By Alicia Rancilio
On NBC’s “This is Us,” Justin Hartley played Kevin Pearson: a man whose dreams of playing college football were derailed — so he decided to try acting and ended up becoming a big star.
Hartley’s own story has strong parallels. He enjoyed playing sports growing up but realized as he got older that he was not cut out to play professionally.
“You realize that there are too many people who are way better than you. There’s no room for you anymore. You have to find something else to do,” he told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Like Kevin, that something else turned out to be acting. While in college, Hartley joined a theater troupe where audience members could take the stage and join in the dialogue, leaving the actors to do with it.
“The way you prepare for something like that is you just do a lot of improv work, so you’re kind of prepared for anything. They come in, they think they’re smart, they say something, you’ve heard it before. And I just fell in love with that energy,” he said. “You get that same kind of adrenaline rush from playing sports.”
Fueled by the boldness of youth and the absence of real responsibility, Hartley decided to move to Los Angeles and join the countless other aspiring actors in search of their big break.
” I do not know anyone. I have no prospects. I don’t have a job in LA. I have never been. I don’t have any talent to speak of and I don’t know how to develop it,” Hartley said. “‘OK, let’s go to Los Angeles and roll the dice and see what happens.’ Makes me sweat a little just thinking about it.
The experience obviously paid off, but it wasn’t until “This is Us” debuted in 2016 that Hartley achieved a level of fame that led to safety and opportunity. He has his own production company, Change Up Productions, where he develops projects.
“You watch TV and streaming. There are a million things out there. There are a million roles. They don’t compare to the number of talented actors out there,” Hartley said.
Hartley’s first major role since “This is Us” aired its series finale last May is Netflix’s holiday movie “The Noel Diary,” based on the novel by Richard Paul Evans. He plays a popular author who returns to his childhood home to settle his late mother’s estate and finds an old diary that leads him down the path of romance and reconciliation.
The film is directed by Charles Shyer, who directed “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II.”
“We shot this movie a while ago, so for people to finally see it, that’s pretty exciting to me,” Hartley said, adding that even though the story is set around Christmas, they shot in the middle of summer.
“It was in the 90s and it was heavy. And (Shyer) would look at me and say, ‘I’m so sorry. You must be miserable. It was hot,” he added. “It was uncomfortable, I guess, because they kept putting coats on us, but it wasn’t miserable. It was magical. It was wonderful. Celebrating Christmas in the summer and also celebrating in the winter is pretty cool.
Hartley just shot a pilot with former “This is Us” executive producer and director Ken Olin for CBS called “The Never Game,” based on a book by Jeffrey Deaver. He is also co-executive producer.
“I think it’s kind of a throwback to older classic television, those characters that you don’t really see anymore,” he said.
He also recently starred in an episode of NBC’s reboot “Quantum Leap” with his wife, Sofia Pernas. The two had shared a few scenes on “The Young & the Restless” before, he said, but didn’t really know each other – so he considers this the first time he’s really worked with her.
“She’s hilarious. It cracks me up to do that. Sophia is my best friend. She is my wife. I love her to death,” he said. “She means everything to me, but my character on this show — she bored her and I thought that was pretty funny. We had a blast.