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January 30, 2017 at 01:07 PM EST

She sends that text, and he’s got that feeling like, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”  How will they proceed? Baby steps?
I think it’s tough. Like any relationship, you go in cautiously and responsibly, and with passion and love and with, “Oh, my god, I’m having so much fun.” And then you start to do things that are reckless and then you stumble and fall and you go, “Oh, my god, we went too fast. Slow it down. Back it down. Let’s go back to what that was.” It’s a lot of what we’ve seen Kevin do — trying, but then like, “Dude, calm down. Slow down.” But he has a hard time doing that.

Is there a secret kid that we should — or should not — know about?
I don’t know. [Laughs.] I’ve often thought about that. If there is, I want it to be a secret from Kevin. I want him to not know about it. Because I’d have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that Kevin knew he had a kid and he didn’t reach out and try to be a father to be that kid. I’m sure they could write a great story around that, but if there is a secret kid… the bad version of the story is that Kevin cheated on her and that’s why they broke up. It was all about betrayal and she’s standing on her soapbox, and lo and behold, talk about betrayal, she has this kid that’s his that she’s never told him about. So you even the playing field that way.

Or is she in another relationship now?
Kevin is on a mission to get his girl back, and he hasn’t thought that far ahead. [Laughs.] This is part of his charm. He’s like, “This is what I want and this is how I get it, and I can’t wait. We belong together.” And then he’ll ask all the questions later. He’ll mop up the mess when everything’s done.

Kevin has been known to deliver an unexpected, high-impact speech. Which of these three monologues ranks as your favorite: Quitting The Manny, explaining the meaning of life to his nieces with his painting, or his doorstep stand at Sophie’s place?
I’m so lucky to have a great costar to bounce lines off of, it’s hard for me not to say the “Three Sentences” one. I love Kevin so much, and I love what he did there, and he’s growing up, and he’s taking ownership. For Kevin, it would be that one, because I’m so proud of him for doing that. [Laughs]. But for me, selfishly, just because it literally changed the trajectory of my career and it made people see me in a different way than they hadn’t seen me before, I would say the Manny meltdown. But they’re all fun. And to be totally honest with you, there’s a fourth one coming up in the next show that might be my absolute favorite of all of them.

The Sophie scene has probably one of the best arm metaphors I’ve heard in awhile.
If not the only one.

What was the best fan reaction you heard to Kevin’s surprise move?
What I really loved was that everyone had a side because there were only two. There were two girls, and everyone was so much about Sloane or so much about Olivia that it got ugly a little bit. People were like, “No, how can you say that? This is the girl!” And then conversely, it’d be like, “No, how can you say that? This is the girl.” It’s so beautiful the way they tell these stories. When you introduce this brand new character that we know nothing about, you realize that you’ve known her, and Kevin’s known her his whole life. So you immediately accept that and go, “Oh, it’s got to be her.”

And which side did you stand on in the Olivia-Sloane debate?
Umm, I gotta… Honestly, I completely understand Kevin’s dilemma because they’re both so different and so great. I’m like Kevin, I couldn’t possibly make a choice because they’re so great. For me personally, I know them as actors and as people, and they’re lovely human beings and talented actors. So there’s no possible way I could make a choice.

When you first read that twist in the script, what was the first thing you said to Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] about it?
Probably “Oh, s—! Of course he does! Oh, god, can you imagine?” I probably said something like that. “Oh, it’s perfect! Of course he does. Of course he does! Yeah. And that’s why he’s doing everything he’s doing. Now everything makes sense! Of course! Yes, of course!”

How are Sloane and Olivia going to react to this? I assume this is something that they’re not going to take well?
Maybe they end up together. [Laughs.] I don’t think they would take it well. For both of them, they probably are aware that this is not their soulmate. Let me put it this way: If you’re on your way to someone’s house to break up with them, and on your way there, you get a phone call and they break up with you, it doesn’t feel good. Even though, “Wait a minute, because I’ve been mulling this over for four weeks and you call me on my way there?” So that might be what it is.

In the 10th birthday flashbacks, Sophie ditches her best friend Kate for Kevin. Will we see a complicated Kate-Kevin-Sophie relationship dynamic moving through time?
I would imagine that it has evolved. But I truly don’t know. I was in my head picturing that they were friends by this point, but maybe not.

Obviously Jack’s death impacted Kevin greatly, but how many of Kevin’s issues are attributed to this failed marriage? Seems like it’s going to play a pretty big role.
Yeah. Huge, I think. And as he got further away from it, he started to realize what a big mistake he made. He’s done that with a lot of things, hasn’t he? His brother. He’s like, “Let’s be friends again. Come on, it’s fine. I’m different.” And he is. He’s graduated from that sort of stupid state, but it’s not a quick fix, right? You gotta put in the time. Same thing with Sophie. Same thing with his sister. Same thing with his mom. Same thing with the death of his dad, which he still hasn’t dealt with yet. That’s kind of his M.O., isn’t it? He’s like, “Ah, put that in a box, let’s compartmentalize it, let’s move on. It’s going to be fine.” And it’s not fine.

When he breaks up with Olivia and Sloane is in the wings, you’re just like—
He can’t catch a break.

Why would he give that speech to Olivia on the stage, where anyone —especially Sloane — could overhear it so easily?
This is the backstory I built, that might not have even been what actually happened, but in my mind it made sense. I was working, I was on stage, I was sitting there, I was ready, and she came early and asked me these difficult questions. … Anybody in their right mind would be like, “Dude, you could have been on speakerphone, man! Didn’t you—? The echo of your voice? It’s obvious you’re—“ And it just goes out the door. He’s like, “No, no, I have two priorities here. No. 1 is to make sure I don’t hurt her feelings. And No. 2 is to make sure that everyone likes me. And everything else goes out the window.” So at least in my mind, I don’t think he was sitting there, saying, “Well, I’m pretty exposed right now. My back is to the front door, and the mob’s after me.” I don’t think his brain thinks that way, you know? He’s just in the moment.

Dan summed it up best. He said, “Every time Kevin really tries to do something good, it’s when he winds up being perceived as the biggest dick. He’s just not good at being good, even though he is good.”
I’ll take that scenario in particular. He’s breaking up with this girl but trying to do it in a way to not hurt her feelings. That’s all he saw. That’s the only foresight that he had. So if she wouldn’t have walked in the room, you would have looked at it and been like, “Oh, he’s trying as hard as he can not to hurt her feelings, and she’s going to go have sex with this guy,” and it’s like, ‘Oh, jeez, dude.” He wasn’t mean to her. But Sloane was in the room, so it’s kind of unfortunate that she heard that. It wasn’t meant for her ears.

You’d think he would try to launch a defense, saying, “I was just telling Olivia that to try to make her feel better.”
No, he owned up to it.

Even when he calls Kate in this episode, and she has a bigger problem, he’s put out by that: “Now I gotta do the right thing.”
“Great. I called you to get advice, and now I gotta do something nice.”

Do you view him, like Dan said, as he’s just not good at being good, even though he is good?
Ummm… he doesn’t have the tools. But he’s trying. If he had the tools, he’d use them. I mean, he’s not a bad guy. He’s just like, “What? I don’t understand. What is that?” He doesn’t have the tools. He’s not even aware of them. He just doesn’t know what’s wrong with everyone else. Why is everyone so touchy? [Laughs).]

NEXT PAGE: Hartley on the revelation that the Big Three were teenagers when Jack died

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