'This Is Us' : Jon Huertas on Miguel and Rebecca's 'Taboo Moment,' Teases How They Find 'True Love'

"The idea for me was to get the audience to root for Miguel and Rebecca instead of Matt and Rebecca," Jon Huertas tells PEOPLE

Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Thanksgiving is never a dull holiday in the Pearson household, and the final This Is Us turkey day celebration was stuffed with drama.

In Tuesday's episode, titled "Taboo," matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore) was at the center of Thanksgivings past and present, starting with the first time she and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) hosted her parents Janet (Elizabeth Perkins) and Dave (Tim Matheson) following their engagement in the 1970s.

Fast forward to the 1990s, Rebecca is hosting at her home years after Jack's death. She invited her date Matt (Matt Corboy) while future husband Miguel (Jon Huertas) brought Marguerite, a woman he has been seeing on and off. In addition, the Big Three are all together again for the holidays as Kevin (Logan Shroyer) deals with the aftermath of cheating on his wife Sophie (Amanda Leighton) and Randall (Niles Fitch) can't hide his shock over sister Kate's (Hannah Zeile) weight gain. This particular Thanksgiving was also the first time Rebecca and Miguel's romantic connection comes to the forefront when their turn at the game Taboo opened everyone's eyes.

Lastly, in the present day, the Pearson family all traveled to the cabin, where they got to see Kevin's (Justin Hartley) plot of land for Rebecca's dream home. With all the family members under one roof, it proved difficult for Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) to hide the cracks in their marriage, specifically their arguments over how to raise their kids. The couple, who has been struggling due to long-distance and strained communication, had a big fight over her decision to let their son Jack consume sugar due to Toby's fears about genetics being a predisposition to possibly becoming overweight.

But the tension was all eclipsed by the tear-filled family meeting that Rebecca requested at the end of the night when she told Kevin, Kate and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) about her wishes and demands as she prepares for the inevitable amid her Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Below, Huertas tells PEOPLE about the beginning of Miguel and Rebecca's romance and breaks down all the emotional scenes — as well as a tease for how long audiences will have to wait to see how Miguel and Rebecca's love story unfolds.

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

PEOPLE: How was filming the final Pearson family Thanksgiving?

JON HUERTAS: It's one of those episodes every season that we're partly excited about and we partly dread. The one thing about the Thanksgiving episodes is that it's an opportunity usually for a lot of cast members that don't always get to film together all the time because there are some bi-coastal elements to our story and where the families live. It's always an opportunity for us to get together and work together as a group, which is always fun. But then it's always a beast because those are the harder episodes to shoot. You've got more people, more camera angles, and more drama than ever usually in the Thanksgiving episodes. It's always one of those bittersweet anticipations for the episodes.

We saw the beginning of Rebecca and Miguel's friendship-turned-romance. What was it like to film those scenes and portray those aspects of their relationship?

It's funny, I felt like the episode was equal parts beginning of their relationship, equal parts end of their relationship — or the relationship that they kind of had. There's excitement and there's sadness. And for me, and I think Mandy Moore, it's some of the most heartbreaking work that we've done together. Especially for the characters. It's Rebecca losing another kind of love in her life, which was just really hard to watch Mandy do because everything for Mandy is so real and she really finds her own emotional place to back up whatever her character's emotional state is. So watching Mandy do our scenes, especially at the end of the episode was just tough.

But it's also great to experience this chemistry with Mandy. We have great chemistry, Mandy and I, and so to be able to really lean into that, it also just felt great. We know that if we can experience that chemistry on camera that the audience will feel it at home. That's what we want to do as storytellers, from actors, writers, directors, we want to evoke a sense of emotional feeling from them that hopefully is equal to what the characters are going through. We knew that if we got it right, if we really spent time together working on it, it would come about. That's what, I think, we got out of that Thanksgiving episode.

There are so many different layers, there's so much uncomfortableness with the kids, the Big Three. There's uncomfortableness between Miguel and this new man that she's seeing, Matt. Then between Rebecca and Miguel, there's so much uncomfortableness because they have these dates. There are so many layers, some of the more complex storytelling that I've been involved with. This really was great to have that kind of development for the character of Miguel, which I sometimes don't get to see with Latinx characters on television.

