Anyone watching the second season of This Is Us is well aware that the Pearson family has really been put through the ringer. But of the “triplets,” aka the Big Three, it seems that Justin Hartley’s Kevin has had a lot in particular to deal with. Of course, for Justin this is probably child’s play compared to, you know, saving the planet from the forces of evil. As many of his fans are probably aware, he was a recurring character on the Superman prequel series Smallville as Green Arrow. Before that, however, he actually played Arthur Curry, better known as Aquaman, in Mercy Point, a pilot that absolutely seemed to be going forward to series, but didn’t.

Much as they did with Clark Kent in Smallville, executive producers Al Gough and Miles Millar attempted to take the character of Arthur Curry on the road (or waterway) to his destiny as ruler of the seas. The potential series would have involved Arthur on a quest to unlock the secrets of the past and connect them to his future, exploring the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle at the same time.

“We had seen Justin very early in the process. Literally he was one of the first five people that Miles and I saw,” Al recalls. “We thought he was terrific, but like any casting situation, we cast him over the course of a couple of months.”

Greg Beeman, who directed Mercy Reef, adds, “We saw hundreds of people; as many big, tall, strapping blond guys that exist. We saw casting tapes from Australia, we saw casting tapes from England and Scotland and Germany. And we read people in Florida, where we would be shooting. As to why Justin, first of all he looks like Aquaman. He’s blond, he’s got a great smile and when he takes his shirt off, it’s obvious he’s already done the work, because his body looks like Aquaman. Second, he was able to do the comedy.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

“We came close to casting another actor, but over those months the script had gotten funnier and he just didn’t seem comfortable with the humor,” points out Al. “Justin came back in, read the scenes and just knocked it out of the park. And, truthfully, he looked like the character. He came in on a Friday, was cast on a Monday and was on the plane Tuesday to Miami for filming. He had dive training, was certified and we were off to the races. That’s the weird thing about casting. You always think that somebody better is going to come along, and nobody did in this case.”

As Greg explains it, Arthur Curry was designed to be a character who was going to evolve, but at the same time he was meant to be different from Clark Kent [on Smallville]. “He was not that worried about hiding his powers and not that burdened by the pain of his life,” he says. “He was sort of going through life blowing things off, not taking things too seriously, and being a bit of a cad. He would have been redeemed as the series went on. Any time you have a character like that, it’s hard, because he has to remain charming while being a little irresponsible. Actors like Brad Pitt can pull that off, but it’s hard to find actors who can be funny and you love him while he’s not necessarily doing the right thing. Justin could deliver all of that and more.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

For his part, Justin was thrilled to be cast in the role (and even more so later when, after Mercy Reef failed to go forward, he found himself cast as Green Arrow), but there were many challenges he faced, not the least of which is the fact that Aquaman tends to hang out underwater.

“We would go out into the ocean,” he told Voices From Krypton magazine. “Everybody had wet suits on. I didn’t realize how cold it gets without a wet suit; just wearing swim trunks and board shorts, and I would swim from one diver to another diver and share their air. I was down in the ocean for 20 minutes at a time without an air tank, breathing off of other people’s tanks. I’m not afraid of water, but I had never done that before. When you’re acting, you don’t want to have that fear in your mind, because then you can’t concentrate on your work. I’m a fantastic swimmer, but I was not a diver. I had never gone scuba diving; I was basically a stroke swimmer.”

Pilots, says Al, are always a learning experience. On Mercy Reef it was one important lesson: “We can’t put people in the ocean at midnight; they’ll freeze to death.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

According to Greg, shooting definitely got off on a wrong and potentially dangerous foot. “Our very first day was Justin in a pool on a sort of bungee cord that was designed to pull him very quickly through the water,” he explains. “We had a gigantic blue screen in the pool, so we could use it for whatever shots we wanted of him swimming later. We probably did 60 or 80 takes of various swimming. You know, ‘Swim left,’ ‘Swim right,’ ‘Swim over the camera,’ ‘Swim under the camera.’ But by the end of the first day in the water, he went to the hospital, because his eyes were lacerated with chlorine. He couldn’t open his eyes. He spent, like, 14 hours in a chlorinated pool and his eyes were swollen shut. We had a couple of days off after that and we never had that problem again, but on that whole show Al and Miles and I would constantly turn to each other and say, ‘What have we gotten ourselves in to?’ Because it was just so big and we were trying to figure out how we were going to do this on a series.”

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(Photo Credit: Warner Bros)

Obviously that never became an issue, which is okay with Justin. “Thank God I kept my head about me,” he noted. “The whole time I kept in mind that I was doing a pilot. Everyone started to say Aquaman was a sure thing. I just kept telling myself I got hired to do a pilot. Just do this pilot and see what happens. My work on Aquaman is something I’m really proud of. People got to see my work ethic. I think that translated into a role on Smallville, which is great. That’s what I was always told as a kid: Work hard. Well, it definitely does pay off.”