Actor Chris Sullivan stars on NBC‘s This Is Us, the hit new series about the Pearson family from creator Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love). Sullivan doesn’t play a member of the family, but plays Toby. At first, Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) is reluctant to start a relationship with Toby, but he has managed to win her over in the first two episodes.
In a shocking twist at the end of the fall finale, “Last Christmas,” Toby rushed to be by Kate’s side after the two broke up. He went back to be in her arms in New York, only to have a heart attack. The episode ended with his life hanging in the balance, but whe nthe show returned, it was revealed that Toby survived the scare.
“I was pretty shocked — I didn’t see it coming,” Hartley told TV Guide. “You know, it was that typical a-la-This Is Us style where they sort of give you that cliffhanger at the end. You’d think that by now I would’ve seen it coming, but I didn’t. And poor Toby, man! I mean of all people, he’s a good guy!”
Here’s a look at Sullivan’s career and his character.
1. Sullivan Also Stars as Ambulance Driver Tom Cleary on ‘The Knick’
If you thought Sullivan looked familiar when This Is Us premiered, it’s because he also played ambulance driver Tom Cleary on Steven Soderbergh’s Cinemax series The Knick. It was his first big role after parts in episodes of The Americans, Law & Order: SVU, A Gifted Man and Elementary. He also appeared in The Normal Heart and even had a role on NBC’s Peter Pan Live!.
Sullivan’s LinkedIn page lists him as a theater graduate from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Before he began working in television and movies, he worked on the stage in Chicago.
“Since he is upfront about who he is, and the way that they’ve written him in this loud, outspoken fashion, the best part is that it leaves me a lot of room to make him a little larger than life,” Sullivan said of his Knick character in a Collider interview. “He can do anything. He’s unpredictable. He can do anything he wants, at any time. That makes for fun acting choices.”
2. Sullivan’s First Filmed Performance Was in a Pilot With Jason Isaacs That Didn’t Get Picked Up
Although it co-starred Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs, it was never picked up. He played a Russian mobster in the pilot. Thhe pilot was filmed in 2010 and starred Isaacs as a former cop working in a Chicago law firm.
Sullivan told The Morton Report that the pilot left him bruised and beaten. He recalled:
I came to work very, very early in the morning and spent several hours sitting in a make-up chair having Russian mob tattoos applied all over my body. After that, we spent all day shooting in this Russian bathhouse wearing nothing but towels and beating the crap out of each other. I actually ended up getting a stuntman stipend, too, because we took so many hits and were thrown around so much. I’ve never seen the actual pilot and I don’t think anyone else has either, but that was my very first interaction with a director, a camera and having Jason Isaacs kick me in the chest.
3. Sullivan Showed up at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 in Full Makeup as his ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2’ Character
Sullivan is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Taserface in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. As you can see in the tweet above, he even showed up in full character makeup at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con in July.
Taserface is a really obscure Guardians villain. As ComicBook.com notes, the character was introduced in 1990 and is a member of the Stark alien race.
Sullivan does wear a fat suit to play Toby on This Is Us, Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Beth, told Us Weekly.
4. Sullivan Teased a ‘Romance for the Ages’ Between Kate & Toby
Toby’s role in the series is unique, as he’s the one main character not connected to the Pearson family in any way. Sullivan told Hollywood Life that the character brings levity to the series.
“You can expect a great deal of levity from him,” Sullivan said. “You can expect a great deal of love from him. You can expect a romance for the ages between him and Kate.”
He also told Hollywood Life that Toby is perfect for Kate, but “they’ve got a lot to get through.”
“They’ve got a lot of body image stuff to get through, they’ve got a lot of relationship stuff to deal with, but they seem to be handling it with grace and with humor,” he added.
5. Sullivan Says He’s Always Wanted to be an Actor & Gave His First Audition at 14
In an interview with Talk Nerdy With Us, Sullivan explained that he has always wanted to be an actor.
“Once I experienced it, there was kind of nothing else. The only other thing that stuck with me up to college was that I was a competitive tennis player for about a decade,” he said.
Sullivan also told the site that he first audition for a role when he was 14 and a freshman in high school. He joked that his mother abandoned him at the audition.
“She had seen some performative qualities in me, and I had pretty much dipped my toe into every other extracurricular activity. I auditioned and got it. I had two lines in The Sting,” he said. “And I have been acting ever since.”