By Kat Castagnoli
He may perhaps be best known as Miguel on NBC’s Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning family drama, This Is Us.
Yet actor and Air Force veteran Jon Huertas is no stranger to bringing his real-life military experience to other roles as well. For eight seasons, Huertas starred as detective and Army veteran Javier Esposito in the ABC series, Castle. He also appeared as Ramirez, a Marine Recon Sniper Spotter, in JAG, and retired Marine Sergeant Jack Kale, in NCIS.
A pivotal role for Huertas was in David Simon’s HBO miniseries, Generation Kill, as Sgt. Tony “Poke” Espera.
The series offered a unique perspective on the 2003 invasion of Iraq – an event that hit home for Huertas, who served an eight-year stint in the Air Force in both Operation Just Cause (Panama) and Desert Storm (the first war in Iraq) as an aircraft nuclear/conventional weapons specialist.
Bringing even more veteran diversity and inclusivity to the film and television industry is on the actor’s radar and also part of his latest venture.
Alongside fellow collaborator Kenny Stevenson, Huertas recently launched the production shingle, WestSide Stories. He says the new company has several projects in various stages of development – most of them featuring at least one military veteran or active-duty character.
“With our company, we have ‘diversity’ at the heart of every story we want to tell,” he said, “and for me personally, having an active-duty member of the uniformed services or a veteran with a positive portrayal of that type of character is paramount to each and every one of our stories.”
In addition to adding more military/veteran positive roles on the big screen, Huertas is also an advocate for giving Hollywood executives, directors, writers and producers more access to military bases – Air Force in particular – so those on-screen portrayals are more accurate as well.
“One reason I think it’s important to see what the Air Force does is that it’s a lot more than fighter planes and bombers,” he said. “There are so many things the Air Force does that gets overlooked because most stories about a military event or conflict involve the Army, the Marines or Navy, with the Air Force in just an air support role.
“Which is so important…. it’s how you win wars,” Huertas explained, “But it’s also important to shine a light on the other people who volunteer their lives in service of this country. The more we can show people, the more they’ll want to tell stories about it.”
A Born Actor
Born in New York City to a Puerto Rican father and a Caucasian mother, Huertas was raised primarily by his grandparents. He began acting when he was just 10 years old, taking part in school plays. Reportedly, Huertas once had to sing a solo at his strict Catholic school and his performance so moved a nun – who had instructed him to do so as a punishment – that the experience helped him make up his mind to pursue acting.
“The Air Force was an important stepping stone leading into my entertainment career,” Huertas said. “It allowed me to take advantage of getting a higher education, and I found it and the men and women I served with were very supportive and that’s what you need to succeed in this business, and any really, the support of your people.”
Huertas finished his college degree in theater while in the Air Force. He landed his first uncredited role in 1993 in The Webbers, but in 1998, portrayed Joe Negroni in the romantic drama, Why Do Fools Fall in Love? alongside Halle Berry, Paul Mazursky and Ben Vereen. That same year, he landed the role of Antonio in the television series, Moesha, and later played Brad, a witch hunter, in the popular ABC television hit, Sabrina the Teenage Witch – a role for which he was nominated for a 2000 ALMA Award.
But it was Huertas’ role of Detective Esposito in ABC’s police drama, Castle, that earned him and his co-star, Stana Katic, an award for Best Performance in a Drama Episode at the 16th Annual PRISM Awards.
Huertas’ latest projects include a new horror film he both appears in and produced called, Initiation, in May. He also directed a short film that will be debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in June called, Two Jacked, about what happens when the world’s worst carjacker meets the world’s most notorious armed robber.
Apart from his Hollywood roles, Huertas regularly attends charity events benefiting veterans, including Wounded Warriors and Puppies Behind Bars. The Wildlands Network and the Aware Foundation are other organizations close to his heart. Married in Tulum in 2014, Huertas also enjoys spending time with his wife of seven years, Nicole Bordges.
Huertas believes both his military and LatinX roots have definitely influenced how he approaches his roles on screen.
“The Air Force shaped me and I think that we as creatives can show that there are different ways to be influenced in our lives,” Huertas said. “And serving your country can be a very profound way to achieve that.”
He says his background helps him navigate how he protects his characters by knowing when, who, and how to talk to the right person when it comes to any changes that would help round out or authenticate that character’s objective or backstory.
Huertas says this specifically comes from learning and respecting the military’s ‘chain of command.’
“That chain has always served well,” Huertas says. “I think following a good chain of command helps someone identify a great leader, and you want that person to be supporting you in the success of your character or the story you are trying to tell.”
And while there is improvement in incorporating more LatinX characters in entertainment, Huertas feels much more can be done.
“What we see in the media inspires us both positively and negatively,” he said. “So, for me, I feel it’s our responsibility – and more specifically, my responsibility since I’ve been able to create a small platform – to step up and try to project real LatinX heroes onto audiences in hopes of inspiring more people to strive for what they are capable of.”