This Is Us star Justin Hartley breaks down Cassidy's crisis and Kevin's new venture

This Is Us star Justin Hartley breaks down Cassidy's crisis and Kevin's new venture

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Tuesday's episode of This Is Us, "The Guitar Man."

Kevin Pearson has never been afraid of the deep end. As a little boy, he dreamed of flying off the diving board, plunging to the bottom of the pool, and touching the drain — all before he even knew how to swim. Later in life, Kevin Pearson would achieve TV fame and plot forever romance with various women, only to find himself in over his head. The shallow actor who couldn't go deep.

Or so they said. Tuesday's installment of This Is Us (directed by Milo Ventimiglia) kicked off the family drama's final trilogy series: three consecutive episodes that each explore a Big Three member: Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown). "The Guitar Man" spotlighted Kevin, a man perpetually in the throes of reinvention, and often feeling like he was in the crosshairs of underestimation by his family. And so he flew across the country with his twins (Look, ma! No nannies!) to see how construction is progressing on the family "mecca" that he's funding and that ill-defined friend/Afghanistan War veteran Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) and unpredictable uncle/Vietnam War veteran Nicky (Griffin Dunne) are overseeing on the Pearson compound. What happened next is a lesson in "being" from his uncle, an alarming turn for his tortured friend, and a lightbulb for himself.

Cassidy busied herself with managing a group of military vets who were laying the foundation for the house, and she seemed to thrive in the time spent with her son, Matty, and Kevin's family. But in the quiet of night, she found herself in a familiar place, haunted by the horrors of the war and ravaged by a perpetual lack of sleep. She got her in car and, in a haze of exhaustion and dark feelings, drove her vehicle directly into a pole. At the hospital, Nicky urged Kevin to get out of his own head, be quiet and just be there for his friend. Kevin camped out in the waiting room and then by her side, when she would share her harrowing story. (Nicky would then enter the room and step up with new levels of compassion.)

While Cassidy agreed to receive counseling, Kevin was devising another way to help on a macro level, brainstorming an idea that came on the heels of Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) carpe-everything speech: He would start a construction company that employed vets and call it Big Three Homes, named after the dream that his late father, Jack (Ventimiglia), never got to realize. Kevin flew home, buoyed with confidence and purpose, with more foundation (literal and figurative) to be laid.

Let's whip out the Monopoly board, try not to overthink if we're doing the right thing for the right reasons, remember to build the walls of the LEGO house before putting on the roof, and check in with Hartley to get in tune with "The Guitar Man."

THIS IS US Justin Hartley and Jennifer Morrison

Ron Batzdorff/NBC (2) Justin Hartley, Jennifer Morrison

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start here, because this has been nagging for a few episodes: Are you actually any good at playing guitar, or is what we see onscreen all can you give? How much are you "acting" here?

JUSTIN HARTLEY: [Laughs] I'm better than Kevin. Not at many things, but at acting and guitar playing, I think I'm better than Kevin.

Kevin has always been haunted by the shadow of his dad and living up to his sizable legacy. He has starred in a Sylvester Stallone film, his dad's favorite actor, but his next big project truly aims to honor his father's legacy: starting the Big Three Homes construction business that his father never got to do. What struck you about the writers' decision to have Kevin follow in his footsteps so directly?

I mean, he's Jack's son; it's in the blood, right? I just think that's so cool that he's spent all of his time trying to be accepted by his mother and his brother, and all this stuff — he's sat alone on an island — and he's realizing in his forties that he might have been the creator of all of that. Maybe that wasn't there.

Now he's got this really great relationship with his mom and his sister and his brother. His love life is kind of a s---show, but whatever, right? I mean, he'll figure that out. Look, that's another thing that I'm better than Kevin at actually — just recently, though — is my love life. [Laughs] But Kevin will come around, he'll figure it out. And there's comfort in that. And also in the idea that he can launch into something that is this nonprofit that helps other people. I think it helps him, and I think it's really special, really important to him not only to help other people, but to carry on his dad's legacy. His dad died at a very young age. So all of these things that his dad probably would've done, you just sit there, you wonder, and you go, "Wow, this man could have done this. He probably could have done that. He was a great man. He didn't get the opportunity." So he's carrying that on — and that's important to him as well.

This development helps to connect the dots to the flash-forward of Kate's second wedding, where viewers see him writing his wedding speech on a piece of paper that says Big Three Construction Homes. How much of a family business, if at all, does this turn out to be? And how much of a priority will this become for Kevin in the final run of episodes?

I think it becomes obvious that it's his passion, it's his project, and he's funding it. To start out with, he's using his acting money to fund the whole thing. And then he can raise money. It's a non-for-profit so he can raise money from private parties. It becomes pretty clear that it's his thing. It's not really a family thing… necessarily? It was inspired by the family and his dad, but he's running it and it's his thing and it's his passion. It's what he focuses on — his kids and his nonprofit. That's what he's doing.

When Kevin monologues to the man in the hospital waiting room, he says, "I want to be the kind of man that does the right thing because it's the right thing to do. The kind of man that's just there. But how do you know if you are or you're acting like you are?" Kevin has often radiated a Jerry Maguire vibe, and it's one of his favorite movies. Did that cross your mind here? Were you channeling some Tom Cruise?

