GQ – Justin Hartley is used to attention. He’s on NBC’s This Is Us, one of the biggest shows on TV. Almost 9 million people watched the other week. He’s starred in network TV shows, day in, day out, for years. He carried one of those high-velocity technical bow-and-arrow rigs as Green Arrow way back in the Smallville days. So sitting still while a stylist futilely tries to accentuate his already perfectly chiseled handsomeness isn’t a tall order.
We talked to him a little about the secret inner life of his This Is Us character, Kevin Pearson; being one step ahead of the great superhero boom; and how he maintains his perfect scruff.
GQ: Your character on This Is Us seems to have it all going on. But clearly that’s not the whole story.
Justin Hartley: You’re told your whole life, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I think people have a hard time not doing that. Here’s this guy that seemingly has everything. He’s fine, he’s got no problems at all. His life is a cakewalk. And then, on top of all of that, you add the fame and you add the money and he’s six two and he’s fine. This guy is amazing—he’s got his health, he’s got a great relationship with his sister. That’s what it looks like on the surface. But when you break this guy down and peel back the layers, you realize that is absolutely not what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
Before This Is Us, you were on The Young and the Restless. I think there are a lot of assumptions about working on a soap opera that are all dated at this point. What’s the day-to-day existence of a soap-opera actor?
I was lucky on that show. I had a character that worked every single day. I’m not gonna lie—it was a grind. You might be on set for five hours on a given particular day, but then you go home and you have to put in five or six hours of study time because you got 30 scenes tomorrow. It’s hard to stay ahead of it. It was difficult but I enjoyed it, and I think I need to say I respect that genre. I expect it to come back—I think we need a few more soap operas, actually. I would love to create one.
You were in Smallville as Green Arrow—I used to watch that show. You even did an Aquaman pilot. What’s it like seeing the boom on TV and film in that genre now? Is it frustrating, in a way?
I think it’s awesome. I would love to get back into it. I would love that to be my next project, maybe a superhero thing. I think that would be really fun to get back into. They’ve come a long way. There are good, quality shows on the CW right now that are superhero shows.
I don’t think that slate would’ve existed without Smallville.
I don’t think they would’ve, either. It was kinda an experiment! When I was on Smallville, I remember they kept saying, “It’s the moments in between the dialogue. You have to ground this thing. We got a guy who can shoot lasers out of his fuckin’ eyeballs. We gotta ground this fuckin’ thing so people can understand it.” So yeah, I would love to dive back into that world. That would be fun.
Last question: How did you perfect the scruffy look?
I just try to keep it simple. Being on the show, I have to keep consistent facial hair and hair on my head for long periods of time. For me, a beard trimmer works. You just set it to the same length each time, and you can just do that every day and not have to worry too much. It’s an interesting thing, this constant relationship you have with your facial hair. I think shaving’s a very personal thing. You can change your look with a razor blade easily. I look at facial hair as, like, makeup for men.