This Is Us star Jon Huertas breaks down that life-of-Miguel episode and his flash-forward fate
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On Tuesday night, the story of Miguel was told. Finally.
With only four episodes to go before the series ends, This Is Us unspooled the bittersweet, nuanced tale of Jack's loyal best friend, who became Rebecca's dedicated second husband and a character that the Big Three — and the audience — would learn to love.
In season 1, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman suggested that Miguel (Jon Huertas) was not the guy who swooped in and capitalized on tragedy, and he aimed to shift the audience's perspective on him over the coming seasons. If that didn't already happen, by the end of Tuesday's episode, Miguel had secured a prominent place for himself in the Pearson painting. Viewers saw his life in sum, a little Roberto Clemente-idolizing kid from Puerto Rico whose father moved the family to Pennsylvania, where he put on a brave face and embraced his new life, fending off prejudice on his way to success. A young man who often found himself torn between two worlds and wasn't sure which one he belonged in. A thoroughly decent soul who was haunted by regrets. Someone who found love, lost it, and found it again. And this guy dedicated himself to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in a way that would cosmically please both his mother (Eileen Galindo) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who made sure in a bar one night that the two people he loved would bond with each other.
No, Miguel may not have been the showy hero that Jack Pearson was, but he was a hero in showing up for Rebecca each and every day at 6:45 a.m., sorting her meds to help battle Alzheimer's, guiding her feet into her slippers, running her through physical therapy exercises. His own health? Backburnered. Blood pressure on the rise. No time for a stress test. Bad fall trying to help her during an episode one night in the snow. Try to hide the bad fall from the Big Three. But Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and even ex-Miguel skeptic Kevin (Justin Hartley) were there to pick him up, despite his initial protests. They hired full-time help to help take care of him so he could help take care of her. Which he did with great pride, until he finally succumbed to illness late in life (and off-screen). But not before reconciling with his own kids (with a little help from Kevin). And not before crafting a legacy that will live on, much like, yes, that apple tree he planted with Rebecca outside the family cabin.
Let's be the top salesman for six straight quarters, debate the merits of Regis versus Meredith, get papi's coquito recipe, and, over dessert, ease right into an interview with the man who went beyond the call of duty to portray Miguel: Jon Huertas. What will he reveal about this poignant episode (titled simply "Miguel") and his six-season journey in this underdog role? We don't know. But it's a good question. Ask us again later.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This Miguel episode has been a long time coming, and viewers have been waiting for seasons to learn more about him. How long have you been waiting?
JON HUERTAS: I have also been waiting since episode 2 — which is the episode that I started in — to do this episode. That's me as a selfish actor saying, "Can it please be more about me?" [Laughs.] No, I have been waiting a long time to really get to the meat and bones of Miguel's story. And I think we finally did. We had such a great writer [Jonny Gomez] and a fantastic director [Zetna Fuentes] for this episode. They really did right by me, and I hope people are happy with it.
You spent some time in the writers' room for this episode and shared some stories from your own life. Which parts ended up in the episode?
The main one would probably be Miguel's hair journey. It's very personal. I think I've only told this story once publicly before today. When I was going to high school, someone attempted to bully me and called me "Pubic Head" and said that the hair on my head looked like the hair that was growing between his legs. It prompted a physical reaction from me, and because I was the victor in that situation, I was the one who got in trouble. So not only was there someone attempting to bully me and making me feel small and different, which I did, but I got in trouble for it.
Because not everyone knew how to deal with my situation — no one did, really — I was sent to a salon where the hair stylist blewdry my hair straight and said, "There. Now he looks white. He'll fit in. They won't tease him anymore." So I basically gave up my identity at that moment. It was tough. It took some growth to be able to really accept my natural hair. That's something that Miguel goes through. When he meets Jack in the suit store, his hair's curly. When he starts working at Lundy, his hair is straight. He blowdries it to fit in. That's what he needs to do to make his way up the ladder and to be a part of this company.
