‘This Is Us’ Postmortem: Justin Hartley Talks That Beautiful Painting Scene and What’s Next

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·Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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Warning: This interview about “The Game Plan” episode of This Is Us contains spoilers.

Remember how comforted you felt the first time you watched Patrick Swayze deliver the line, “It’s amazing, Molly — the love inside, you take it with you,” at the end of Ghost? You may have experienced a similar emotion at the end of this week’s episode of This Is Us.

While running lines for Kevin’s play with their uncle and Grandpa William, Randall’s girls asked Kevin what happens when you die. Knowing that his initial answer — death is the end, but it’s natural, and everyone, including themselves and their parents, will do it — wasn’t the best one, he regrouped. He later brought them a Jackson Pollock-esque work of art he’d painted after reading the play for the first time. He explained what it represented: that we all add our color over the canvas, on top of each other, until eventually we’re not different colors — we’re one painting. “It’s kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it: the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no you or me or them; it’s just us. And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning and has no end, it’s right here, I think it’s us.”

Justin Hartley, who says this is his favorite episode the cast has filmed so far, takes us inside the hour and teases what’s to come for Kevin.

Related: Our This Is Us Recaps

Mandi Bierly: When you did the table-read for this episode, did people get emotional as you read that final monologue?
Justin Hartley: They did. Mandy [Moore] and Milo [Ventimiglia] got emotional. Mandy still tells me to this day, “I couldn’t speak after that.” Just at the table-read, she’s crying. Sterling [K. Brown] had his eyes closed. I think people thought he was asleep, but he was listening. He had teary eyes. Everybody got emotional. It was pretty cool.

As a viewer, Kevin’s monologue is not only moving, it’s satisfying, because we’re hearing him essentially explain the show’s title. How excited were you when you saw that Kevin is the one who lays that out?
Yes, it could’ve been anyone’s, but the way it was done … Kevin’s describing his struggle with figuring how to get by on his own, not being with his sister and feeling out of place, people coming in and out of his life. He’s describing this painting, and that’s also describing to our audience what our show is. I can’t say enough how brilliant [creator] Dan Fogelman is. It’s pretty ridiculous. I feel like maybe they packed four or five brains into that man’s head. He’s a ridiculously intelligent guy and also an Everyman. If you ever spent any time with him, he’s just a dude. He’s just a dude that hangs out and has a good time and laughs, but he’s a genius.

The fact that they gave me that, and the fact that they put a [montage] behind it — it’s beautiful. I think it’s really, really well done.

For a second, you’re almost wondering if one of the girls will be like, “What are you talking about, Uncle Kevin?” when he finishes. I love that the writers didn’t do that, that they gave Kevin that moment for real and they gave the girls that comfort.
I love that too. It’s how it was written from the beginning. In Kevin’s way, right after this stupid stuff comes out of his mouth, he is almost immediately forgiven because he’s so lovable. He wasn’t trying to scare them; he was trying to help them out. He walks in and it looks like the older sister’s comforting the younger sister. She really was scared, I think. This guy just told them that their parents are going to die. They’re giving him a hard time. I think immediately when he opens up to them, they’re ready to listen, and I think he eased their mind about the circle of life.

Ron Cephas Jones, Justin Hartley (Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Ron Cephas Jones and Justin Hartley (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Another great scene was Kevin’s conversation with William about Kevin doubting himself.
We know now Kevin lost his father and, in an interesting way, William comes into Randall’s life and ends up giving fatherly advice to Kevin. Kevin takes it, and I think it’s the first time Kevin’s realized that he does doubt himself, and maybe he shouldn’t doubt himself as much as he does. Maybe he is a wise person.

One of the things that happened with Kevin’s meltdown in the pilot was he started to realize how other people perceived him, and I think it was the first time in his life that he was aware that people were perceiving him in a certain way that he didn’t want to be perceived. From there, it’s been a struggle. That’s where the self-doubt comes in. … Having that scene with William gave him some confidence.

Related: This Is Us Postmortem: Justin Hartley Talks Kevin’s New York State of Mind

Is this a turning point for Kevin with his confidence, or is it not that simple?
It’s not that simple. He’ll stumble a few more times, but I think he’s well on his way to saying, “No, no, I know what’s going on here. I’m smart enough to figure this out.” Now that he’s identified the problem, he’s got to figure out how to get past it, how to move on from whatever’s holding him back. There’s a whole ‘nother thing that happens with his acting that you’ll see, that you’ll go, “Oh, he’s blocked because of certain events.” He gets stressed and then he moves past that. He’s definitely evolving and becoming more comfortable in his own skin, but there’s a couple more roadblocks ahead.

Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia (Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

As you mentioned, this episode confirmed that Jack is now dead. As a viewer, you still get to look forward to seeing it play out onscreen eventually, because you know it’s going to tear your heart out — the same with William’s future death, which was teased with shots of a grieving Randall in the end montage. After reading this script, were you all immediately asking Dan, “How did Jack die? How soon are we going to know?”

Did he tell you?
He tells me everything that I want to know that he knows, and he knows a lot. There are obviously a couple of things that evolve or change during the show, after you see it. I don’t want to speak for him, but I know for an actor, anyway, you’ll do certain scenes a certain way, and then whatever is happening in the moment, you’re like, “Wait a minute. Even though that wasn’t the intention to begin with and that wasn’t what we set out to do, boy, it’s really magical and it’s happening right now. Let’s just run with that.” It’s like when you’re a director and you have a shot list, and then the actors walk in the room and they change every single thing about your shot list. At least there was a plan, you know? We knew that event was going to happen, we just didn’t know what the circumstances behind it were, or when it was, and all that kind of stuff.

Is that something you know now, how Jack died?
Not exactly. I’m more familiar with when but not the how.

Is Kevin going to keep staying at Randall’s house now, or was this his cue to leave?
He’ll be there for a while. There’s a whole episode that deals with that dynamic, but yes, he’ll be there for a bit.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of This Is Us free on Yahoo View.