"The writers have a goal and they have this little mantra in the writers' room and it's basically: get people to love Miguel," Jon Huertas told PEOPLE

By Karen Mizoguchi
January 16, 2018 10:00 PM
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No one knows the difficulties of being in the Pearson periphery more than Miguel Rivas, portrayed by This Is Us actor Jon Huertas.

More so, Huertas knows that his character has a high mountain to climb in order to gain the fandom and affection remotely close to what beloved, mustachioed patriarch Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) has garnered.

As seen in Tuesday’s episode, titled “Clooney,” Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) has the same angst over Miguel’s relationship with his mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore) that a lot of the fans do — and Huertas understands that his character has ways to go before anyone can cut Miguel some slack.

This week, fans and viewers who thought Miguel might have been in love with Rebecca from the start learn that he was in love with the idea of Jack and Rebecca all along — because their marriage was nothing like his own with ex-wife Shelly.

Huertas discussed his character arc with PEOPLE and reassured fans that Miguel isn’t trying to fill Jack’s irreplaceable shoes, but as the Pearson’s stepfather told Kevin this week: “I’m not going anywhere.”

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Credit: Maarten de Boer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

How excited are you for fans to see who Miguel really is? And his backstory not as the bad guy or villain?

I’m really excited. I think that hopefully the way that they’ve set up the trajectory of Miguel’s character, very slowly peeling back the layers of this onion. From a conversation with Dan [Fogelman], the writers have a goal ,and they have this little mantra in the writers’ room, and it’s basically: get people to love Miguel. Because from season 1, we know that Miguel wasn’t super welcomed into the Pearson family by the audience, so there’s been a scientific approach to how they layer in Miguel’s stuff without pushing people away too soon. At first, I’m like, “Come on guys we have to do something amazing. Miguel has to do something amazing to have them like him right away.” But they said, “You have to trust us.” I can only sit back and trust the writing, and it’s such good writing that how can you not?

How does it feel to know that not everything people have seen is what they think it is?

I love that. Our show is really good at engaging the audience in that way. Instead of telling the audience exactly what is happening or what they want to hear, the writers take the audience along for the ride and let them participate. I feel like when they’re watching the show, that’s what keeps them coming back to show. Because a lot of what they see is what they may be experiencing in their life or in their friends and family’s lives. Having the audience participation is very special.

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We left off with Kevin at rehab, and now he’s back home at Rebecca’s, where there’s already two of everything — bowls, boots, vitamins — with Miguel, and we’re reminded of the obstacle in the Kevin-Miguel relationship. How was filming those scenes with Justin?

It was great. All we know about the relationships of the characters is what we read in the scripts. As far as what comes from Dan’s mind and hand and Isaac [Aptaker] and Elizabeth [Berger]. It’s fun for us to sit around and try to come up with our own history, our own scenarios that Kevin and Miguel might have had. So we kind of load the moment. We kind of think Kevin and Miguel may have actually had a really good relationship before Rebecca and Miguel actually started dating. We use that to kind of inspire how we’re going to approach the scene.

Justin is my favorite on the show. He is because his character is the one I can relate to the most. We both wanted attention from family growing up, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be an actor. It’s one of the reasons that Kevin is an actor. So I really relate to that, and I really feel like Justin is such a fine actor that it’s so easy to do a scene with him. I think that’s why Miguel and Kevin have a lot of interactions like this, because there’s a certain type of chemistry.

Speaking of having a good relationship, during the flashbacks at the mall, Miguel and teenage Kevin (Logan Shroyer) seemed to get along.

Yeah, in the mall we had kind of something we had in common. Miguel has always kind of been a more playful person than Jack in life. I think that Kevin can be that way sometimes. So I think they have that in common, maybe that’s why. I’m looking forward to that, maybe in season 3, from what I talked to Dan, Isaac and Elizabeth [about]. We’re going to see more interactions with the teenagers and also with the Big Three in their 20s. I’m looking forward to that, but such a great episode to see both young Miguel and old Miguel and explain to Kevin how the relationship started.

Why do you think the writers juxtaposed those flashbacks with the present day Miguel-Kevin relationship?