There's a moment if you remember in the speed dating episode [earlier this season], Miguel's about to put on a hat, and he says, "Hat, or no hat?" And Rebecca says, "No hat, I love your curls." That's the moment I said, "This is the moment Miguel decides, 'This is who I am. This is who she likes. This is who I'm going to be.'" So when he ends up leaving [Pittsburgh], he embraces more of who he is and grows and tries to become successful on his own, without the Lundy company. He says, "I'm going to be who I'm going to be in this new chapter of my life in Houston."
[My goal was to] bring a lot of my little anecdotes that we can mold to fit who Miguel is and his story. After that initial time spent in the writers' room that week, I'd get a phone call here and there from Jonny or Zetna, or the production designer, the prop master — different departments would check in with me and ask me, "Does this seem right? What should we do?" It was really nice to be included, but it was also beautiful to see them investing so much into making sure that this story felt authentic and true to my character's background.
The show doesn't try to make the case that Rebecca and Miguel's love is something in competition with Jack and Rebecca's, but rather it was its own special thing: It had depth, warmth, and connection forged through shared loss. In this episode, Miguel's strong, silent service to Rebecca is bittersweetly explored. How do you ultimately view what Rebecca and Miguel had in the context of a series that was built around the legend of Jack and Rebecca?
What was important for me to see and feel as Miguel was honoring who Jack was and honoring what their relationship was. But also honoring Rebecca and her feelings. I'm sure Miguel and Rebecca had conversations — and they did, that one time in the bed — they don't know how Jack would feel about this. Rebecca was like, "He would probably root for us." Both of them ended up thinking that. Miguel is an honorable man and loyal to his friend, Jack, and the whole reason that he and Rebecca ended up together is because Jack made Miguel promise that if anything happened to him, he would take care of the family. But most importantly, Miguel always honored Rebecca, and that's the best kind of love. That's why he's such a great caretaker in the end — he's still honoring her.
He tells Rebecca, "I never felt like I belonged, Puerto Rican or American, Spanish or English. I've never felt at home anywhere." To look back at the way that he was viewed as an outsider by the Big Three early on, especially by Kevin, adds a layer of heartbreak.
It goes back to what I was saying about honoring Rebecca. As a person who's coming into a family from the outside, you have to give them time, give them space and just let them be who they're going to be, and worry more about: "Am I taking care of that person who does love me and accept me? And is that person taking care of me and loving me for me, regardless about how the Big Three might treat me?" But Kevin was the only one that took his time to come around, really.
Miguel takes such honor in caring for Rebecca; it's his raison d'etre. He's almost pleading with the Big Three not to take his caretaker role away, and he says, "I failed at everything else in my life." There have been shortcomings and disappointments, but isn't he being hard on himself with a statement like that?
Yeah. I definitely felt like that a little bit myself, even saying it and performing that scene. We can be harder on ourselves when the stress of life is laying so heavy on our shoulders. Even if we're succeeding, even if we're pushing through, you don't see that part, you always see the negative part. I think that's what he was doing in that moment; he's taking credit away from himself and thinking, he didn't have the strong connection with his kids. He didn't have the strong connection with his parents; he wished he would've spent more time with his father. But he did have a strong connection with Jack. And he did have a strong connection with Rebecca. He's had a pretty strong connection with the adult Big Three as well. And what's great is that Randall, Kate and Kevin turned that around for him. They said, "We love you."
That was such a validating moment for him, hearing that he is just as important to them. And they say: "We're not doing this to you — we're doing this for you."
That's one of the most beautiful scenes that I've ever been a part of. Just their performances, the way that they were connecting with me in the scene. I could look across into Sterling's eyes and look right through his eyes and straight into his heart. Same with Justin, same with Chrissy. It was just such an emotional scene. It was a beautiful day at work.
When Miguel watches his mother working so hard to care of his ailing aunt, she tells him, "Love is giving your heart without expectation." That was good modeling for him. He was so consumed with helping Rebecca, though, he wasn't paying attention to the fact that his body was breaking down. He does live into old age, but you wonder: Would he have lived longer if he had taken better care of his own health?
