William Jackson Harper Almost Quit Acting Before Scoring "Good Place" Role

January 18, 2019

William Jackson Harper was ready to throw in the towel before landing the role of Chidi on NBC's “The Good Place.” Harper sat down with Cheddar to discuss the role that changed his life.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Nora Ali: Okay. Well, I am just so excited to have you here.

Nora Ali: So many fans of The Good Place here in

Nora Ali: the office especially of your character, Chidi.

Nora Ali: Well, what's fascinating is that you were ready to

Nora Ali: quit acting before you got this role,

Nora Ali: now you have a Critic's Choice nomination-

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: -are you still pinching yourself?

Nora Ali: How does this all feel?

William Jackson Harper: Yeah. Yeah. I did and it feels crazy.

William Jackson Harper: I, I mean um I, I, I just feel so lucky.

William Jackson Harper: You know I mean there's a lot of really deserving,

William Jackson Harper: really hard working actors that just don't get this shot,

William Jackson Harper: and I, I just feel

William Jackson Harper: so fortunate that this luck came my way.

Nora Ali: What brought you to that point of feeling like

Nora Ali: you're gonna give up or ready to give up at that point.

William Jackson Harper: No, I just you know a lack of stability.

William Jackson Harper: You know as I get older I'm

William Jackson Harper: just sort of like you know one

William Jackson Harper: day I wanna you know maybe drive a new car,

William Jackson Harper: own a house maybe one time, you know something like that.

William Jackson Harper: It was really simple things

William Jackson Harper: and I was like I- I don't know that,

William Jackson Harper: that being an artist is,

William Jackson Harper: is going to be conducive to that sort of thing.

William Jackson Harper: And so I was like and I

William Jackson Harper: wanted to invite other things in my life.

William Jackson Harper: And, and so um I was really considering leaving it,

William Jackson Harper: and then this job came along and-.

Nora Ali: Did you have a different career

Nora Ali: in mind that you would go to?

William Jackson Harper: Absolutely not, I- I-

Nora Ali: No?

William Jackson Harper: -no, no I had no idea what I was going to do.

William Jackson Harper: I, I considered maybe I could teach,

William Jackson Harper: I thought maybe like I'm there on

William Jackson Harper: the block a few time get probably-

Nora Ali: Okay. It kind of matches with your character.

Nora Ali: So that kind of-.

William Jackson Harper: -sure. Yeah. Yeah. But other than

William Jackson Harper: that I'm not qualified for anything else.

Nora Ali: [LAUGHTER] No.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: Well part of the reason you thought you

Nora Ali: wouldn't get cast is in

Nora Ali: this role is because of your relationship

Nora Ali: with Kristen Bell on the show.

Nora Ali: So, explain what you sort of meant by that.

William Jackson Harper: Well, I, I think that you know,

William Jackson Harper: it wasn't necessarily that I

William Jackson Harper: didn't know when I was auditioning that,

William Jackson Harper: I wouldn't uh, that I would be in a-

William Jackson Harper: a romantic relationship with

William Jackson Harper: the Kristen Bell's character, Eleanor.

William Jackson Harper: I, I- I really

William Jackson Harper: just sort of thought that you know I hadn't

William Jackson Harper: seen uh a romantic lead

William Jackson Harper: that looks like me on network television.

William Jackson Harper: Like you know ever really, and, and,

William Jackson Harper: and I'm sure it exists at

William Jackson Harper: some point but I just I did- I didn't come across it.

William Jackson Harper: And I was like well you know why would I be the one that

William Jackson Harper: would that would sort of break that barrier.

William Jackson Harper: You know for myself you know I-

William Jackson Harper: I didn't think that it would be me.

Nora Ali: And you proved that wrong.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: It is that's sense right.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: But what's amazing about the show

Nora Ali: it's has an incredibly diverse cast.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: The show was not in your face about it.

Nora Ali: It kind of just exists, it's there.

Nora Ali: Explain how the show kind of draws that balance of

Nora Ali: being diverse without sort

Nora Ali: of pushing it in our faces in a way.

William Jackson Harper: Well, I think the world looks

William Jackson Harper: that way for a lot of people.

William Jackson Harper: And um, you know as I even grew

William Jackson Harper: up in Texas like my group of friends was very diverse.

William Jackson Harper: And uh, when I would turn

William Jackson Harper: on the TV and see just all white people,

William Jackson Harper: all black people, it was like I

William Jackson Harper: don't- that's not what my life looks like.

William Jackson Harper: And it's never really look like that.

William Jackson Harper: And so the fact

William Jackson Harper: that this is a show that really deals with

William Jackson Harper: deeper issues of morality and, and death and,

William Jackson Harper: and in goodness and that,

William Jackson Harper: that ar- that's the most salient thing and that we're

William Jackson Harper: all just different people dealing with

William Jackson Harper: those issues that feels just,

William Jackson Harper: that just feels natural to me.