It was a way to have the audience question whether or not there was a good relationship between Kevin and Miguel. Kevin is the one who was seeking out his mother’s attention as a teenager, and in his 20s he’s still seeking out his mother’s attention. Then she ends giving it to someone else other than any of the kids or their father. In my opinion, that could really affect someone, someone who has been vying for attention. Suddenly she gives it to someone on the outside. I think that had a profound effect on Kevin as an adult. I think the juxtaposition between the mall scenes and present day, it’s just perfectly played out and so well-written.

Was that blow up in the soda aisle at the grocery store the worst for Kevin and Miguel? Will they be able to fully move forward?

I hope so. The thing is, Kevin is already going through so much. Even though we had this moment to help him understand why Rebecca loves Miguel when Miguel started falling for Rebecca, I think that moving forward we’ll see the relationship hopefully open up a little bit between Miguel and Kevin and everyone. It is tough to call, because we haven’t seen all the scripts. We are a little bit kept in the dark, because there is a fear that we don’t want people to find out things yet. I’ll probably know when we have our little meeting before starting the beginning of the third season.

WATCH: Is This How Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack Pearson Died?

How did you feel about Rebecca saying that she couldn’t take the crescent necklace from Jack off her neck?

I think it’s great. It kind of shows how mature two people in love can be in regards to past life, especially someone who was taken away tragically. The fact that Miguel loved Jack just as much, he loved their relationship he thought it was the best thing he can experience and watch from afar. I think Miguel probably appreciates that necklace, and it keeps his memory alive. It helps Miguel remember Jack as well. It’s not one of those things where he had a terrible relationship with a man before and she compares Miguel to him. Jack was taken away suddenly. Miguel has to have a complete understanding that she would wear the necklace.

For me as an actor, you have those moments, I don’t have a lot of them, where you tell the writers, “My character wouldn’t do that, my character wouldn’t say that.” I never had a thought that my character wouldn’t want Rebecca wearing her ex-husband’s necklace that she cherishes. Because I think that me as an actor, I know I wouldn’t care if my wife had something from her past relationship. In fact, my wife has photos, she was in a marriage before me. She has photos of their time together, sometimes she looks at them. We look at them together. And looking at her and her former husband, they didn’t have a great breakup, they had a pretty bad breakup. We’re looking at them having fun and actually, I appreciate it because I see my wife was happy in that moment when the picture was taken. It’s a very possessive way of being, I think that Miguel would never be that way, because he loves them equally before Jack died.

We’re learning so much about how this role and these storylines are so personal to you.

They’re so much stuff that I could relate to. You know, I’ve cried like everyone else has. But more so when I read the scripts, not when I watch it.

We learn more about Miguel’s divorce from Shelly; will fans see a post-Shelly timeline and how Rebecca came into his romantic life?

We haven’t shot anything about the courtship of Rebecca and Miguel yet. But I’m really excited and hoping that they include Shelly in that storytelling. It could be very dramatic or it could be very funny. How Shelly reacts, how Miguel handles it. And depending on which direction they want to go: Do they want to make it happy or do they want to make it light? I think that it could be one of those things like, “I knew you two would end up together.” I feel like that could be an angle they take, or it could be really heavy, like it could be super surprising to Shelly to find out that Rebecca and Miguel are together. But it’s a different relationship.

Obviously, Miguel and Shelly got married at a very young age. When people get married very young, I have this experience myself, a lot of times it’s not because they’re in love but because they’re in love with the idea of marriage. And they’re truly not in love with each other. To come from a small suburb in Pittsburgh, that’s what you do there. You get married, you have kids, you start a family. You work toward your life, you get a good job and you advance in your job. And I think that’s what they were trying to force into this relationship, and it just didn’t work out. The difference between that and Rebecca and Miguel is that both of these people have now gone through two marriages with their own problems, and they approach this relationship with a lot more calmly and a lot more patiently with each other. Because any mistakes they made in their past relationships they learned from, hopefully.

What can you tease about Jack’s death?

We did talk at the beginning of the season how Miguel reacts to the loss of his best friend ,and we’re going to see a little bit more of the direct aftermath of the death. More in season 3, I believe. We will end up seeing how Miguel, what he goes through with Jack’s death this season.