When we get so focused on someone else's well-being, we overlook our own. We forget that we need self-care. Maybe he could have lived longer, but when Miguel dies, he's over 80 years old. So he still had a nice long life.... Miguel taking care of Rebecca after learning that from his mom, and loving the way he was loving her, it was probably some of the greatest moments in his life. You can tell when he would be sitting in the chair and she would wake up, that's what he waited for every single morning.
And he lived long enough to see the apple tree that they planted bear fruit, which was a nice callback.
That was really cool. I love that we got to pick the fruit, sit there, stare at it. It was a nice callback.
It's powerful to watch the microaggressions that Miguel suffered through, and how he always felt like he was trying to find his place in two worlds. Back to that job interview: Bill Lundy (David DeLuise) looks past Miguel when he calls out the name "Mike Rivers." Miguel then tells Lundy that he used the name Mike to land the interview, because "Miguel" didn't get him in the door. What struck you about that moment? And was it also a wink at the original name of the character of Miguel before you were cast?
It was definitely a wink at the original name of the character. And it's also true. Sterling and I had a conversation on code switching, which a lot of us end up doing. When I was younger, I had a much stronger accent — not Spanish, just where I was from in this country. To not be made fun of, to not let people think that I'm being aggressive — that's sometimes how people from the East Coast sound when they are speaking; some people take it like that. You end up code switching. I did that so I wouldn't be typecast as an actor. There's a big part of that experience for people of color, and it's something we still face. It's something I still do.
When I call customer service, I want to make sure they think that they're speaking to someone who can afford whatever I'm calling on, because people profile based on someone's voice, they profile on how someone looks, and that's exactly what was happening with Miguel in that moment. Just his name. What's great is that Miguel was smart enough to send in two resumes, one as Mike. The only way we're going to change it is to infiltrate and change it from the inside out. That's how I saw Miguel handling himself. He's like, "I'm going to get in here. I'm going to infiltrate. And then I'll show them how good and how amazing I can be. And then the next time they interview someone named Juan and Mauricio, that person will be able to keep their name on the resume, knowing that Mr. Lundy will give them a chance because wow, this guy's amazing."
There's so much that Miguel stuffed down, in his personal and professional life. It recontextualizes that scene in the bar with Rebecca in the '70s when she calls him out for using everyone's name, when he's trying to fit in.
It was a little bit mean that she said that! [Laughs] Why can't I use everyone's name? It's how I remember them! That's a nice comeback that he had, right? But that, to me, speaks to the strength and resilience of people of color, because this is something we've had to deal with. I've been in this industry for many years and when you go into an audition or have a meeting, there's certain types of feedback that you get. I got sent a pilot and they said, "Hey, read the pilot and tell us how you respond to it." I responded to a character and I said, "I love this character. I'd love to be considered for this character." And the feedback came back: "Oh no, no, no. They're trying to decide which character they're going to go diverse with, ethnic with. That character in particular, they're going white." [Whereas] I think that you should consider every single ethnic background [for] every single character in there. Unless the guy has a line that says, "Look, I'm a white guy and I just don't get it." But that doesn't exist for this character. They literally said, "They want a white guy for that character." And I'm like, "Well, then I'm not interested in your show. Byeee!" [Laughs.] They were like, "Look at this other character." "Oh, you mean the character with one line? Byeee."
Sorry to hear that.... What was the most challenging scene in this episode to pull off, and maybe it was the one that you talked about the most?
We talked the most about the scenes when Miguel is taking care of Rebecca. What we talked about was how physically demanding taking care of her is, and how that affects him, and the gradual decline physically, and the toll that it's taking on Miguel, and how to infuse that into his physicality. It was challenging. He's supposed to have bad knees and once he falls down, he has got a busted lower back and hip. When I was doing that stuff — because I was favoring a part of my body — I actually got sore. I had a bad back and terrible knot in my sciatica [nerve]. I have bad knees already, but my knees were sore. So it took its toll physically on me in real life. And then all the falls out there [in the snow], I did those. Those didn't feel great.
