Plus, at EW PopFest, star Justin Hartley explains why this is the show he's 'been waiting for my entire acting career'

After only five episodes, This Is Us has scored a full season order, recorded impressive ratings, and probably raised Kleenex stock too. But it’s also given its actors, especially Justin Hartley, something they’ve been waiting for their whole career.

During EW PopFest in Los Angeles on Sunday, the cast of the NBC hit reflected on their favorite moments so far in the inaugural season, with Hartley’s monologue at the end of Tuesday’s episode, “The Game Plan,” drawing ample praise.

“The end of that episode was poetry,” said Sterling K. Brown of Kevin’s emotional speech to his nieces. “So beautiful and he delivered it so beautifully.”

While Hartley made his television debut back in 2002 on the NBC soap Passions and has been working consistently ever since, he pointed to that scene, where creator Dan Fogelman said he essentially gave the mission statement of the show, as the pinnacle of his acting life.

“What happens in life when you want something for so long, and you feel you deserve it, and you work really hard to get it, and then you’re fortunate enough to actually get it?” he asked. “I remember when I read it, I was like, ‘Well, this has been what I’ve been waiting for my entire acting career.’ And then it donned on me, ‘Oh, shoot,’ but I didn’t say shoot, I was like, now I actually have to go do it.”

As demonstrated in episode 4, “The Pool,” Kevin struggled as a child to be noticed in his family, especially by his father. Despite being 36 and a successful actor, Hartley says his character still yearns for that attention from Jack (MIlo Ventimiglia). “I’ve always thought what Kevin needs right now is his dad, and he needs to have a conversation with his dad,” he said. “He just needs his dad to put his arm around him and tell him it’s alright.”

Ventimiglia quickly chimed in to jokingly suggest someone else who could lend an ear: “I’m sure Miguel would be okay to chat.”

Here are some more highlights from the panel.

Mandy Moore likes to get pumped up before her scenes

Brown fondly recalled his first time working with Moore on the scene where the audience gets its first glimpse of Rebecca (and that darn Miguel) in the present day.

“She puts on her present day Rebecca makeup and I was just like, ‘Oh snap, this is going to work,’” he recalled. “And Mandy is such a professional and in the zone, she gets up before each scene…” Brown then stood up to demonstrate, walking around, pumping his arms out like a football player getting ready for the Super Bowl. “You ready? We going to shoot?” he yelled. As the whole cast cracked up, Brown shared his reaction to seeing her process, “I’m backing up because Mandy Moore is about to kill this right now.”

An embarrassed Moore jumped in to offer insight into her pre-shooting ritual. “It’s like putting energy out there so you don’t feel it’s stagnant,” she laughed. “And I’m going to start going to my own corner now and do it.”

Denis O’Hare is joining the show

Earlier in the day, EW exclusively reported that American Horror Story veteran Denis O’Hare is set for a recurring role as Jessie, a friend of William (Ron Cephas Jones). The addition of O’Hare reunites him with Chrissy Metz, whom he previously worked with on AHS season 4, and also with Brown — kind of.

“Denis O’Hare and I use to live on the same street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn,” he disclosed. “I used to watch him walk by and I would be in complete awe and shock, so the fact that he is a part of our show is really awesome.”

Preview of the next episode

Fans at PopFest got a special treat when the panel ended with a screening of the first 10 minutes of episode 6. Without spoiling anything, here are two teases to hold you over until Tuesday: Randall thinks an elementary school career day is going to be “lit” and someone (not who you would think) does a Jack Nicholson impression.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

Watch panel clips from EW PopFest:

Episode Recaps

This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.

  • TV Show
  • 5
  • Tuesdays at 09:00 PM
  • Dan Fogelman
  • NBC
stream service