This Is Us star Justin Hartley hints at what happens next for Kevin and Madison
Calling the last hour that viewers spent with Kevin Pearson “eventful” is like calling This Is Us “lightly emotional.” In the season 4 finale of NBCs all-the-feels-and-then-some family drama, the shiny, privileged actor confronted his brother over his strong-arming of their ailing mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), into an experimental Alzheimer's study. The barbs that were launched from both sides were cruel and penetrating: Randall told Kevin that their father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), died ashamed of him, while Kevin told Randall that "the worst thing that ever happened to me was the day they brought you home.” In the middle of this developing, two-part fight, Kevin was informed by Kate’s friend, Madison (Caitlin Thompson), that their one-night stand had actually left her pregnant. With twins. That’s a lot for one man to process — let alone a self-sabotaging-self-centered-turned-self-aware movie star — so let’s start with that vicious fight, which surely will leave many psychic scars. How do these brothers come back from that?
“I don't know about the not-coming-back-from, as much as I think it's not coming back to the same place — I think it's like a chemical change,” says Harley, who spoke to EW as part of a 92nd Street Y virtual conversation this summer. “Things will never be exactly the way that they were. And I think it had to do with Randall saying to Kevin, ‘You're not chasing dad, you're chasing me, you're chasing my shadow. He was disappointed in you. And he died disappointed in you.’ And the truth of that is what hurts.’ And then Kevin, equally... a jerk, says, ‘The worst day of my life was when they brought you home.’ And he repeats it. I don't know which one is worse. They're in the toilet together.”
While the shattering of that brotherly bond — on top of the materialization of unplanned parenthood — was pure emotional overload for Kevin, it also was a playground for the actor who portrays him. “Gosh, talk about highs and lows and mediums and shock and surprise and horrifying moments, but also life-changing moments,” he says. “That was like spinning as an actor. That was fun though. That was good. I was exhausted. I slept well that night.”
And how will Kevin sleep as he prepares to become a father, for which he said he was "all-in." Listening to creator Dan Fogelman and Hartley, one gets the sense that Kevin may surprise those around him, as well as the audience. “I think that he'll flip out every once in a while and have a few nervous breaks, but I would imagine he'll take guidance from his mom who can tell him about his dad, and hopefully Uncle Nicky [Griffin Dunne],” he says. “Also just the memories of his father, remembering he had three [kids]. Every time there's something going on with Kevin where he feels a little overwhelmed, he'll have a fond memory of his father and what he did. And then also kind of do it better. I have a teenager, and I look back on how my dad and mom handled us when we were teenagers. Sometimes I'm like, ‘I don't know how they did it. I don't even know why they didn't run away.’ And then other times I'm like, ‘Okay, I get it. I know why I'm feeling this way, but I can present myself in a better way to my daughter. I can do better than my parents did with me.’ Hopefully he leans on his experience and his memories of his dad and what his mom can tell him about all that. And also on whoever the woman is that he's with. Hopefully he is smart enough to realize that there are things that that person has to offer that he can't possibly offer, that she could certainly do better.”
Could Kevin see Madison as not just parenting partner but also romantic partner? And is he closer to truly letting go of his on-again-off-again ex Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), who, they both had to remind themselves, is engaged to someone else. T"here's a plan in one's head about how to go about something,” says Hartley. “This is a big thing; this is babies coming into your life. So whatever the plan is, the reality will change [it]. When you're going through that with someone as well, the relationship is going to evolve in a way that you probably didn't expect it to, because they're both going through this for the first time. So they're going to definitely have some moments that are very personal. It'll definitely be different than it is now, where you have one person that's yapping at the other and then the other person is yapping at the other and [they’re] making fun of each other — they're friends that get annoyed with each other. That'll definitely be something that we explore in a big way in season 5.”
Kevin rode the rollercoaster of love without safety brakes for some time, through recently he seems more committed to settling down — or at least settling on his priorities in life. “A lot of that [tumult] was self-inflicted, but he's also changed and he's grown as a human being," says Hartley. "His approach to his love life and to relationships in general is so different than it was when we met him, or even a couple of years ago. He's slowed down a bit, he's safer, he’s more methodical, and he’s more practical about things. He takes a little more care, not only of himself, but of other people. I hope that he gets what he wants, and it seems like what he wants is a woman that loves him, with kids. His career is certainly working out. I always say, ‘If he gets a f---ing Emmy before I do, I'm going to hang this guy. But he will. You watch. Kevin's gonna walk away with Emmys and Oscars, and I'll be sitting here going, ‘Kevin Pearson, you son of a bitch!’
Based on the shelves in Kevin's house in the deep-future flash-forward moments, he may wind up doing that. “Thank God I'm not like competing against this guy for jobs,” quips Hartley. “He seems to get anything he wants.” Did he want even more kids than the ones currently on the way? The two kids spotted in the future looked rather young, leading some to wonder if those may be different kids than the ones on the way in the present day. “Anything is possible," he says. "That’s the question, right? How old is this dude? Is he 50? Is he Santa Claus? We don't know what's going on. That's a possibility.” Is it possible that the next flash-forward will reveal Kevin's romantic partner, Madison, Sophie, or someone else? “I hope so. That would be the payoff, right? You want to know who it is — or if it was someone that had changed.”
In any case, Hartley drops this clue about Kevin's growth curve. “The way that he goes about being a dad is not something that people would expect Kevin to do," he says. "Or it might even be too daunting for anybody to be able to do. He sets a certain bar and we'll see if he can get there or not. He challenges himself.”
That journey begins in the two-hour season 5 premiere, which was delayed in the wake of Hollywood's pandemic shutdown. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter — the biggest headlines of 2020 — will be incorporated into the story this season. “Our show does a very good job of dealing with issues that are very topical,” says Hartley. “And some of them are not pleasant. That's what our show does. Sometimes things are too big of a deal to escape from.” In the two-part opener, Kevin breaks the pregancy news to at least his sister, (but doesn't seem to tell her the whole story), and he celebrates his 40th birthday at the cabin with his family, but without his brother. “We'll address the fact that Kevin and Randall are not addressing each other, on a birthday,” says Hartley. “Whenever you have a strife in the family like that, when there's an estrangement, people aren’t talking, it's weird. Especially if you have other family members that are talking to both sides. It's strange. Nobody wants that. So hopefully something happens. I know something happens.”
To see exactly what happens, tune in to the season 5 premiere on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Looking for more preview intel? Chrissy Metz also dropped hints about the new season, as did Chris Sullivan. And you might want to hear what Milo Ventimiglia had to say. Susan Kelechi Watson, too. Oh, and Sterling K. Brown. Plus Mandy Moore.
NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.