How long have you known that Miguel wasn't going to make it to Rebecca's death bed? Once the flash-forward was revealed in the season 3 finale, there has been that big question of: "Where is Miguel?"
For about three seasons.
Did it sadden you to know that he wasn't there at the end of her life, given his dedication to her? Of course, he cared for her right up until his end.
Yeah. Miguel loves Rebecca and he wants to be there for her when she's dying. But at the same time, I loved how they told the story, how they brought Miguel's conclusion around. I just thought it was done so well. And at the perfect time. It's a couple of episodes before the end. Also, Rebecca has some problems, but she's doing pretty well in [this] episode, right? So we know that when two people who are so connected and love each other so much, when one of them passes on, the other one is usually quick to decline. So in the next three episodes, it'll justify the rapid decline that she may have.
You can see how lost she is without him in this episode. That's a loss some people never recover from.
Exactly. That was satisfactory to me to understand [that] we've got to say goodbye to Miguel in order to justify Rebecca's decline to take us out to the end.
I love how the episode ends with Miguel's callback to his father saying, "I don't know. But it's a good question. Ask me again later." How did you interpret those words from his dad after Miguel had asked him, "Why is it so hard for you to watch me make something myself in this place that you brought us to?"
I interpreted it as him saying, "Your life is just beginning." Miguel was, at that point, about 25 years old and thought he had it all figured out. And I think that his dad was saying, "You know what? Spend some time out there in life. And then you won't have to ask." Meaning that Miguel didn't see…
The full picture.
The full picture. He had a narrow focus, he had tunnel vision. But Miguel wouldn't have his job if it wasn't for the love of his father and the appreciation for who Miguel is. Miguel wouldn't have this new job. He wouldn't have ambition if it wasn't for his father. That's what I think he meant. "You'll see once you've gotten down the road a little bit that your question was not a fair question."
By the way, weren't there originally plans to show Miguel and Rebecca's wedding?
We were going to film the wedding, but it's a big episode. We still had to cut 15 minutes from it. We had this whole idea months ago that we might even go to Puerto Rico and film the wedding. This is before we were really started breaking the episode and figuring out what the story was going to be. Once we saw how much we were going to put into the episode, once we started filming, we were like, "Okay, we're going to have to be creative with this wedding." So we instead did a photo shoot and the voiceover stuff. It was sad. I mean, it would've been really nice. We had our wedding clothes. She had a dress. I had a great shirt that I was going to wear. It was cool.
How much of Miguel will viewers see in flashbacks or flash-forwards in these final three episodes?
Well, I can't give out any spoilers. But it's This Is Us. People die on This Is Us, but nobody dies on This Is Us, if you know what I mean.
We do know what you mean. Let's look back at Miguel. What was it like as an actor to find out that you will marry your best friend's widow, and the best friend who dies is Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, and somehow you're not supposed to be the bad guy who swooped in? What you were given here was a real challenge.
Yes. And I realized that [laughs], once I started working on the show. I didn't know when they hired me that I was going to be married to Rebecca. Once the show dropped and people started responding on social media, and I immediately saw that people weren't responding well — they thought that I snaked Rebecca from Jack and they didn't like the character — the challenge was obvious. And I loved it. All actors want their characters to be liked, because usually if people like your character, it means you're going stick around a little bit longer. But also you want people to root for you. So that challenge for me is interesting as an actor. Instead of it being so easy, it's better to have to overcome obstacles as an actor, because it's gratifying once you accomplish it. So at the end of this episode, "Miguel," for any holdouts, any people that are on the fence, I have a feeling they're going to be crying at the end. And if they're crying, it means they like Miguel. And that means that we've overcome the challenge. And that challenge is worth it.
How validating was it to see that fan sentiment slowly turn over the years? I assume what you've heard the most in the last year or two is: "When are we ever getting his backstory?"
