Brooklyn’s William Jackson Harper was about to push pause on his acting career right before landing the role of Chidi on NBC’s “The Good Place.” Three years later, he’s juggling his major-network role with upcoming gigs in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” among other film and TV projects.
“It’s weird,” he says, reflecting on the past three years on “The Good Place,” “I mean, I haven’t ever played a character for that long.”
Harper was no stranger to acting when he slipped on his afterlife moral philosophy professor hat. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Harper moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue show business and landed roles on the NYC stage, off Broadway in 2012’s "The Total Bent" and on Broadway in 2014’s "All the Way." Everything changed in 2016 when he was cast opposite Kristen Bell (Eleanor) and Ted Danson (Michael) in the TV comedy.
"This show has allowed me to take in other roles and go into rooms to audition and just feel relaxed," he says.
Harper discusses here the series’ third season finale — which may (or may not) see Chidi, Eleanor and the gang finally enter the actual good place.
We’ve seen you guys through a lot of dimensions here — will we ever get to the actual good place?
I mean, that’s certainly the goal from my character’s point of view. You know, there’s just a lot left to explore and I’m going to leave it at that because I think the finale is just a really great episode. This one was really important to me and I just want people to go in blind and, hopefully, it’ll be as wonderful to watch as it was to make.
Clearly, these four are flawed, but as they move forward trying to do good, Chidi always seems the most morally aware.
I feel like one of Chidi’s flaws is that his idea of being a good person has sort of led him to a self-obsession, that’s led to a moral truth above being good to people in your life. While there’s something that’s admirable about that, it’s more about Chidi and less about putting good into the world. I think the evolution of Chidi over these last few years has been to move away from “what do I think is right?” to “how do I put good in the world?”
Each time we hit the point of a reset — and I feel one is coming — we see Eleanor and Chidi fall for each other all over again. Is there something to be said, though, for the fact that we only see them together in the “bad” place? Is this a fatal attraction?
That’s a really dark thought! Yeah, I mean that’s what’s so funny about it. People watch the show and have so many theories and ideas that are so beyond what we’re thinking about. But I think also when they’re in a good place, they’re in a crucible of sorts. Sometimes there are relationships that you choose to be in and there are relationships forced out of necessity. I think that this started as one forced that frequently turns into something you choose. It’s like as we get older, it’s a lot harder to make new friends.
It has to be a comfort level for them at this point, too.
Yeah, as flawed as they are, they very much lean on and need each other. I think that may be an unexpected hitch in the bad place’s plans for the people they try to torture. Once people come together and find they need each other, there’s a chance bad things can come out of that, but there’s a strong chance of some goodness coming out of it, too, and people being selfless.
So, it’s almost like as long as they’re together, how bad is the bad place?
Yeah. They don’t [want to be apart]. There’s something about the four of them. They always smell something fishy and I think that brings them together. Beyond just the, I gotta earn my spot here . . . and they made the pact that either we’re all going [to the good place] together, or no one’s going.