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Soap Vet Justin Hartley Previews His New Series

Justin Hartley

Lindsay Siu/CBS

After the final touchdown is made during Super Bowl LVIII, CBS is hoping that viewers will stick around for the premiere of the new prime-time action drama TRACKER. The highly anticipated new show stars daytime alum Justin Hartley (ex-Adam, Y&R; ex-Fox, PASSIONS) in his first network series since ending his six-season run in THIS IS US in 2022.

Based on the best-selling novel The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver, TRACKER has Hartley playing Colter Shaw, a lone-wolf survivalist who travels the country in an RV working as a rewardist. Using his expert tracking skills, Colter helps private citizens and law enforcement find missing people or lost items, while dealing with his own very fractured family.

The project reunites Hartley (who also serves as executive producer) with Executive Producer/director Ken Olin, who directed TRACKER’s pilot episode. CBS recently hosted a Zoom press conference with Hartley, Olin and other cast members to promote the new series, which will move to its regular timeslot of Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Feb. 15. Below are the highlights of the Q&A with Hartley.

On Colter’s complicated relationship with his fractured family:

“It’s sort of a driver for all of the stuff that you see this character do in his adult life. There’s an element, I think, to most, if not all of the jobs that he takes — and his ability to solve, to find these people, and to get these positive outcomes — that comes from the way that he was raised. And the way that he was raised is not necessarily always easy on the palate. I mean, his father was very, very difficult. He had a rough childhood. But all of those things that he went through when he was younger are things that he was taught, and that he uses in his current life.

A lot of the stories that we tell … open up Colter a little bit in a sense that he then can reflect on his childhood. And oftentimes, I think the way that you remember things might not be the way they actually happened, right? And I think Colter’s kind of figuring that out as well. A major part of our show is the backstory in the family, and he’s got a lot of questions about his childhood and what he ends up realizing are assumptions that might not be true.”  

On the workload of leading TRACKER versus being part of an ensemble on THIS IS US:

“The workload is great. Look, here’s the thing: I love it. I’ve always wanted this, and it’s not work. It’s a labor of love. I mean, you have a call time, and you show up. And gosh! People have written stuff for you, and people are lighting you. And I’ve got this amazing support group around me. It’s a team effort for sure. And whether you’re on stage or out in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night, on a Saturday morning, in 4 degrees by yourself, or whether it’s you guys on stage … it’s the story that matters. And when you watch the finished product, it all becomes worth it. So, I don’t really feel the workload.

That’s b*llsh!t [laughs]. I do. It’s hard, it’s really hard. I’m not complaining. It’s great when you get an opportunity to do something that you love and spend a lot of time doing it with people that you love. It’s a joy.”

On how much author Jeffrey Deaver’s description of Colter influenced how Hartley portrays the character:

“Ken [Olin] and I talk about it all the time … We worked on this character together. Obviously, Jeffrey wrote it and then you have to figure out, what is it that’s so interesting about this character. First of all, what drew you to it? And then from there, how do you adapt it to the screen?

There are certain things in the book where this character does a lot of calculations and sort of talking to himself in his head; you just can’t do that on screen. It would be very hard to watch. You’d be reading [subtitles] a lot. So, you have to figure out a way to show this guy and what’s going on in his head without just him talking to himself all the time. He’s not a weirdo. He’s not constantly talking to himself … and he’s not haunted. But, yeah, we talked a lot about that. How do you get all of that stuff that we love about the character in the book translated to the screen without … making it look like something, it’s not?”

Ken Olin and Justin Hartley

Michael Courtney/CBS

Hartley with Executive Producer/Director Ken Olin on the set of THE TRACKER.

On playing a strong, silent character after being immersed in family drama on THIS IS US: 

“Well, in some sense it’s a relief, and in some sense, it’s a daunting task. When you’re still and you’re on camera, and you’re not talking, you’re telling the story through your look and what’s going on with your body … It’s a bit scary, in a way, because you’re sitting there going, ‘Okay, I’ve been still and silent for a good, solid 40 seconds. Is that boring? Is that going to be interesting? Is that going to make people think that I’m asleep or something?’

But it’s really not. The writing is good, and the storytelling is great, and if Colter’s listening to something … I firmly believe that, as far as acting goes, if you actually do what you say you’re doing — firing a gun or actually stabbing someone or actually punching someone — if you’re emotionally doing what you say that you’re doing, I think that’s very hard to deny or to say that that’s not true or honest.

So, I love it. I think it’s really cool. I love those [type of] characters, too. I love watching a character not necessarily talk all the time, but think as an audience member, just sitting here watching what Bruce Willis might be thinking, and then you sit at the edge of your seat wondering what he’s going to say next. I’ve always been a fan of those kind of characters, so for me it’s sort of a dream come true.” 

Whether he likes having the book available for inspiration or whether he prefers to create his own backstory:

“I like both. There are fun aspects of both. It’s great to have that source material, though, because week-to-week, as we get these new episodes, new story, new guest stars, new set of circumstances, new jobs, whatever it might be, you do have that source material …the fact that it’s there gives you comfort, right?

You always have that sort of in the back of your head. What would Colter do? And you use that source material; at least, I do to decide for yourself. Well, how would he react in this situation given the source material? So, I use it and I find it’s good to have.”

On Colter’s personality and his persistence to be a rewardist:

“You know what I love about him, I think he’s a good man. He’s a good man, and he wants to do good things for people in need. I think we talk a lot about how he’s a restless guy. He can go in [and] sort of help a situation, there’s an outcome, and then he leaves. He has a hard time not running away. I don’t think he intentionally runs away; I just think it’s how he is. He’s afraid of a lot of stuff, oddly enough, and I think that’s why he’s trying to fill this void that is probably unfillable. He’s trying to fill it with these rewards and … he’s sort of created this family around him to try to fill all these voids.

At a surface level, I think he enjoys the action and the fun and the excitement, not being tied down and the freedom. But when you look at his past — his childhood, the way he was brought up, what happened to his father, the questions that he has about his family, the paranoia that he was surrounded by when he was younger — and then you look at what he does as an adult, it all makes sense. You go, ‘He’s a product of his environment.’  You know, what happened to him as a youth.”

On the collaborative environment on TRACKER:

“I’m really, really proud of the show that we put together. It’s a team effort. The culture that I found on THIS IS US with that group … that was a special time in my life.  And I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to savor every flavor because you never get that back.’ And I feel like somehow, I was able to get a second shot at it. I think we have something really special.”

Justin Hartley

Michael Courtney/CBS

Hartley in action as Colter.