EXCLUSIVE: Justin Hartley Brings Honesty and Humility to 'This Is Us'

The actor opens up to ET about the hit NBC series and what it means for his relationship with his own daughter.

“I didn’t know I was known as the ‘daytime guy,’” Justin
Hartley, star of the breakout NBC series This
Is Us
, tells ET from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City,
where on a chilly February morning he’s happily posing for cameras, making the
rounds with reporters and acknowledging fans who recognize him as the 36-year-old
version of Kevin Pearson. “But this show certainly has changed the trajectory
of things.”

Created by Crazy,
Stupid, Love
screenwriter Dan Fogelman, the multigenerational family dramedy
has quickly become the biggest hit of the 2016-17 TV season, pulling in at
least 13 million viewers each week and earning several Golden Globe
nominations, including Best Television Series – Drama. The show also marks the
biggest role of Hartley’s career, which started with playing Nicholas Foxworth
"Fox" Crane on Passions
before spending the better part of a decade appearing on Smallville, Emily Owens, M.D.
and Revenge. In 2014, Hartley joined The Young and the Restless as longtime
character Adam Newman.

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Almost by default, the 40-year-old actor was known as “The Young and the Restless star” or
“daytime star” when he initially joined the NBC series. “People know what they
know you from,” Hartley says, acknowledging the sometimes limited scope of
viewers, who may not have followed his career from one series to the next. In
fact, a fan who knew him for playing Fox Crane recently walked up to him on the
street and asked, “So, what happened after that? Did you quit?”

“Work begets work. I’ve always taken the jobs -- I’ve tried
to take the jobs where the story is full or the characters are full,” Hartley
says, not insulted the fan didn’t know his subsequent roles or that new fans
may not be familiar with his prior work. “People are so busy nowadays. Any time
you can get people to watch you on anything, it’s very flattering.”

So to be on a hit show like This Is Us is very humbling for Hartley, who says the biggest
challenge is “servicing the script” week to week. “There's nothing worse when
you have a job and you read something and you're like, ‘God. How am I possibly
going to make this work?’” Hartley reveals. “But there's also something very
daunting about reading a script and being like, ‘Oh my God, I hope I'm good
enough to make this work,’ which is where I'm at right now.”

Getty Images

Hartley credits Fogelman and the show’s strong stories,
which has seen Kevin, one-third of the show’s central triplets -- twins Kate (Chrissy
) and Kevin and adoptive brother Randall (Sterling K. Brown) -- and an
actor on The Manny, quit his hit sitcom to escape to New
York City in hopes of upping his credibility with a role onstage. There, he
falls in and out of love with both his co-star and playwright while also
dealing with the ghost of his father (played by Milo Ventimiglia in flashbacks)
and his ex-wife Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge). 

In some ways the role is a meta experience for Hartley, a traditionally
handsome actor expanding his range, who also went through a divorce in 2012
after his first marriage to his Passions
co-star Lindsay Korman fell apart after eight years. Now, he’s engaged to
actress Chrishell Stause and busy planning their wedding (“I have the best
bride”). He’s more than just abs and a pretty face. “I steal from everything
all the time,” Hartley says of pulling from his own real-life experiences,
which includes being a father to his 12-year-old daughter with Korman, Isabella
Justice Hartley.

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The show’s layered way of presenting its male characters has
also impacted his views on masculinity and fatherhood. “It’s reinforced a lot
of things I thought before. One of the things I constantly do is try to show my
daughter what that is, what that means, what a man does,” Hartley explains. “I
try to show her that by example. I want her to find somebody that obviously
measures up -- she's wonderful -- and that deserves her. And there obviously
isn't anyone that does, but we'll get close, hopefully.” The themes on This Is Us are especially interesting
for Hartley, who is not afraid to be vulnerable. “There’s a time and a place
where [being] a father is important, or a brother, or a relationship with a
buddy,” he says of what it is to be a man.

Hartley’s greatest takeaway from being on This Is Us, and one that he hopes fans embrace
as well, is slowing life down to “savor the flavor.” He hopes that audiences
are moved by the show and are inspired to call someone they haven’t talked to
in a while or reconnect with a distant friend. “We’ve had stories on our show
that I think, no matter where you come from, they can touch you,” he says,
thankful that the show is as good as it is and that audiences are receiving it
well. “I’m lucky and happy and humbled to be on it.” 

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