunting, not so much because I didn't know what I was doing as much as it was because I thought maybe I knew what I was doing, but I wasn't sure.
"And also, you know, these actors are pretty good. How do you direct these perfect performances? And it turns out that you - man, I got stuck with a bunch of these people that are just not only eager to make every single scene amazing and make it as perfect as they possibly can, but also, they're not afraid to try new things.
"And I mean, they're masters of their craft, and still willing to take direction, and not afraid to try new things, and eager to sort of hear a different perspective, and true craftsmen. I mean, artists for sure, but true craftsmen. They will dig down, and they'll get down in it.
"So it was cool to see all of these people that I admire and that I get to work with, sort of see them from a different vantage point, maybe like more from a distance, a little bit more from a distance, rather than being in the scene to sort of watching this movie. Very cool stuff.
"And I just think, you know, the trust that they had in me, I don't know where it came from, but I think they know I care so damn much. I think they know. I just care so much. And I think they, you know, they trusted me, thank god, and also make it easy because they're so good.
They're just so good. It's incredible. I mean, Mandy Moore, Chrissy Metz, Sterling, Milo. My goodness. What an amazing job he did.Babysitting and also telling a fairy tale at the same time. And Chris Sullivan. Just every single person involved. Everyone. Susan. Everyone. They're great. They're fantastic.
"And thank god I wasn't in it very much, so I didn't have to worry about, you know, sinking the ship."
This was not his first job directing, but the first one was kind of a trial by fire. He explains, "I had an episode years ago, years and years ago, before I kind of - not before I knew what I was doing, but kind of. I directed an episode of Smallville.
"They had me prepping my episode, during an episode where I wasn't really heavy at all, which was great. So I could do all the scouting and all that kind of stuff.
"And then the episode that I directed I was quite heavy in. So it turned into kind of like a two-hander between me and Clark. And it just turned into a sort of a bear because - it's like you're doing this thing, and then you've got to watch the feedback just to make sure you like it. It kind of takes a little time.
"But it was manageable. It's fine. But this was a better experience just because, you know, I could be behind the monitors the whole time and not have to wear two hats. I think if you're wearing two hats - I don't know how Ben Affleck does it. He's a genius. "
For the future, Hartley hopes to do more directing. He says, "I would love to. I'd love the opportunity. I'd love another crack at it, I think. I had such a good time. I think the episode turned out good. I think people liked it.
"And again, I always say this, but it was written really well. You get this great script, and you just kind of put pictures to it. And you protect your frame, and you protect your actors and the characters.
"They're hands-on in a way at This Is Us because they're protecting the baby, but we all are."