Justin Hartley will make his “This Is Us” directorial debut with tonight’s episode of the NBC family drama — marking the second time a cast member has sat behind the camera for the show, following Milo Ventimiglia’s turn earlier this season.
And while Tuesday’s installment, “A Hell of a Week: Part Three,” is a big one for Hartley, it’s not a big one for his character, Kevin, who had his day in the limelight with the second episode of the “trilogy.”
No, tonight’s hour is all about his sister Kate (Chrissy Metz), with three interconnecting storylines that show her struggles in the present day, as a teen (played by Hannah Zeile) and as a tiny preschooler (played by Isabella Rose Landau).
Hartley says that it’s the present-day story that features a moment between Kate and her mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), that will “forever” change their dynamic.
“There’s something going on in the present storyline where their relationship is kind of evolving and it’s changing and becoming something we haven’t really seen before,” Hartley told TheWrap. “So it was important to tell that story in a clear and concise manner. It was important that the audience understands these two characters are communicating in a way that we haven’t seen them communicate before and that their relationship is forever going to change — and this is like the turning point. It’s something really nice. It’s something that you always hope you get with your mother or father, but we don’t always get.”
When it comes to the flashback storylines, Hartley didn’t want to give away much about either, but said that the one lead by the “adorable toddler version” of Kate will tie back into her present-day relationship with her mom — and we’ll even find out the origin of “Bug,” Rebecca’s nickname for Kate.
“As far as the teenage storyline goes, there’s a massive through-line between her relationship with Marc (Austin Abrams) and how she handles her life in the present day with Toby (Chris Sullivan),” Hartley said. He is, of course, referring to Teen Kate’s increasingly turbulent relationship with her beau — which fans have been anxiously waiting to see come to an end for a while now — and Adult Kate’s marital problems with her husband, who is deeply depressed over their infant son Jack’s blindness.
Hartley said that while these are “totally different relationships,” the connection is “the baggage that we carry and the things that we carry through life.”
“That was the important thing for me, to get that through in that storyline,” he said. “These people that come and go in our lives, the relationships that come and go, they leave lingering things with us and they shape us and they form these habits or these sort of personalities that we become and we evolve into throughout our life. And that shapes the decisions that we make. Also, the relationship that she has with Toby and the relationship that she has with Marc, the differences and similarities, and the danger that goes along with that. The pushing and the pulling, the togetherness and separation.”
He continued, “They’re obviously totally different relationships — but it’s the idea of being an arm’s length away from someone but, yet, you might as well be an ocean away because you can’t reach them on the level that you need to reach them.”
Hartley obviously couldn’t give away the mystery of how Kate and Marc’s relationship ultimately comes to an end, so all we can do is tell you to keep tuning in to find out — possibly tonight.
As for the experience of directing his co-stars — and some actors he never gets to work with — Hartley says he was honored to be given the opportunity.
“When [creator/co-showrunner Dan Fogelman] told me that he was gonna let me do this, it was a bit of a surprise at first, but also what an honor and what a responsibility,” Hartley said. “I think we pulled off something really great, and I was just happy to get all those wonderful performances.”
See TheWrap’s exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of Hartley’s directorial debut below and check back with TheWrap tonight for our post-mortem interview with Hartley and Zeile about the episode.
“This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.