‘This Is Us’: Justin Hartley On That Car Crash And Kevin “On the Brink” As He Struggles To Be The Perfect Dad

SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the Feb. 9 episode of This Is Us.

After an unplanned scheduling hiatus due to Covid-related production delays during the recent surge of infections in Los Angeles, This Is Us tonight returned with the first of several new episodes which will complete the first half of Season 5. Almost a month after that ominous car crash teaser at the end of the last original aired, we got to find out what exactly happened to Kevin (Justin Hartley) on his way back to Los Angeles for the birth of his children after Madison unexpectedly went into labor at 34 weeks.

The car that had veered off the road in the promo wasn’t Kevin’s. He saw the wreck while driving to Seattle to catch a flight to LA and stopped to help as there was no phone service in the area to call 911. While pulling the injured driver Nate (played by Joshua Malina) from the car that had caught on fire and assisting him, Kevin’s drivers license slipped from his pocket as seen in the promo at the site of the crash.

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Without a photo ID, Kevin was not allowed inside the airport terminal after he dropped off Nate at the hospital. The last we saw him, Kevin was pleading with an officer to let him board his flight.

Madison was not the only mother in labor this episode. Also about to give birth was the woman whose baby Kate and Toby are set to adopt. With Kevin and Kate both occupied, Madison is faced with going through labor and childbirth alone when she gets a call from Randall and Beth who comfort her on the phone.

With the stress over missing his babies’ birth adding to Kevin’s other worries, emotions came to a boiling point in the episode as he abruptly left the set of his movie as he was about to film the pivotal court scene opposite Robert de Niro. He defied the director’s order and his agent’s plea to go back, putting his career in jeopardy.

The episode also juxtaposed Jack’s little league experience being constantly berated by his father with the support Kevin found in super dad Jack as the star high school football player struggled with confidence. It only amplified Kevin’s drive to be there for his babies the way his father was always there for his family.

In an interview with Deadline, Hartley speaks about Kevin’s struggles in the episode and what is in store for him as a new father, fiancé to a woman he barely knows, an actor who just abruptly quit a movie in the middle of the shoot and the challenge to measure up to Jack as a dad.

DEADLINE: Let’s start with where we left Kevin, pleading with an airport officer to let him in without an ID. Will he get on that flight? I checked TSA regulations, it is allowed after an on-site identity verification process that could take up to an hour. 

HARTLEY: I actually did the same thing, and I’ve been in that situation before. There is a way to get on the flight, there is a process, but obviously, they’re not going to delay the flight for you, and he’s crunched for time.  So we don’t know if he made it. I hope that we did a good job of conveying and showing the importance to Kevin of making the births. I know that it’s not technically life and death if he doesn’t make it there on time, but I think the bigger picture is just him and everything that he’s gone through and the fact that he lost his father at such a young age.

And the fact that he’s constantly trying to live up to this man’s idea of who he thought his son was, and the idea of starting this family and his being a father off in a good way, him being there on time and being there for his kids from the very beginning, just like his dad was. I think that’s the significance, not necessarily thinking that if he doesn’t make it there on time, Madison will never forgive him. I don’t think it’s something that shallow.

I think there’s a bigger reason, and I think it would affect him for the rest of his life. When he talks to the TSA agent saying ‘This is going to break me’, I don’t know if he really believes that this is something he’ll ever be able to live down, and it’s not something that he needs. Also remember, this guy is a recovering alcoholic, recovering drug addict, and I think he’s speaking to that a little bit, as well. He is just teetering on the edge, and so I think that’s the bigger idea.

DEADLINE: And if we needed a reminder, the flashbacks in the episode showed what a perfect father Jack was. When Madison first told Kevin about the pregnancy, he was pretty sure he would be good at being a dad. Is his confidence derailed now?

HARTLEY: I think that’s his fear, yeah. And I think that that’s also something that is a pattern with him. He hasn’t been able to start something in a great way and follow through and have the outcome that he wanted or that he feels like he deserved or that he earned, whether it be through injury in football or whether it be through his dad dying at a time when Kevin wasn’t fully formed, and he left a lot to be desired. When Jack died, Kevin was becoming a man, but probably not becoming the man that his dad really wanted him to be.

And now look at him. Who wouldn’t be proud of him? He’s overcome so many things. He’s really working on his sobriety. He’s taking it seriously. He’s succeeding. He’s got twins on the way. His career is off the charts. I want that guy’s career.

But I think that there’s a sadness there, there’s a sadness and an emptiness. You just wish that your dad could be there to, as Foster says, give him an ‘atta-boy’ and just look at him and say, ‘man, I’m proud of you’, and he knows it. I think he knows that his dad would be proud, but there’s a difference between knowing that your dad would be proud, but wanting him to be there and be proud of yourself.

I guess what I’m saying is there’s an overwhelming sadness that will never go away for Kevin losing his dad so early. Now he’s dealing with the thing with his mom and his brother and the twins coming, and he can’t make it there on time, and the movie, and everything’s just colliding. He feels himself getting overwhelmed, and we all know what happens when Kevin gets overwhelmed. Nothing good happens. It’s usually like a trip to the clinker. Yeah, he’s on the brink.

