Ron Batzdorff/NBC
Dan Snierson
January 30, 2017 AT 01:07 PM EST

Kevin Pearson is no stranger to moves big and bold. He put his shirt back on and quit his cushy sitcom job on The Manny in the middle of filming an episode. He relocated to New York City on a whim. He attempted to explain the wonder of life and mystery of death to his nieces through his Pollock-esque painting. And on Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, the self-consumed but well-meaning actor played by Justin Hartley — who accounts for one-third of the Big Three — uncorked another curveball, this one leaving trail of exclamation points and question marks.

Sifting through the smoking rubble of his almost-relationships with Sloane (Milana Vayntrub) and Olivia (Janet Montgomery), Kevin was trying to figure out with which woman he should patch things up when his sister’s fiancé, Toby (Chris Sullivan), acting as his romantic guru, instructed him to close his eyes, picture the love of his life, and then imagine that he had 30 seconds and three sentences to win her back. “What are those sentences and who are you saying them to?” asked Toby. When Kevin (Justin Hartley) opened his eyes, he was transformed into a man of purpose, racing off to the city doorstep of (surprise!) his childhood sweetheart, Sophie, who, as it turns out, was also his ex-wife (double shock!) from whom he was divorced 12 years ago. After he delivered an endearing, semi-eloquent speech —“You were part of me, you were like my arm and when I lost you it was like I lost my arm… It’s like I’ve been walking around without an arm, for over a decade, comma, I really want my arm back…” — Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) still didn’t let him through the front door. But she left it open a metaphorical crack, agreeing via text to meet up with him later for a conversation.

What does this latest romantic wrinkle mean for Kevin? Is he now in some sort of love quadrangle? And what are we to make of that peek at Jack’s funeral, which revealed that the Big Three were only teenagers when he died? Let’s check with the man(ny) who always goes big, Justin Hartley.

[Click here for a Q&A with Milo Ventimiglia about the funeral scene, head over here for a Q&A with Dan Fogelman about the episode and what happens now.]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, in deciding between door No. 1 and No. 2, Kevin chose door No. 3. Did that surprise you as much as it surprised the audience?
JUSTIN HARTLEY: I loved it. Any time you can get the writers to write for your character, especially on this show where they’re so good, you savor that flavor. They have to service so many people. It tells a lot about why Kevin is where he’s at. I mean, he obviously had some kind of a tailspin after that. It affected him a lot if he’s going to go back to her. He’s in love with her. So instead of this guy being this shallow dude that is enjoying his workouts and his women, you see why he’s where he is. He’s broken. He’s hurt. He’s crestfallen. And instead of trying to fill his life with these empty things, he’s going to try to dig his heels in again. It’s nice to see him do that.

He’s searching for something and trying to fix a hole in his life. Were Olivia and Sloane the quick fixes? And is there a danger that door No. 3 is another quick fix?
I don’t think door No. 3 is the quick fix. I think it was like an epiphany. He got that advice from Toby, and it was like, “Oh my god…” It was very much in keeping with the This Is Us way of telling the story. It was right there in front of your face the whole time. We weren’t hiding anything from you. It’s just that you have to be willing to see it. Kevin opens his eyes, and he goes, “My gosh, it was staring at me in the face the whole time. I wasn’t ready to see it.”

We had a romantic triangle with Kevin, Olivia, and Sloane. Now it’s a quadrangle. Or will it not be because he’ll be pursuing this one particular line moving forward?
Yeah, I think if there’s a triangle, it would be him, Sophie, and his career. I don’t think it’s another girl. … He is doing a self-analysis, and he’s looking at where he’s at, and instead of just taking it, he’s saying, “What have I done to put myself here?” And a lot of that is, “If I fill the room with this girl, or if I have this party, or if I have this job, then I won’t have to think about the obvious,” which is, he’s just lonely, and he’s yearning for that special someone, and he’s trying to meet this girl that in his mind is ideal. And then it’s like, “Holy s—, I had the ideal girl! I know exactly what she looks like, I know what she smells like, I know what she feels like, I know how her laugh is, I know the way she looks when she’s sleeping.” He knows the girl — he was married to her.

You get the sense that he might have been the one who screwed up this marriage. What can you hint at?
I can tell you that good people do bad things. A lot of times, especially in careers or where it’s really very competitive, you start to put that ahead of relationships and people, and I think that also had something to do with it. He lost himself a little bit, and he lost his way.

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Assess the level of fire that still exists between them. At first, you think it’s not going to well for him at her doorstep, but in the end, she relents a bit. How much of a flame is still there?
For him, it’s different. He’s in a different place. He’s realized it, and he’s like, “I know what it is now! I need this! This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life! I’m a 100 percent sure! I’ve never been more sure about anything in my entire life! This is what I’m doing!” And I think for her, as far the fire, it’s more like… remember Backdraft? I think that’s what it’s like. It’s a massive, massive fire that she has managed to put in a closet, and she’s got a door in front of it, and she’s protecting herself. And she knows what it means to get back involved with this guy. He’s got her number, and she does love him, but it’s like, “I’m finally okay now, and I’m supposed to sabotage everything I’ve worked on for the past [12] years so, what? We can go down this road again?” She loves him. But it’s that hissing underneath the door that you’re like, “What’s going to happen?” Is she even in control of what happens when she’s around the guy? It’s that relationship [where] you put them in a room and something’s going to happen.

NEXT PAGE: Hartley on what’s next for Kevin and Sophie

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