The actor, 33, stars in the survival thriller 47 Meters Down, about two sisters trapped in shark-infested waters after a cage-diving trip goes awry.
What’s the scariest part about filming a shark movie?
It was a cumulative challenge of shooting a movie that takes place 95% underwater and having no diving training. But I was looking for something like that–I was ready to sort of take a deep dive.
What attracted you to the role?
I have never been thought of for a thriller before, and I have never done anything in this genre. And I was craving something really challenging and weird and different. I was in the middle of a divorce. I just [wanted] to have something that would get my mind off all of that, quite frankly.
You also star on This Is Us, which has become NBC’s biggest hit in years. Why do you think it resonates with so many people?
I think there’s something to be said for timing. We’re in a really divided world these days. Our show is escapist in one sense, but it’s also hopeful. It is bringing people together and making us feel like there’s more that unites us than divides us.
You first became famous as a singer in the late ’90s. How has the entertainment industry changed since then?
The impact that social media has had on the world can’t be overstated. I’m so glad it came to prominence once I was an adult. I think I got out of my teen years relatively unscathed because I was boring and there wasn’t a camera in my face all the time.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of your first movie, A Walk to Remember. What was the most memorable part of filming it?
I turned 17 on [the set of] that movie. It was my first leading role, and I felt like I didn’t know how to do anything. It was like summer camp–I cried when it was over.
This appears in the June 26, 2017 issue of TIME.
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