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Was this episode a turning point for some fans to finally be on Team Miguel?

From the beginning of the show, we kind of mapped out and tried to figure out how to turn people around with regards to how they felt about Miguel, and especially Miguel and Rebecca's relationship. So I think every episode like this is a march towards that end goal. With this episode, I think the idea for me was to get the audience to root for Miguel and Rebecca instead of Matt and Rebecca. Because Matt is actually a super nice guy, and there's nothing wrong with him really — and he's not Jack's best friend. So the easiest way to look at it is like, "Oh, this is perfect. If we want Rebecca to find another love, this guy's perfect."

But I, as the actor, as a selfish actor who plays Miguel, I wanted them to root for Miguel. I'm hoping that people did and were rooting for Miguel. I'm looking forward to reading people's comments on social media. People come up to me on the street sometimes and say how they feel about Miguel and Rebecca, usually, it's positive. I think that we may have turned people around, that was the goal from the big beginning. Once Miguel popped on the scene, people were hating on him. As an actor, that challenge of turning people around is so much more attractive. You want to be challenged as an actor, and so how do we get people to like this character, because as actors we always want our characters just to be likable. At least I do.

It's clever that this episode was titled "Taboo," not only for the game but also for the apparent chemistry that eventually becomes Rebecca and Miguel's marriage.

I really loved that they chose the title of "Taboo" because I think everyone from the beginning thought Miguel and Rebecca's relationship was taboo. It's just to me, such intelligent writing on the behalf of our writers just to say, "All right, for now, let's just put it out there. Taboo." It's something that Miguel and Rebecca were both fighting. It's that feeling that you get when you want something that you just think, based on norms of society, you shouldn't want. You shouldn't go after. Pushing that down, a lot of times emotionally that can be devastating. It can be a bad thing. I think if it didn't come out while playing the game Taboo, it could have really hurt and destroyed what they did have. Unfortunately, it kind of did, but it didn't.

It allowed them both to admit to how they felt about each other without saying it out loud and to each other, and in front of everyone. It just allowed them to walk away and figure out how to process these feelings. And understanding that in the moment it was happening, it wasn't the right time. The kids are just are in a WTF kind of state of emergency. Matt is embarrassed. Marguerite is embarrassed. The whole situation between Miguel and Rebecca, and the family, became taboo. So we start out playing a game of Taboo and then it becomes taboo. But it's this taboo moment that allows them to walk away to process and it sets them up for eventually being able to get together on their own terms.

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Miguel drops the bomb on Rebecca by telling her about his move to Houston. Fans know Miguel and Rebecca reconnect on Facebook years later, but how much longer will it be until we see Miguel with his "favorite person" again? The next trilogy of episodes are focused on the Big Three.

That was the scene that was so emotional, it was so in-depth. Mandy and I were in the moment, and all I wanted to do was just grab her, hold her, kiss her and say, "I love you." But the script said, "I've got to move to Houston. You're my favorite person." And Miguel walks away. It was really hard and heartbreaking, not only as the actor playing Miguel but also as just a fan of the show. I root for Miguel and Rebecca from an outside perspective as well, so I was outside of myself, like an out-of-body experience going, "Miguel, no. Don't do it. Oh God." It is the setup for what is to come, and we'll definitely see that this season.

I think we'll see, during the Big Three trilogy and right after. We're definitely going to still see elder Miguel and Rebecca in love. Going through what Rebecca's going through with regards to her Alzheimer's diagnosis, and Miguel being that primary caregiver, that part of the love story. And then yes, we're definitely getting into figuring out and seeing how they came back together. I think it comes down to: if something is meant to be, and I don't mean like written in the stars necessarily, I mean that if there's something between two people that is so deep and then unrequited, those two people will figure out how to eventually deal with that. Miguel and Rebecca do, it's that aching feeling.

