Tuesday's episode of This Is Us will be directed by Jon Huertas, the long-time cast member who plays Miguel Rivas; it is the second episode of the NBC family drama for which he has sat behind the camera.
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After 27 years as an actor, the 52-year-old revealed to HELLO! that his "number one motivation" to explore his passion for directing is because he has "only ever been directed by one male Latino director". "One person I can look at, [in the television industry], and say, 'he may have had a similar life experience to me, and may understand where I am coming from with choices for my character,' if diversity has anything to do with the choice," Jon shared.
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Born in New York City to a Puerto Rican father and an American mother, Jon was cast in the show after the pilot was shot; show runners including Dan Fogelman changed the character's name from Mike to Miguel when casting Jon, and ever since he has brought his own personal experiences to the hit TV show, which will end this season after six years.
Fans can expect to see "more of [Miguel's] heritage this season" says Jon, as the series offers a deeper look into what made Miguel the man we see today, and Jon also promises answers for fans who are still wondering, 'how did Miguel fall for his dead best friend's wife?'
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You've been a part of this show since episode one - did that make the directing experience terrifying or easier?
I find it much easier as I have a rapport and trust with castmates. As a director I think that is your biggest worry, that you won't have the trust of the cast behind you. But the people I work with, they are so talented and you want to make sure they have your trust or they could make your life hell! But they have been nothing but the most giving and gracious cast.
Jon stars as Miguel in the time-hopping family drama
What was the thought process behind asking to direct an episode in season five and then again in season six?
My number one motivation right now is - after 27 years in front of the camera as an actor - a responsibility to step behind the camera as I have only ever been directed by one male Latino director.
One person I can look at, [in the television industry], and say, "He may have had a similar life experience to me, and may understand where I am coming from with choices for my character," if diversity has anything to do with the choice. I have only had that one experience.
So I feel there is a hole there, for better representation, and after 27 years maybe I should be stepping up.
In recent episodes we've seen more attention paid to Miguel's Puerto Rican heritage - will we see even more of his past this season?
Yes, we definitely will see more of his heritage this season, diving into his background. But it has also been something I have been a part of, from the very beginning. When I was first cast the character was Mike, not Miguel, and my casting inspired them to change it. And once we got rolling into the seasons I would have meetings and talk about the character and where he comes from and who he is and infuse some of my own personal facets into the character, and bring up stories from my past.
One of my stories ended up being used in a Randall storyline - because when you are a person of color in this country, there are shared experiences - but the show runners are collaborative and keen to get it right when we talk about Miguel's background.
Miguel was Jack's best friend and later Rebecca's wife
Can we expect any more episodes from you before the show ends?
We're hoping to do more, and we're talking about it, but there are a lot of people who love directing our show and as it's the final season everyone is knocking on Dan Fogelman's door to say, "Please let me have an episode," so it's possible but it may not work.
The show has been hailed as the return of the family drama. If you can think back to your initial audition, did you have any idea it would run for this long and become the juggernaut it has? What was the initial attraction for you?
At the beginning, I was just looking for a placeholder. I wanted to develop something for myself, or be on a limited series after doing 22 episodes a year with Castle. But the reason I liked Mike was because I knew Milo Ventimiglia already and they said, "Mike is the best friend," and Milo is so talented, and has a level of honor and integrity, and I thought if I can play [his] best friend for a few episodes this will be great.
Jon says he took the role because of Milo
Then the show was so well received and they asked me to join the show permanently and I thought, "Absolutely," these actors and writers and the show runners, Dan, every single piece of the puzzle was perfect.
Why would I not want to stay on and get the chance to flesh out a character like Miguel?
And it was a big challenge because people did not like the fact Miguel had married Rebecca. As an actor you want to be liked - even if you're a villain, it's always better to love to hate a character - but Miguel wasn't a villain, so it was a challenge to turn people's minds and hearts around - because they loved Jack! So how do we make them love Miguel?
That challenge, for me and the writers, that's what we want. And we've spent six seasons turning a lot of people around.
Last week we saw Nicky give Miguel his blessing, and it comes as many viewers still struggle to understand how he could marry his dead best friend's wife - do you think we'll see some form of redemption? Will Miguel's kids come to give their blessing?
That's still left to be seen... but we will see a lot of how Miguel came to be the type of man that he is. Remember, Rebecca got back in touch with the Facebook message and so we will see that, and there could be something about his kids that has to do with that.
And once we get further down the line - we're only halfway through filming the season - we may bring the kids back. Dan keeps the scripts close to his chest, he likes to surprise us as much as he surprises the fans!
The show follows the Pearson family over the decades
We've been promised that season six will finally reveal how Rebecca and Miguel found love. Is that reveal something you and Mandy Moore have known for a long time or was it a surprise for you in the script as well?
We still don't really know. We have great chemistry on- and off-screen, but we are excited to tell that piece of Rebecca and Miguel's story. We cannot wait to read those scripts where we fall in love, who doesn't want to root for a love story?
And at this point it was smart - regardless of how much I stomped my feet in season three and four - to allow people to come to love and respect Miguel so they can root for it when we present it.
Have you and Mandy been involved much in the storytelling for these two characters?
Some aspects yes, they do come to us and ask us how we feel about scenes or reveals, but at the same time, we are very trusting with our writers. And we aren't just actors, we are fans of the show, we're getting episodes like an audience and we are excited and can't wait to talk about the script amongst ourselves.
What story line are you most excited to see?
I am excited to see Rebecca and Miguel but I have always identified with Kevin in regards to his family, and how he deals with family situations and his mom. That's where I relate more than anything else.
I think he has been hung up on his mother's approval, and other people's approval. I want him to get a sense of fulfillment that I think will come from a loving relationship with someone.
The show will end with season six
The flash forward scenes are slowly revealing more about the future for the characters, and Miguel has yet to be seen - can you share anything about your role in these scenes? Should fans brace for more tears?
Miguel has stomach problems so he is probably in the bathroom... kidding! But you know, I don't 100% know what happens at the end with the entire family.
It looks like Rebecca is on her deathbed but I don't even really know if that really is her deathbed. Will we see her die?
But we have already shot some scenes for the ending - that we haven't seen on screen yet - that we've been shooting over the past couple seasons. But Miguel is a big part of Rebecca's care and is her caretaker during her disease, so he will have seen a lot and has a lot on his plate.
Do you have any wrap party plans?
Covid made us all party shy and no one will even talk about a party, but we have to! We have to. When you get the chance to end a story the way you want to end it - in the TV world - that is rare and incredible, so we have to celebrate it and the people and the story, and the end of an era and our relationships that we are walking away with.
What is next for you?
I have a bunch of projects in development, but I want to live behind the camera more. Unless it is a very personal story - and there is a TV series I just partnered up with another company on that is very personal for me and if we can get that set up with a great director and a great home - I would do that project as an actor.
But if I did that show, that would be my last TV series as a regular, or co-lead on a show.
I do see myself moving on from acting - if you want to be a director, and be taken seriously and affect change, you have to take it seriously. It has to be your new job.
This Is Us airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 9/8c
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