In the fall of 2016, Justin Hartley shocked fans of THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS when he announced his plans to walk away from CBS’ top-rated soap and his pivotal role of Adam Newman. But, having conquered the character’s immense complexity, he wanted to find a new challenge, and boy did he! Upon landing the role of THIS IS US’ Kevin, he was tasked with bringing to life an actor whose career had fallen off track and who was a disaster in relationships, has an alcohol problem and is still grieving the long-ago loss of the father he still wants to please. Needless to say, “I love Kevin!” Hartley enthused to Soaps In Depth. “I can relate to him in the way that he puts on [layers] because he doesn’t want to deal with things that are hard.”
This season on the NBC drama (airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST), Kevin’s journey to Vietnam in search of his father’s wartime secrets led him to discover a doozy: Jack’s brother, Nicky, was still alive! Hartley said that being given that story arc to play was a “humbling” experience. “It was awesome! They have this wonderful show, they write these wonderful characters, and they give you this frontburner storyline — it’s thrilling.”
However, reconnecting with the uncle who had become a recluse while battling both the bottle and post-traumatic-stress disorder for decades was more than Hartley’s character was truly prepared to handle. Says the actor: “I think bringing him back into Kevin’s life [and having him] realize the gravity of that and what it means going forward — and also what it meant for his dad to have been lying to him about [Nicky] being dead — opens up a whole can of worms.”
The actor, who’d already played one heavy storyline after another as Y&R’s black sheep of the Newman family, is up to the challenge. And he appreciates that his THIS IS US arc comes with “a tremendous sense of responsibility because it’s something that is very serious and people everywhere are dealing with addiction, depression and mental health.” Thankfully, the care that Hartley has taken with his nuanced portrayal has paid off. “I think people get really moved,” he shared. “I met a guy who said he hadn’t talked to a sister in six years, and because of the show, they’re no longer estranged. That stuck with me.”
Hartley said his relationship with bride Chrishell Hartley (ex-Bethany; now Jordan, DAYS OF OUR LIVES) remains “wonderful,” so it’s more likely that it’s the roller-coaster ride that Y&R’s Adam went on with wife Chelsea that prepared him so well for Kevin’s rocky road with THIS IS US’ emotionally-repressed Zoe. Might she finally allow him to get close? “Yeah, it gets more intense, and then some things happen,” previewed the soap vet (who made his daytime debut as Fox Crane on PASSIONS). “It’s written in a way that resembles real life, so it’s not always cupcakes, rainbows and butterflies… Sometimes it’s stormy weather, and sometimes it’s impossible things to overcome. So we’ll see what happens!”
For more on your favorite Y&R stars — past and present — keep reading the CBS edition of Soaps In Depth magazine.
Additional reporting by Deanna Barnert.