William Jackson Harper Talks Life After “The Good Place”
In a world where there are literally thousands upon thousands of shows that one could watch on TV or stream online, having a series that lasts more than one season is no easy feat. Four seasons later, the NBC series, “The Good Place” is ending on it’s own terms, to the dismay of its loyal fans. The level of originally in “The Good Place” is unparalleled and will most likely be something that continues to have a cult following long after the series finale because of the premise which explores the complexities between faith, morality and living your best life in the present and in the afterlife.
A fan favorite, it’s hard to believe that at one time show star William Jackson Harper was scared to be on camera. You may miss him as the beloved character Chidi, a Professor of Ethics and Moral Philosophy at St John’s University, however with a new film, “The Underground Railroad” currently in production, the classically trained theater thespian’s career is continuing to thrive.
Ahead of the highly anticipated finale, William shares how “The Good Place” made him more introspective and why he’s content with the way in which the show is ending.
Chidi in a lot of ways is the manifestation of my inner monologue.
What was the meeting like when you found this was going to be the last season?
WJH: I’m glad we’re ending the show before we really run out of track. This is the story that Mike Schur and the writers wanted to tell. So rather than drag it out and have the show have no direction, it’s better to go ahead and finish the story. Also it’s the nature of the way the story is developed. There are no filler episodes, every episodes matter and ties up something from a previous episode so it was integral to keep it tight.
Will Smith recently did an interview about how chasing your dreams can be lonely and isolating. Have you ever felt indecisive like your character Chidi in regards to pursuing your passion and if so, what kept you going?
WJH: Yes, absolutely. I feel like a lot of actors have that conversation with themselves like, ‘Is it time to quit?’ I feel like it’s one of those things that happens yearly, you think about not doing it anymore and it makes you sad, there’s a since of loss and you mourn the absence of being an actor. As long as you feel that, you should stay with it. [Acting] is one of those jobs that you have to be invited to do and it gets rough.
How has the character changed the man and person that you are?
WJH: I do think about the ways in which I’m putting good into the world a lot more. It’s not necessarily from the narrative of the show,but from being on the set that we have, the creators of the show are all good people. I think sometimes kindness can be painted as something naive and it makes you a bit of a sucker but that’s not at all the truth and the people that I work with prove that everyday. Before to the series, I wasn’t as cognizant. Chidi in a lot of ways is the manifestation of my inner monologue. Having that inner monologue become an outer monologue on steroids, there a level of introspection that comes with that. In my own life I can be locked up and paralyzed [with indecision] But doing this show has helped me move away from that paralysis.
In season one, Eleanor said that she loved Chidi but in a “friend-zone” type of way.
What have you learned from “The Good Place” about love, relationships and finding your soulmate because it seems like a constant theme throughout the seasons is patience and timing.
WJH: I’ve been in a long term seven year relationship and I’m still trying to figure out how to be a decent partner! But I would say it’s one of those things that’s hard to force; some times you can convince yourself of things that aren’t true about a person and I feel like with my girlfriend and I, we had both been in long relationships before and had tried being single and that didn’t take. I think that our roads led to each other and it was very unforced thing. It felt natural. Sometimes being on the hunt and trying to make this “thing” a “thing”, can sometimes lead you down a path where its more about achieving the thing [as opposed to] finding a person.
So do you think Elanor and Chidi were never looking for each other, they just happened to be destined to run into each other regardless of their circumstances?
WJH: Most of the relationships of people that I know there’s something natural that forges the thing rather than effort. [If you say:] ‘We are going to be together no matter what…!’ That sort of thing doesn’t work I feel with Chidi and Eleanor, they just kept getting thrown into the same weird ass situation over and over again and they also found ways that they completed each other and there you go.
One word to describe the last ten years?
WJH: “Journey” Ten years ago I was in my late 20s in NYC doing a lot of theater and I was actually really scared of doing anything on camera. I just thought that no one would want to see me or this anywhere. In theater I cultivated a community of folks I trusted and loved and who were used to my idiosyncrasies slowly over that time I realized in order to make a living and remain an actor I had to broaden my horizons. So it’s been sort of a slow at times very unwilling, reluctant journey towards to feel confident enough to feel like I could have a job opportunity like this. I wonder if other actors feel this way: I like to work and act but I wonder if I’m missing something? If I’m incomplete in some way? Being comfortable in my own skin is something that has grown over the last ten years. These last ten years have taught me that I’m enough.