Nora Ali: We'll talk about more about

Nora Ali: morality and death in just a second.

Nora Ali: But on the topic of diversity,

Nora Ali: do you think we've made

Nora Ali: good progress in the last couple of years?

Nora Ali: A lot of light being shown on the issue

Nora Ali: but optimistically do you think we've made progress?

William Jackson Harper: I think we have. I- I think that it's,

William Jackson Harper: you've got to take the winds where you can get them.

William Jackson Harper: And I feel like we- we've had a few especially in,

William Jackson Harper: in terms of, of representation of,

William Jackson Harper: of people that we haven't seen

William Jackson Harper: like in sort of major media pieces at any point.

William Jackson Harper: You know, And I, I think we have a ways to go

William Jackson Harper: but a- at least there is a conscious effort.

William Jackson Harper: And I, I appreciate that.

Nora Ali: And to your point all sorts of

Nora Ali: people are all thinking questions

Nora Ali: about morality and

Nora Ali: ethics and asking themselves

Nora Ali: these existential questions which

Nora Ali: is the core of Chidi on the show.

Nora Ali: But do you feel like that applies to you?

Nora Ali: In real life do you ask

Nora Ali: yourself these kinds of questions?

William Jackson Harper: You know I think more so since doing the show,

William Jackson Harper: I think you know I try not to be

William Jackson Harper: a trash bag but I think I've

William Jackson Harper: you know been you know accidentally a trash bag,

William Jackson Harper: quite often before landing this show and I think that um,

William Jackson Harper: you know it's, it's- there's nothing to

William Jackson Harper: be lost in trying to put more good into the world.

William Jackson Harper: And I've just been more conscious of

William Jackson Harper: that since, since getting this role.

Nora Ali: What about indecision too?

Nora Ali: That's a big part of your character.

Nora Ali: Are you an indecisive person?

William Jackson Harper: Yes. Yeah. I'm, I'm terrible of making decisions.

William Jackson Harper: Um, I think you know,

William Jackson Harper: Chidi talks about it and I just sort of

William Jackson Harper: go into a weird sort of

William Jackson Harper: catatonic state and disappear and then come back.

William Jackson Harper: You know saying like oh no,

William Jackson Harper: you know I'll have, I'll have

William Jackson Harper: the soy latte. You know it's like this,

William Jackson Harper: you know. That sort of like that.

Nora Ali: Yeah exactly. Okay. We have a game for you,

Nora Ali: I love this game. [OVERLAPPING] I'm very excited.

Nora Ali: So you have said in your real life

Nora Ali: that you don't believe there are

Nora Ali: universal laws for what's

Nora Ali: right and wrong it depends on the situation.

Nora Ali: Well, we are going to put you on the spot.

William Jackson Harper: Oh man.

Nora Ali: And play a game called The Good Place or

Nora Ali: The Bad Place where we present you

Nora Ali: with really ambiguous concepts.

Nora Ali: You have to assign them to

Nora Ali: the good place or the bad place.

William Jackson Harper: [NOISE] Okay.

Nora Ali: Our producers are genius. But ar-.

William Jackson Harper: Okay.

Nora Ali: Okay. Well the first one, morally ambiguous.

Nora Ali: Those incredibly talented subway dancers as a New Yorker,

Nora Ali: you know how people feel about the subway dancers.

William Jackson Harper: Yes.

Nora Ali: Should they got put in a good place or the bad place?

William Jackson Harper: I think absolutely good place.

Nora Ali: Oh, that's so that's so sweet.

William Jackson Harper: I lov- I love the subway dancers.

Nora Ali: You do?

William Jackson Harper: Yeah. I think that they are incredibly talented.

Nora Ali: They really are.

William Jackson Harper: I'm, I'm like in all every time I see [OVERLAPPING].

Nora Ali: Have you not almost got kicked in

Nora Ali: the face because I have?

William Jackson Harper: Yeah. But that's the things.

William Jackson Harper: You don't. You know-

Nora Ali: That's true. [OVERLAPPING]

William Jackson Harper: -and that was so impressive.

Nora Ali: You feel the air swoosh across your face.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah.

Nora Ali: Okay. I love that. Okay. Subway dancers in a good place.

Nora Ali: Second thing, eating store bought mac and cheese.

William Jackson Harper: Oh man. Okay. Uh,

Nora Ali: I have a strong opinion on this.

William Jackson Harper: Okay. You know what? I've been,

William Jackson Harper: I've been exposed to some bum mac and cheese in my day-

Nora Ali: Uh huh.

William Jackson Harper: - and I think that.

Nora Ali: Because you're from Texas.

William Jackson Harper: I'm from Texas and so store-bought

William Jackson Harper: mac and cheese just does not work.

William Jackson Harper: I think it's a bad place to eat it.

Nora Ali: Oh no, I disagree-

William Jackson Harper: Really?

Nora Ali: - but that's fine.