I'll tease a little bit that Miguel, after leaving, has that aching feeling in his gut for many years for Rebecca, and I think the same rings true for Rebecca. When you have that longing for, it's just love. It's true, and it's almost like true love. I think people can experience many true loves. We can have multiple loves, multiple true loves. Rebecca and Miguel happen to be one of those true loves. They just didn't realize it in this episode.

During the emotional family meeting, Rebecca makes it clear to her children that Miguel is the captain of her well-being and the primary caregiver, while Kate was designated as the next in line. Was that part of Mandy's monologue Rebecca reaffirming to the family that Miguel is the one in charge?

Miguel's taken on that matriarchal role while he's going through [Rebecca's] decline, and taking a chance. Rebecca has been, especially since Jack's death, in a state of how do I do this? How do I move on? How do I find myself? How do I finish raising my kids? How do I deal, and my kids are still not accepting of my relationship [with Miguel]. How do I deal with that? Now I've got this diagnosis, how do I deal with that? Rebecca's always thought that, and has been dealing with the fact that she doesn't think she measures up to her own mother. How do I deal with it?

There are so many things that have been so hard for Rebecca. She really, really, really put a lot of thought into, 'this is what the end of my life is going to be, and you guys can do it my way.' Rebecca is saying it's time for me, a true time for me. What I want is to spend time with my kids, spend time to experience love, and embrace life, the life that I have left. It's just a beautiful moment, really. Mandy was just absolutely phenomenal and fantastic in the moment. Even the first rehearsal, the Big Three and myself had to take a deep breath. All of us were like, "Wow, wow," because Mandy was just so powerful in just the rehearsal that when we shot it. It was crazy.

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

We have yet to see Miguel in the future at the completed house. Will we see Miguel? Especially after he appears to be giving his input on the construction.

We don't get the scripts for the episodes until sometimes a week out. Dan [Fogelman] keeps us very much in the dark, keeps it close to the vest so that we don't tell people like you what's going to happen and get in trouble. [laughs] So I'm not sure 100 percent sure of how the show ends. And I kind of like it that way. I like being an audience member who gets to follow along with the audience on what's going on. I know a little while ahead of everyone else, because I'm on the show. I'm shooting it, but we haven't shot that episode yet. We're only shooting episodes 13 and 14 right now. We're shooting them together. We will have to wait and see.

When you directed episode three this season, you mentioned you had your eye on a certain item. What did you take?

I've got my eye on the Green Egg [smoker]. Because when we were prepping the episode and dealing with what that Egg was going to be, learning about how many different sizes there were, how heavy it is, and what it meant to the story. Someone asked me when we were filming, "Hey, are you going to take the Green Egg, or do you want the Green Egg?" And I was like, "Can I?" And he was like, "I think so. Yeah." I left it at that and then I've been coveting it ever since. Then I saw the prop master a week ago and I asked him, "Hey, do you think I'll be able to get the green egg at the end of the season?" And he was like, "Sure, you want it? You got it."

The episode that I directed last season, I don't know if you remember in the episode where Milo and Mandy come sliding into the gas station. Milo's about to beat up the guy who cut him off. We transformed this gas station into a 1980s gas station. It was very vintage-looking. There was a sign that they were putting above the gas station and they asked me, "What do you want to call the gas station?" And I was like, "I don't know, Timbo's." So they made this giant sign, it's about seven feet in diameter. Later they said, "Hey, we want to drop something off at your house" after we had wrapped the episode. A big truck pulled up in front of my house with the Timbo's sign on the back of it. Now it's hanging on a wall in my main living area. ... Instead of wasting stuff, if people cherish something or it's a special thing, our crew is so good at honoring them with something. So they honored me with that, and they're honoring me with the Green Egg, I think. The Timbo's sign is green, so it's going to match the Green Egg.

I think that the Green Egg company should be like, "Hey, you guys promoted the s--- out of our Green Egg. Here's a bunch of Green Eggs for everybody." They should be the ones giving us the Green Eggs.

It's like the positive spin on what the Crockpot company went through.

Exactly. Except the Green Egg is, kind of, at the impetus of what happens between KaToby

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

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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