Jon Huertas Reunites With 'This Is Us' Co-Star Justin Hartley for 'Tracker'

Jon Huertas and Justin Hartley

Once a Pearson, always a Pearson. For this week's episode of CBS' Tracker, Justin Hartley reunites with his This Is Us costar Jon Huertas, but you won't actually see their reunion on screen. Huertas directed "Aurora," which takes rewardist Colter Shaw (Hartley) to a small town for a case that's bound to be a dark one—a father is desperately hoping to find his daughter, who is still missing after her best friend was found dead three years ago. The search for what is most likely a dead body leads Colter into the world of ghost hunting, complete with a "haunted" mental hospital. Things get quite spooky, and there are surprises around every turn.

It's new territory for Huertas and for Tracker, but a welcome reunion for the old coworkers. Huertas played Miguel Rivas, the eventual second husband of Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and stepdad to Kevin (Hartley), on NBC's This Is Us. The cast was so close they became like a real family, and they're even preparing to launch a rewatch podcast. It was a no-brainer for Huertas, who had already directed two episodes of This Is Us, to sign on as a director when Hartley and This Is Us director Ken Olin started working on Tracker.

"It definitely creates a shorthand and a rapport between myself and Justin and Ken," Huertas tells Parade. "Because This Is Us was such a family show, it really lends itself to us staying connected. A lot of the emotions that you bring to the work, they bleed into our personal lives…We're always trying to figure out how to work together and how to still be together."

Tracker is about as far from a family show as you can get, but in an interview with Parade, Huertas detailed how he crafted "Aurora" with help from Hartley, Olin and a real abandoned hospital.

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What was it like working with Justin in this capacity, as the star and EP?

Huertas: It was great. I mean, he's the tracker. So he's working all the time, every day, almost every scene, so he's busy. So until he gets to the set, I really don't see him...but then we have we have a great working rapport and shorthand when it comes to if I think I'd like to do a different take, a different choice, or if I'm giving Justin a suggestion. He's always happy to to run with it and try it. And it's a really great, collaborative working relationship that we have. And he's just so good at what he does that it makes my job easy.

<p>Photo by Michael Courtney/CBS via Getty Images</p>

Photo by Michael Courtney/CBS via Getty Images

"Aurora" feels like a different vibe than other episodes of Tracker, with the ghost-hunting themes. How did you tackle that?

It's fun, but definitely still grounded. What I loved about this episode is that it's more like a thriller. To me it feels reminiscent of, like, the movie Prisoners, elements of Seven, but also the found-footage type of stuff that we've seen in like The Blair Witch Project. How I think we were able to keep it so grounded is that these kids are film students. What we're experiencing as the audience, is it something that they've created within our episode as characters, or is it real? You want to let the audience make their own decision, but it's really a great way for us to ground it and make sure that we keep it in the Tracker world. Colter is a skeptic, so he doesn't believe in it. I think that he represents us, the audience, and we see everything through his eyes, right. So we were able to keep it nice and real and grounded, and I think that's what makes a great episode. It's personal.

How much freedom do you have as a director on a show like this, where every episode is in a new town with all new characters and sets?

Quite a bit of freedom. We get to start prep seven days before actually the first day of filming and it was supposed to be Vermont. So the idea is to find stuff that you know is synonymous with Vermont, location wise. That's what I love about directing—you have to be creative in every aspect of what you're doing. You go look at a house or a basement or a building and go, how can we turn this into what we need it to be? It's always fun. The director, for the most part, gets to pick the locations, and it's fun to explore someone else's town. You're going into people's houses, places of work, parks, rivers, all these things you get to experience as a director just as part of your job, you're exploring a town or city. It's all really fun.

Speaking of locations, tell me about the haunted hospital. How did you create that set?

It was amazing. The building that they are walking into is a former mental hospital, just like exactly like what we were supposed to be shooting. There were a lot of creepy rooms, and it makes you just wonder and imagine what was going on in this place. You go into one of these rooms that feels like it hasn't been touched in forty years, and you're just drawing your own picture. I couldn't imagine what it was like for a patient at this hospital. We also went into the basement and the attic with all these nooks and crannies and found great places to shoot. You just see history and you feel the energy, the essence of this building and what kind of experiences people probably had.

Related: 'Tracker' Renewed for Season 2: What We Know So Far

No actual hauntings on set?

Nah, not to my recollection. I'm a skeptic just like Colter, so there were other people that were a little freaked out, but I was like, "Oh, come on."

What do you think the secret is to creating the kind of working relationships you had on This Is Us?

You know, it starts at the top. And I think that we had a great executive producer in Dan Fogelman. He sets the bar by basically having a "no as-hole" policy, and as long as everyone stays true to that… I think what helped us is that everyone just really always wanted to do great work, for the other actors, for the directors, for the crew and for everybody watching the show. We wanted to do great work and that meant coming to work always prepared, always ready to go. And you can't help but be in awe of the entire cast and all of the talented crew members and writers all the time, and that carries over to the screen, all that love and all that talent. How can you not stay connected to the people when it's over?

You've also directed Milo Ventimiglia on The Company You Keep and Castle co-star Nathan Fillion on The Rookie. What is it like going from co-stars to director-actor?

I mean, they're all amazing. I think what's great about everyone that I've directed so far, not only on This Is Us but after, has been people that I've worked with. They all trust me. And they all seems like they're fans of my direction. They trust that I'm not steering them in the wrong direction. So they're all super easy. As long as you have that kind of trust between actors, if you decide to change lanes and start directing, that mutual respect is still there, and that trust is there. So all three of the people that I've directed after This Is Us, from Milo to Nathan to Justin that I worked with as an actor, all three have been just incredible and encouraging. "Come back, do it again." Means that didn't mess up and piss them off, so that's good.

Is this what you want to be doing full time, or are you also interested in more acting?

If it's the right role, I think I'd definitely consider it and want to do it. I'm also developing my own stuff, but I love directing and this is something I want to move into. I decided when This Is Us was ending that I'm not gonna look for a job right away as an actor. I want to immerse myself into directing and really make it a professional choice to do this. But for the right role, I wouldn't mind jumping back in front of the camera, but I want to be picky. I feel like I have a responsibility to jump in front of the camera for other young actors like me, from my background. Being Latinx, I wanted to make sure they had somebody that they can see on the other side of the camera that understands why we're making the choices. Also, if I could influence casting choices, give people opportunity. I feel a responsibility to that with the amount of experience that I've already had in front of the camera, it's what I'm supposed to be doing.

Are there plans for you to direct more Tracker?

Justin and Ken have already asked me, "Would you come back?" And I'm like, "Absolutely." I would love to come back and do as many as they'll allow me to. It means more trips to Vancouver!

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