'This Is Us' : Jon Huertas on His Miguel-Centric Episode and Why He Hopes It Will 'Shift the Tide'

"There's a lot of myself in Miguel in this episode.... It was so generous of [the writers] and very gratifying for me," Huertas tells PEOPLE of helping to shape his character's storyline

This Is Us - Jon Huertas as Miguel
Jon Huertas as Miguel on This Is Us. Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of This Is Us.

Miguel finally got his moment in the spotlight on This Is Us.

Tuesday's episode of the beloved NBC series focused on Miguel Rivas (Jon Huertas) and revealed more of his character's backstory, which was mostly unknown until now.

Throughout the episode, fans got to see what Miguel's upbringing was like, the pressures he faced growing up while straddling two identities, his failed marriage to first wife Shelly (Wynn Everett) and perhaps the most burning question of all: How he ended up married to Rebecca (Mandy Moore), the wife of his late best friend, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia).

In the present day, Miguel's declining health was also a major concern as he continued to care for Rebecca amid her ongoing battle with dementia. Ultimately, the level of care became too much for Miguel — something he had a difficult time acknowledging to Rebecca's kids, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley). Due in part to prioritizing his wife's health, Miguel sadly precedes Rebecca in death.

Below, Huertas talks to PEOPLE about influencing his character's storyline, what he hopes fans take away from the emotional episode and how the Pearsons will carry on without Miguel.

Jon Huertas as Miguel
Jon Huertas as Miguel on This Is Us. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

PEOPLE: How long have you known that this was Miguel's fate?

JON HUERTAS: I knew about three seasons ago. It's something we've been working towards. Part of it was to set up the question of, "What happens to the person who's suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's when that caregiver is suddenly taken away?" Moving forward, hopefully people are worried about Rebecca.

For so long, Miguel has been considered the "villain" by many fans because he married his best friend's wife. Do you feel like the writers helped shift that perspective with this episode?

I think so. Our writers, I think for many seasons, have been trying to shift the tide when it comes to how people feel about Miguel. At the beginning, I actually loved the challenge as an actor, to turn people around and get them to like this character. If there are any stragglers out there who were on the fence, I think this episode probably pushed them over on Miguel's side and they will love and respect who Miguel was to the Pearson family. But there's still going to be those haters that don't care.

We got to see so much of Miguel's upbringing and backstory. How much of an influence did you have in helping mold or shape that story?

They asked me to come into the writer's room earlier this season and talk to them about this episode and fill them in on my personal journey, and my background, and what we'd like to see Miguel experience. As the episode started getting closer and closer, there was always an open line of communication. The phone would ring, I would pick it up and [writer] Jonny [Gomez] would ask me this, our department would ask me this, props would ask me this, production design would ask me this. And so they let me participate, which is one of the biggest gifts because you don't get to do that a lot of times in television as an actor. It was so generous of them and very gratifying for me. So yeah, there's a lot of myself in Miguel in this episode.

This is Us - Paul Calderon as Risto, Jon Huertas as Miguel, Eileen Galindo as Beatriz
Jon Huertas as Miguel on This Is Us. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Can you elaborate on which parts of Miguel's backstory really resonated with you?

Definitely the hair thing is a big part of my story. It started when I was bullied in high school. Someone called me "pubic head" and said the hair on my head reminded them of the hair that was growing between their legs. It elicited a response from me that was physical, and because I was the victor, I was the one who got in trouble.

To deal with it, I was taken to a salon where they blew dry my hair straight and said, "There you go. Now you look like the white kids." Every day in high school, I woke up at least 45 minutes earlier than all the other kids did and blew dry my hair straight. That was me erasing a part of my identity just so I could fit in and not be bullied. Once I got away from that environment and was around more people like me, I was able to see my hair for what it was worth and see that this is the authentic me and that my hair can be beautiful.

That's something we put directly into Miguel's story. He straightened his hair to fit in, to assimilate, so that he could work his way up the ladder and attain success. It's something that I also wanted to make sure it was infused into the story [earlier] so if you remember the speed dating episode with Miguel and Rebecca, there was a hat that Miguel was going to wear to the event. He asked her, "What do you think — hat or no hat?" She says, "I like your curls." In that moment, that solidified in Miguel where he was going personally in life, how he was growing, and his hair was a big part of that. And this woman, who he adores, loves his hair for the way it is.

This Is Us - Christopher Grove as Kincaid, Yael Ocasio as Miguel
Young Miguel on This Is Us. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

I also loved the symbolism of the scene where young Miguel is playing monkey in the middle with the baseball, representing how he feels torn between those two identities.

