You've seen Jon Huertas' face everywhere. The actor came off a 173-episode run on Castle before joining the cast of NBC's smash hit This Is Us, a series whose men recently scored the title of Sexiest Cast Alive from People Magazine. Yet one of the star's biggest accomplishments has nothing to do with what show he's currently on.
When not playing the role of the Big Three's step-father Miguel on the family drama, Huertas is committed to his work with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, an organization committed to ending homelessness in the city of angels by creating "pathways out of poverty." On Saturday, November 18, Huertas participated in the HomeWalk, a 5K walk/run which, this year, raised over $1 million dollars that, according to the organization's website, will go directly to the homeless of Los Angeles.
Huertas' passion for the cause comes partially from his ability to recognize how easy it is to end up without a roof over one's head. For two weeks, this was the actor's reality — and now, he wants to help those with even more challenging circumstances get out of that predicament.
Speaking to Refinery29, Huertas discussed his work with United Way, as well as where This Is Us is heading and which character's journey he has most related to thus far.
Why are you passionate about helping your homeless neighbors in Los Angeles?
"I think people living without a roof over their head, without shelter, is inhuman. I live in Venice Beach, California, and there is a large homeless [population] here. It's a 'nicer' place to be homeless, because of the weather [and the fact that] there's showers, there's bathrooms... but at the same time, we know that within the homeless community, there can be illnesses, transmitted viruses.
"Everyone should be treated like a part of society, of a family, part of a tribe. I've always had this tribal mentality. To help someone, it's always the first thing I think of when I wake up. What can I do to help somebody? With United Way, I think it's one of the best things to raise awareness, raise money, and get people involved in the community. Since 2006, the Home Walk has housed 18,000 people. It's proof positive that when people in Los Angeles come together, it can be astronomical, the results.
"For me, personally, there was a time when I didn't have a home for about two weeks. I was living in a truck with my dogs, and I can't say it was a very pleasant experience. I can't imagine what it would be like for people who had it way worse off than I did."
What do you wish people knew about the homeless population?
"People should change their attitude towards our homeless neighbors. You approach someone on the street, right now, and people's natural reaction is to pretend that they are not there, to cross the street, to ignore them. What I've learned, from working with the homeless, is that it's the hardest thing to deal with. The fact that people treat them like they are not people. They are people. Even if you don't have change or a dollar to give them, if you can give them a greeting, a smile... It's going to greatly affect their own self-esteem, their own attitude."
Do you think This Is Us is helping audiences become more empathetic?
"[Yes.] You see a different set of norms on [This Is Us.] [Some] people treat people with weight problems [like Kate on This Is Us] similarly to how they treat homeless people. They are shunned, in a way. I think that showing this person has an amazing heart, an amazing talent, and an amazing life we can follow is important. I think it's working for the audience that we have in a profound way. It's [wonderful] to us.
"It's a great show, we have great writers. I can't say enough about the cast. I've never been so lucky to work with a cast like this."
How did you feel about the men of This Is Us receiving the title of Sexiest Cast Alive from People?
"I take credit for that. I think I'm probably the reason we won that. [Laughs] It's great. I don't think it comes from just looks, even though there are some good-looking people on the show. I think sexiness comes from what's inside of a person, and all of the characters, for the most part, have great qualities, and the actors themselves, every single one has a huge heart. They're the nicest people you could ever meet in person. I think it comes through when they do their interviews, when they're walking the red carpet, when you see them onscreen — it just translates."
Which This Is Us character do you connect with the most on the show?
"Kevin. I connect the most with Kevin, not just because he's an actor, I'm an actor... My story is very similar to Kevin's, in terms of how I always wanted the love and attention of my mother, that I didn't think I was getting, but I also wasn't understanding what she was going through. I lived with my grandparents, I couldn't live with [my mother]. She told me that it gave me a better life... but I didn't realize that at all as a kid. I excelled at sports, at football, and I always wanted her to come to games. I started doing theater, acting, because I wanted her to see [the shows.] I wanted her to see me do so well, as an actor or at sports, that she would say 'Come live with me.' [That is part of] why I relate to Kevin.
"As an actor, Kevin got his accolades at the beginning of his career because of his physicality, but that's not who he is. Me being a Latino actor, at the beginning of my career, which was, 20 years ago, there were limited roles. I wasn't considered an actor who happens to be Latino, I was a 'Latino actor.' For Kevin, his body comes first, then his talent, and he wants to change that. He feels he has more to offer than that, which is why, in the first season, he went off to Broadway. It's the same for an actor who is Black, Latino, Asian — instead of being considered an ethnicity, we hope to be an actor who happens to be that ethnicity."
Are we going to see more of how Rebecca and Miguel got together this season?
"We'll see a little bit more this season... and then [in season 3], we will dive into Rebecca and Miguel and how they really got together and started toying with the idea of moving forward with their relationship. It's scary to take on this story, because there's already a bit of resistance from the audience on the relationship. We're taking our time with it. We had a meeting this season about how Miguel and Rebecca actually connected, and when, and it all played out very, very well. We're looking at a nice way to smooth it out, and introduce this to the characters.
"To me, it's a huge and great challenge to convince people that they should like Miguel and Rebecca. It would be boring to have everyone absolutely loving everything about the relationship because then there's nothing to overcome... Mandy and I have to work on our choices as actors, the writers have to work on getting us to... understand why Rebecca would want to date Miguel to begin with."
Does Jack's alcoholism affect his relationship with Miguel?
"It affects it in some ways, but they are best friends. The support that Miguel has for Jack, and vice versa, is pretty deep. I think we'll get into that, as seasons go by, why [Miguel and Jack] are so connected. I think that addiction is going to play, not only with Jack, but another character as well. I think you'll see more of that this season."
Rebecca and Miguel connected via social media. Do you use social media often?
"I try to keep up with things on social media, more so than anything else. I use Facebook to find interesting stories, some things I can't find on CNN, or a news app. Those stories, they all overlap, and it's all about the same thing. I want to stay up with current events, but I want to see some happier stories! I want to go down the rabbit hole of every country's 'Got Talent' show, and see kids in Syria singing in front of thousands of people, and be proclaimed as talented, and cry. I usually sit around on Sunday morning [watching those videos], eating my breakfast, and crying."
Not many people realize that you portrayed Brad on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Do you have any thoughts on The CW's new Sabrina-centric series?
"I wish them luck on that. I think it'll be different from my old show. It's almost like the [Grimm fairy tale] version of the show. I think taking a darker approach to shows like that is a little more interesting to me. [It's like how] I would watch every single fairy tale adaptation if they did them like Brothers Grimm [originally wrote the fairy tales]... People get ripped apart, murdered, killed... It's crazy."
What advice would you give an aspiring actor just moving to Los Angeles?
"When you get out to [Los Angeles], you don't realize you could be auditioning for someone who has been doing this for 30 years, who everybody knows. I have a story about auditioning against one of my heroes. Esai Morales is one of the first actors that I saw in a film that reminded me of me, that reflected my own experience. My first year here, I had an audition, and [Morales] was auditioning for that very same role. I was very self-conscious... I almost psyched myself out of a job.
"Become the artist who can compete, and then dive into it. If you're really, really good, and the best that you can be, it's hard to deny that you have that skill when you're actually in the room. You might not get the job, but you made a fan: Someone knows you're good at what you do, and when you get back into that room, one day, you'll be right for the role that they are casting. A lot of people say that when you're getting into this business, you have to face a lot of rejection. But if you're the best you can be, and really good at what you do, then you're just not right for that job, or it's not right for you... You will work, when it's your time."