William Jackson Harper: I really wanna know why but yeah.

Nora Ali: We can agree to disagree.

Nora Ali: I kind of like store-bought mac and cheese

Nora Ali: better than like the good stuff from restaurants.

Nora Ali: I'm weird. Okay. We'll move on. Number three. [LAUGHTER]

William Jackson Harper: Okay. All right. All right.

Nora Ali: Number three, this is a good one.

Nora Ali: Posting shirtless pictures on Instagram.

Nora Ali: You've been shirtless on the show.

Nora Ali: What are your thoughts on posting that on Instagram?

William Jackson Harper: Absolutely bad place. [LAUGHTER] You shouldn't be,

William Jackson Harper: you know, like thirst

William Jackson Harper: trapping people. Like, no, it's terrible-

Nora Ali: Thirst trapping people?

William Jackson Harper: - you know, and I mean, I'm, I'm too old for that.

William Jackson Harper: [LAUGHTER] You know, it's like I, I

William Jackson Harper: didn't post those pictures.

William Jackson Harper: You know, the show posted those pictures or other people

William Jackson Harper: posted those pictures. I, I'm, I, I think that's.

Nora Ali: So thirst trapping in general,

Nora Ali: you think should go in the bad place.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah, because I think that like,

William Jackson Harper: you know, I've, I definitely,

William Jackson Harper: I've had some people that I've followed

William Jackson Harper: on Instagram that post

William Jackson Harper: some very provocative pictures of themselves and I'm

William Jackson Harper: like scrolling through Instagram

William Jackson Harper: with other friends and they're like bro,

William Jackson Harper: what are you looking at-

Nora Ali: Or like with your mom. [LAUGHTER]

William Jackson Harper: - and who are you following? Yeah, and I'm like,

William Jackson Harper: [LAUGHTER] so like that's not,

William Jackson Harper: it's like they're not usually like that.

Nora Ali: Do you even unfollow people if they're

Nora Ali: a little too provocative on Instagram?

William Jackson Harper: No, I just, I just-

Nora Ali: Or you just kind of scroll real fast?

William Jackson Harper: - no, I just mute them

William Jackson Harper: because I don't want to hurt their feelings.

William Jackson Harper: I don't want them to be, you know, like if-

Nora Ali: Yeah.

William Jackson Harper: - you know, in case they're

William Jackson Harper: really tracking their followers.

Nora Ali: Okay. I love it. Next one.

Nora Ali: Number four, controversial topic.

Nora Ali: Re-gifting. Good place or bad place?

William Jackson Harper: I think it's a good place thing.

Nora Ali: Okay.

William Jackson Harper: I think it's a good place thing.

Nora Ali: Why?

William Jackson Harper: Because, um, someone should get use out of that gift,

William Jackson Harper: I think, you know. You, strictly, i-

Nora Ali: Yeah, it's better than wasting.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah, and, uh, from

William Jackson Harper: a purely utilitarian point of view, it's,

William Jackson Harper: it, it makes more sense for people to use the thing,

William Jackson Harper: you know, rather than it just sit in a closet somewhere.

Nora Ali: Love it. Okay. Next thing is Santas

Nora Ali: ringing bells for charity during the holiday time.

Nora Ali: Ching, ching, ching, ching, ching, ching, ching.

William Jackson Harper: Another thing. [LAUGHTER]

William Jackson Harper: I wanted to see how long you were going to do that.

Nora Ali: Yeah I was gonna, I was trying to be annoying.

William Jackson Harper: Um, I, I, I think good place just because they put

William Jackson Harper: on some really cheesy song and

William Jackson Harper: it's always really rhythmic. And-

Nora Ali: And it, and it's for charity.

William Jackson Harper: - it's for charity.

Nora Ali: Okay.

William Jackson Harper: And so yeah, I get a, I get a kick out of it.

Nora Ali: Okay. Last one. This is my favorite one.

Nora Ali: People who wear Crocs on their feets.

William Jackson Harper: Oh, man. You know,

William Jackson Harper: I ha- I have one friend who wore

William Jackson Harper: Crocs every day for like a year and he was all right.

William Jackson Harper: But I think a lot of the people that I've

William Jackson Harper: encountered that wear Crocs,

William Jackson Harper: um, have, have really rubbed me the wrong way. [LAUGHTER]

Nora Ali: Oh, it's because of them, not because of their Crocs.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah. So I, I just equate that with

William Jackson Harper: a kind of person that I just-

Nora Ali: Okay.

William Jackson Harper: - you know.

Nora Ali: I'll be sure to get rid of my Crocs then.

William Jackson Harper: Yeah, yeah. Oh, you wear Crocs?

Nora Ali: Yeah, sometimes.

William Jackson Harper: Oh, dang.

Nora Ali: It's fine though. Okay. Well, it's been great

Nora Ali: talking to you and best of luck with everything.

William Jackson Harper: Thanks.