People have been asking for this, and, of course, it would've been great if it was sooner. But with COVID, we were supposed to find out a lot more [about him]. We lost two episodes in season 5 because of COVID. This season, when people come up to me and talk to me, they're like, "We've gotten enough of what we were asking for to be able to feel good about saying goodbye to Miguel."
How do you, Milo, and Mandy talk about these two couples? Do you have your own jokes about the dynamic?
We usually joke about it. And we're also protective of our characters. We don't play into the "Who's better for Rebecca, Jack or Miguel?" We don't play into that. Milo and I don't try to compete with one another. We more joke about the relationship almost as if Jack's not dead. It's just, "This is the way it is. This is our relationship. It's the three of us." And it's fun. We talk about how it's not strange that Jack's best friend fell for Rebecca. If we love Rebecca, we understand why someone would fall for her, especially Miguel, who was so close and who was supposed to be there to take care of her. Milo said, "If we left our loved one, if we died, why wouldn't we want our best friend, who we love, to be the one she ends up with, instead of wishing her out in the crazy dating world?" We don't want our widows out there in that crazy world.
Led by you, the This Is Us cast has joined forces with Nosotros to create a scholarship fund (Somos Nostros) that will support Latinx talent in the creative community. What are the guiding philosophies of this initiative? It sounds like quality, not quantity, inclusion is at the heart of this mission.
We can look at the screen and we can see the brown faces, the Latinx faces, but what are they doing? What kind of characters are we playing and what are they doing for the betterment of our people? When we talk about quality, we need well-developed characters. We need Latinos that have strong love stories, characters who set goals, go after those goals, and accomplish those goals in a positive way. And not as cartel bosses or lower-level cartel members or menial jobs.
It starts at the creative infancy of an idea. I've been on a lot of shows now where we didn't really have a writer in the writers' room who was Latinx, and part of that reason is because they haven't gotten the opportunity. A lot of times when they do complete an undergrad or a graduate program, they're inundated with debt. Instead of being able to dedicate their time to working on ideas and stories or figuring out their career or aligning themselves with the right people that'll get them to the next level, they're working some kind of side hustle job to pay off their student loans. So we wanted to give an opportunity to young writers from a Latinx background that could give them a leg up, so that they don't go into their professional career with a mountain of debt that can hold them back from creating the next great character or great show.
I want to see more directors behind the camera. I've only been directed by one adult male Latino in my 27-year career in television. That's why I started directing, because I wanted to make sure that people coming up look behind the camera and see someone that understands why they're making the types of choices they're making as an actor from a background perspective, who they are, and what makes them tick.... And how cool is it that Somos Nosotros translates to This Is Us and now we can have this legacy?
What is one thing you're going to miss about working on This Is Us — and what's one thing you won't miss? And is the one thing that you won't miss the age makeup?
Yeah, you definitely answered that. It's the wig with the age makeup. The age makeup doesn't bother me as much as the wig does by the end of the day. Those pins that dig into my head — it's crazy. I won't miss that, but I will miss just working with the cast every day. And seeing the crew's faces when I show up to work. Everybody on our crew smiles a lot. I think they realize what a great job this was. They're looking forward to being at work, looking forward to seeing you at work, you're looking forward to seeing them, and how many people can say that about their jobs in this country? And then my castmates are just the most amazing seeing partners I've had. I hope to find scene partners like that in the future. I'll miss them and I hope they miss me. But it's not goodbye, it's see you later.
What's the first thing that Jack and Miguel did when Miguel walked through the pearly gates?
He hugged me and he whispered, [affects Jack voice] "Who's taking care of Rebecca?" How was my Milo Ventimiglia impersonation?
No notes! You captured his tone. How should Miguel's tombstone read?
Personally, Jon Huertas does not like tombstones. I do not like people to be buried. I like composting. Let's not waste that green space! So let me think… It would just say: "Loving stepfather, loving husband, loving father, loving friend — all the way to the end."
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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