DEADLINE: Indeed, things got very intense in the car. He was so stressed and emotional, it got dangerous, him constantly looking at his phone, prompting viewers to remind him to watch the road.

HARTLEY: Yeah, what are you doing looking at your phone? Stop texting.

DEADLINE: A couple of calls were about his movie, which he quit over the phone, didn’t listen to the director or his agent to turn back and kept driving. Is his career now in jeopardy?

HARTLEY: Gosh, he’s not helping it. I’m trying to go over the scenario of if I just left in the middle of the day. I work with different people, though. On This Is Us, if someone just left in the middle of the day, that would be highly irregular. We’ve never had that happen, but if it did happen, I think everyone would assume that hell is freezing over; I think my first thought would be make sure that person’s okay because something big is going on.

But he’s working on this movie, and they’re not necessarily a family. He barely knows Foster. He’s never met de Niro, and the movie’s just getting started, so it’s one of those things. I would imagine that that kind of behavior would follow you around for a while. I don’t think it’s a good thing. I would be sort of hesitant to hire someone that quits movies every once in a while, you know? It’s a tough one; I really think he was stuck, though. It was one or the other. He couldn’t have both.

DEADLINE: Nate, the person Kevin saved, who in turn may have saved him from the increasingly reckless driving under duress. Would he play a role in Kevin’s and his kids’ life?

HARTLEY: I hope so, because, selfishly, I love Joshua, and I didn’t find out that he was playing that character until the day of, to be quite honest with you. Because of Covid, we keep our distance on set. So I saw him from across the stage, and I’m a fan of his; The West Wing was my show for years, it still is. I still get inspired by it. I’ve been a fan of his for years, so just selfishly, as an actor, I sure hope he comes back. I know he’s a busy man, but he lives in LA, and we shoot in LA, so hopefully we can work something out. I would love to have that. I think that would be a really cool, sweet sort of side story. I like that idea.

DEADLINE: Speaking of Nate and not Kevin being the crash victim, the show fooled us all pretty good with that promo, the car and Kevin’s driver’s license.

HARTLEY: Yeah, me too. How do you think I felt? I watched that, and I was like, wait a minute. What? I thought I had a f*cking job.

DEADLINE: All fans are likely relieved it wasn’t you in that banged-up car.

HARTLEY: Thank you. Some fans probably, not all.

DEADLINE: In the flash-forwards, we have seen the twins, so we know they turn out OK. Yet, right now they are preemies born at 34 weeks. Will there be health complications for them in the near term, will Kevin and Madison face challenges with them?

HARTLEY: I don’t want to give too much away.  I would say yes, in any circumstance, whether there’s complications or not, they’re going to challenge us. I have one daughter, she’s 16, and I will tell you that it’s complicated. So, yeah, there will definitely be drama, and also it impacts their relationship as well. These two are just trying to figure things out as adults, and then you bring two more family members in. This is not like getting a puppy,, this is totally different. So, yeah, I think that it certainly lends itself to a lot of rich, real drama that happens in real life.

DEADLINE: But nothing serious medically in the vein of what Kate and Toby had to go through with little Jack who also was a preemie?

HARTLEY: I would love to answer but by answering that question I would be giving away too much. Great question, though. I really hate to do that to you. I hate when people ask me really good questions and I can’t answer them.

DEADLINE: What else is coming up for Kevin, including his relationships with the rest of the family? As we saw in the episode, things with his brother seem to be getting better.

HARTLEY:  The gesture that his brother would fill in for him and would do what he thinks Kevin would do for him. It just shows Randall’s heart, and I think sometimes when you have a family dynamic that is two people, brothers in this case, that don’t really talk because of whatever reasons… I mean, it wasn’t like someone stole something. It was just a difference of opinion about a really important topic about the health of their mother.

I think something like that is what’s needed sometimes to get things back on the right track. So that’s good. And he’ll also be juggling his career and his family. He and Madison have to figure out what exactly they are still. I mean, what are they? I think their love is growing. I think their fondness for each other is growing. I think they’re now tied to each other. She’s pregnant with his twins, and they’re getting to know each other, and now you throw this into the mix. He’s also got his ailing mother and kind of trying to figure that out.

I think a lot of it is putting pieces back together. What is his career going to be,? How does he fix that, if he even wants to fix that? Is that something that he has decided, you know what, I guess this isn’t what I want? People have done that. So this is Kevin, we’re just going to continue to see him grow up.

DEADLINE: Will there be another dark down-spiral like the one Kevin went through a couple of years ago? And when is Nicky resurfacing? In the flash-forwards, he’s in Kevin’s house. 

HARTLEY: That’s a tough question because, as an actor, selfishly, that’s something great to sink your teeth into when your character is not doing well, but I don’t know. I think it would be something different. I don’t know if we want to see another one of those. Although, who knows?

This is a real thing. People in recovery, it’s just that. They say one day at at time, one hour at a time for a reason. So I think it’s always a possibility.

I think everything Kevin does, from here on out, will be a little bit different because he has more of a responsibility now to Madison, to his family, patching things up with his brother, his mom is ailing. I think everything from here on out will be so selfless when it comes to Kevin and how he handles things, but I also think there’s that struggle, you know, because, I mean, how far away do you ever really get from who you were? We’ll find out I guess. We’ll find out.


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