Listen, I will tell you something about me, man. I'm trying to channel Tom Cruise whenever I can. I think that guy's brilliant. In any role. But yeah, Jerry McGuire is very much Kevin. I don't think he's, uh, proud of it? I mean, you remember Tom Cruise just crushed that role. He was amazing in that role. But if you were actually Jerry McGuire in real life, up until the very end of that movie, you would be miserable. And at the very end of the movie, the guy finds peace and he goes, "This is my life! You complete me!" So that is definitely what Kevin's looking for.

I think he's just truly a man who wants to do the right thing. And quite honestly, he doesn't know what to do, but he wants to do it! He just — he hasn't figured it out. That speech that he has when Nicky gives him that pep talk, I think that brings him back to the hospital, which is great. And then he's sitting there with that stranger and all the guy said was, "I'm waiting on my wife. I'm just here for my wife." And that let him go, "Oh, f---! Well, that's what you can do then! You don't have to have all of the answers. Sometimes you can just wait for someone." Beautiful.

The show has explored some of the PTSD that Cassidy suffers from, but what were your first thoughts when you learned that her story would involve what seemed to be a sleep-deprived suicide attempt/ideation that stemmed from the Afghanistan war trauma that she said was still "crushing" her? (At the end of the episode, NBC aired this message: "If you are a veteran, service member, or anyone wanting more information, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, 24-7.")

Yeah, that's tough. I definitely didn't see that coming. I thought the show addressed that two years ago. And then we kind of moved on [from] that. But in the beautiful way that the writers do, you realize that of course you don't move on through something like that. That's something that you carry with you for the rest of your life. I just love that they're doing that. She's this really strong, brave woman who's trying to get by and just gets consumed with it — and overwhelmed by it. Which happens a lot. I thought it was great. And just the idea that Kevin would be the one that's there for [her] is kind of special as well.

He's humbled by her struggle. It's very sobering, and it re-centers Kevin.

Absolutely… Kevin, in hanging out with Cassidy [prior to the accident], has this idea that everything's okay, or it's better when they're together. He doesn't quite understand how dark her darkness gets. He's like, "No, I've been there. I've had addiction issues." He doesn't quite understand the desperate level that she's at. Or if he understands it, it's because he's gone through it, but he doesn't understand that she's there now.

Nicky is the one attuned to what's really going on with Cassidy and the accident. And even when Cassidy does confide in Kevin, it's very delicate and subtle in the way that she reveals it. How was that scene calibrated?

Well, first of all, she's a wonderful actor and she was wonderful. I think that was intentionally the design of that scene. Because you look at it, you go, "What happened?" "Well, I tried to kill myself because I didn't want to live." It's so, like you said, delicate and dangerous — this thing that is sitting with her. And she's not exactly saying that. What she's saying is: "This is how I am all the time. I am always on a knife's edge. And walking on eggshells." I mean, this is such a dangerous, anxiety-riddled situation. If something like that happens in your life, you wouldn't even know what to say. You just kind of sit there and hold someone's hand and try to make them understand that they're not alone. That's a tough one — beautifully performed and wonderfully written as well.

Kevin and Cassidy both seemed content when their families were together playing board games. Later on, she told him as much. Is his role being defined more as a support system for her, rather than the possibility of a romantic relationship between them?

I think so. But I also think that, you know... [laughs] this is Kevin. Which way the wind blows, you never know. Something could happen and all of the sudden he's like, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You are the one for me!" So he's struggling with that. But I think he's settling down into that idea that they're friends. And important friends. And necessary friends. And he's comfortable with that. I think.

As we see in flashbacks in this episode — and throughout the series — Kevin can lead with his id; he dreams big and he wants those dreams now. In tandem with that, though, he's so intent on doing the right thing, he can sublimate his true desires. There is that duality. How close is he now to realizing his true self and finding his purpose? He seems much closer to it by the end of the episode.

I would say much more. Maybe he didn't realize how close he was and those events kind of shaped that. By the end of this episode, he has a clearer idea of his purpose, or what's going to make him happy and at peace, and how he can help others and where he is supposed to be and comfortable being in life — as opposed to chasing all these dreams.

There's a little irony there, because once again, he's jumping in the deep end before learning to swim. He doesn't know anything about starting a construction company. But he acknowledges that and maybe it's coming from a healthy place.

Exactly. That's what he does, though. And what does he say? He says, "I want to be great at guitar. I want to have the best lover in the world. I want the smartest kids in the world..." He doesn't know anything about any of this s---; he just jump, jump, dives in. But I think, in a weird way, he's realized in jumping into this construction thing — this Big Three Homes charity that he has — the man is not posturing. He's not trying to tell everyone that he knows anything about construction. He's actually going in there going, "I want to do this. I don't know anything about it, but I just really want to do it. Who can help me?" And that's the tool that he's been lacking his whole life. I think he finally has that.

Next up in the trilogy is Kate's story. What's your cryptic tease?

I'll turn it around: Where one door opens, another one closes.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to

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