Justin Hartley doesn’t play a father on This Is Us, yet, but in real life, he’s a dad to a 13-year-old daughter, Isabella Justice. Before he was cast as Kevin Pearson on the hit NBC drama, Hartley logged time in the soap world on shows like Passions and The Young & The Restless, and on TV shows like Smallville, Revenge, and Mistresses. Tired of the TV pilot grind that frequently took him to auditions on the East Coast and Canada, Justin lucked out when he landed the Los Angeles-based job on This Is Us, which allowed him to remain home in California and close to his daughter.
In a new essay for Glamour, published just in time for Father’s Day, Justin Hartley revealed that seeing how the This Is Us Pearson siblings dealt with their patriarch, Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia), early death made him take a closer look at his own life.
“The Pearson kids lose their father at that age when they need him,” Hartley told Glamour. “How do you make up for that absence? In a weird way, This Is Us makes you want to stay alive as long as you can. Life is delicate. My daughter is 13—so I slow everything down.”
Hartley revealed that when his teen daughter watches the scenes on This Is Us in which Kevin is upset, she sometimes calls him to make sure he’s all right because it doesn’t always seem like he is acting. Hartley explained that he understands her concern because he is also greatly affected by his character’s life and the fact that he lost his father when he was just a teenager.
Justin Hartley also revealed that he thinks about his daughter when he performs in certain scenes on This Is Us, and is reminded that Kevin didn’t have his father for some of the most important moments of his life.
“When I did that scene with Milo [in which Kevin hallucinates and sees his late father as he accepts an alumni award] I think of my daughter,” Justin said.
“I think about how much I’ve taught her and what a sliver it has been so far. I think of all the things I want to teach her and see her go through. I want to walk her down the aisle. I want to be there when her kids are born. I want to call her when her boyfriend breaks up with her, or talk her through a breakup. I want to teach her how to drive. I want to take her to college and make sure she knows everything is OK and I’m only a phone call away. I want to pick her up from college and bring her home. I want to be there at the airport.”
Hartley says he taps into that memorable fantasy scene — the only one in the series thus far that features him acting with Ventimiglia — and he tries to imagine Kevin being in a place where he can experience just one more moment with his father. The This Is Us star also encourages his daughter to have strong relationships with her mother (his ex-wife, Lindsay Hartley), her grandparents, and her stepmom (his wife, Crishelle Stause).
Hartley also revealed that while he has always been a sensitive guy, he hopes This Is Us slowed him down a bit.
“I try not to focus on the things that are out of my control,” Justin said. “I certainly don’t worry about things the way I used to.”
As for parenting a teen, Justin Hartley admits he got lucky. The This Is Us star told People his daughter is anything but angsty. Hartley described Isabella as “a lucky angel.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but she’s fantastic,” he said.
This Is Us returns to NBC this fall.