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Jon Huertas On How This Is Us’ Miguel Rivas Is Breaking Latino Stereotypes
When Jon Huertas first auditioned for the part of the small, recurring role of Jack Pearson’s best friend on This Is Us, the name on the script read “Michael.” He figured the network TV gig would be a short-lived stint. But after accepting the job, he learned the writers had expanded the part into a supporting character role with a crucial storyline—and that they’d changed the name of the character, too.
Huertas, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, wouldn’t be playing Michael, but instead Miguel Rivas.
“I’ll be honest: They changed the name to Miguel without me knowing,” Huertas tells Esquire.com. “I don’t know if I would have necessarily been on board with that, because one of the things that I think Hollywood and the TV and film industry does is it reinforces profiling. There are Latinos that are named like me—Jon.”
“I’ll be honest, they changed the name to Miguel without me knowing. I don’t know if I would have necessarily been on board with that.”
It’s unclear whether Michael or Miguel was always supposed to be Hispanic, especially since the character doesn’t reinforce racial stereotypes. Huertas says the entertainment industry still has a long way to go before reaching equality entirely, but This Is Us moves Latinos further along in that direction.
On the NBC drama, Miguel is simply known as Jack’s best friend, who romances Jack’s widow, Rebecca, after his death. The love story is controversial, to say the least, but it’s a storyline that could easily fit a white, black, or Latino character. Huertas thinks this is one of the most important aspects about his character.
“When Miguel gets married to Rebecca, he is actually very wealthy, and very successful,” he says. “That’s what I love about Miguel. Latinos and Latinas play four archetypes: We play low-wage workers like a cop or fireman, Latinas play overly sexualized characters, and we also play crime bosses or low-level gangsters. Miguel is a really successful, strong character that is loyal to his best friend, so to me he is a strong, positive character.”
This Is Us is currently in its third season, and in the first two seasons, Miguel’s heritage was not discussed. Huertas hopes that will change soon.
“I had a conversation with the writers because we haven’t talked about Miguel’s ethnicity that much,” he says. “We haven’t talked about the fact that [Miguel and Rebecca] have one of the only interracial relationships on television.”
Jon Huertas and his wife, Nicole Bordges.
Getty ImagesNeilson Barnard
In real life, Huertas has been married to his wife Nicole Bordges, who is white, for four years, so he can relate to Miguel and Rebecca’s dynamic.
“A Latino married to a white woman is, in my opinion, the way the world is, so for me—as a Latino and afro-Latino—it was important that we are going to nod to that this year,” he says. “It’s taken three seasons to really nod to the Latino aspect of my character, and it’s something that I think is very important.”
“It’s taken three seasons to really nod to the Latino aspect of my character, and it’s something that I think is very important.”
While filming, Huertas says he has thrown in a few Spanish ad-libs into the dialogue to help highlight Miguel’s background, but it hasn’t made it onto the show yet. “They always cut out Spanish because it’s always improv—it’s never in the script, but I think we’re actually going to see a little bit of interactions between Miguel and Toby that speaks to it,” Huertas says.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dan Fogelman and co-showrunners Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, who are all white, assembled a team of diverse writers to help tell the storylines of Randall and Beth, who are both black.
“Our black writers [of which there are three on a staff of 10 this season] get a bigger voice in those stories,” Aptaker told THR in 2017. “But we’ve really, really tried to make the writers room a place where we can have those kinds of conversations—the kinds you don’t have permission to have in your daily life.”
Huertas says he thinks Latino writers should be hired to help tell Miguel’s story. “We need more writers, directors and producers who are Latino and can bring an approach that Latinos and Latinas can integrate into any society, any family,” he says, “because we are strong and we can be successful.”
But the struggle for a more diverse Hollywood is nothing new. In 2016, the issue became headline news after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy led many A-list actors like Will Smith and George Clooney to speak out against the awards show. That same year, only two Latino actors were nominated at the 2016 Emmy Awards, and none were recognized in a top acting category, according to The Guardian.
Some improvement was made at the 2018 Emmy Awards. The National Association of Latino Independent Producers noted this year Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez earned nominations for Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated for his guest spot on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and John Leguizamo was nominated for Waco.
But no Latino actors were nominated at the 2018 Oscars. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January the Academy Awards hadn’t had a Hispanic acting nominee since 2012, when Mexican-American actor Demián Bichir was recognized for his role as an undocumented worker in A Better Life.
“We haven’t had a Latino nominated for an Academy Award in many years, and he was nominated for playing a gardener,” Huertas says. “I don’t see as many adult male Latinos spotlighted as we should.”