I thought that visual metaphor was brilliant. When I read that, it really made me think about what Miguel must have went through and how he was this kid who just didn't fit, which is another part of me in the episode. I've never felt like I fit. I'm half-Puerto Rican and half-Caucasian and have a lot of indigenous native heritage. So when you to get these applications, or even when I was in elementary school with some aptitude tests, there would be a box that you were supposed to check for your ethnicity and I never fit into those boxes. Now, when I talk to kids, I always say, "If you never fit into a box, that's a good thing. Don't let them put you in a box because you don't belong there."

Another scene that stood out was when Miguel asks Rebecca what Jack would think about them dating. Rebecca believes Jack would want the best for them, but what do you truly think?

To be honest, this is something I've thought about. I have a great wife, but I'm also a realist, and I know that human beings die. Death is part of life. I think about what would happen if I was gone and all of my wife's friends, who are her age in the dating world and the horror stories that they tell us. I don't want my wife out there in that dating world. I don't want her to have to suffer through that.

But, I have some great friends that I love — my best friends — and I rely on them for so many things. So if I could rely on my friend to step up and take care of my wife, and if they fell in love because he was doing that, I would be ecstatic. I would be so happy that my wife didn't have to get out there in that dating world and the two people that I love found each other and made each other happy.

This Is Us, Jon Huertas as Miguel, Mandy Moore as Rebecca
Jon Huertas and Mandy Moore as Miguel and Rebecca on This Is Us. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

That's so sweet. You can tell how much you care for your wife and your friends, which is so similar to Rebecca, Jack and Miguel's story.

The people who are so shocked and so irritated or annoyed that Jack's best friend and Rebecca end up together, I think suffer from the effects of our society having this deep vein of toxic masculinity. Because that's what it comes from — this idea that Rebecca is Jack's property. She's her own woman. I think that's something that we have to start looking at in our society and how we teach our kids. Nobody owns anybody.

My wife, she doesn't have my last name. I would've never said, "You have to take my last name." Because that, to me, is from an old idea of marriage where a woman became a man's property. No, my wife's name is great and I love her name and she has a very professional reputation that preceded me, so keep your name, girl. People need to know who you are.

This Is Us, Jon Huertas as Miguel
Jon Huertas as Miguel on This Is Us. Ron Batzdorff/NBC

As Rebecca's health declined, so has Miguel's. Tell me a little bit about why it was so important to showcase the caretaker role and how he put her needs ahead of his own?

I think that it's very important because a lot of times it happens suddenly. You're going along in life, you've got your own goals, your own life. You might be across the country from where your parents are, and suddenly you can be thrown into this caretaker role. And what's great is that because we have such a strong and large audience, it might have people looking at their own lives and saying, "What are we going to do to prepare for this?"

There are lots of different caretakers, not just people who care for the elderly and people who are suffering from Alzheimer's/dementia. I think it's really nice to highlight that type of character so that it reminds people that this is all part of life. Aging is part of life. Dementia and Alzheimer's is part of old age, more commonly than not. I love that we were able to have this great show that people watch and can show them this is what a caretaker's life looks like and this is what supporting a caretaker looks like.

One of those poignant caretaker moments is when Miguel falls in the snow while bringing Rebecca inside. He didn't move for a moment, which was my first inkling that he might be the one who dies first.

I remember when we were shooting the fall. I was like, I want to just lay there for a second because I want people to think, "Oh God, did Miguel just die?" So yeah, I'm glad that they kept it that way, just to really mess with the audience.

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It was also really beautiful how even when Miguel couldn't care for Rebecca in the way that he wanted to, he still found ways to do it. He was at the foot of her bed every day when she woke up and always brought her coffee, which he previously admitted that he stopped doing with his first wife.

Yeah, which showed a deeper, more meaningful love that he found with Rebecca. Not saying that his love for Shelly wasn't special at one point, but it shows that this love is deeper and more everlasting, I guess, because he didn't stop making the coffee ever.

Now that Miguel's dead, will we continue to see him on the show? What can you hint about the future of the Pearson family?

First of all, you may or may not have seen the last of Miguel. I think the big question is once that primary caregiver goes, what happens with Rebecca? What happens with the Pearson kids, the Big Three? How does that affect them? That's something that we're going to be diving into. How rapidly does Rebecca decline? Who in the family takes up the responsibility? Those are questions that are going to come up and be answered in the next couple of episodes.

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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