NBC TV role saved ‘Paterson’ actor William Jackson Harper from quitting show business


William Jackson Harper plays Chidi on NBC’s “The Good Place”

It’s hard to believe that William Jackson Harper, who lends a delightful touch of insanity to Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” as the persistent, lovelorn Everett, almost gave up acting altogether.

Adam Driver and William Jackson Harper in

Adam Driver and William Jackson Harper in “Paterson” (Photo by Mary Cybulsky)

But that’s what he told Electronic Urban Report in an interview.

Landing the role of Chidi in the NBC afterlife comedy “The Good Place,” alongside Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, was what kept him going in his craft.

Harper, who’s been seen on stages around New York City in a number of important roles in the last five years, says:

I was burned out. I was doing a lot of theater and I love theater but I was also just so broke all the time that I was just frustrated, and decided that this season was going to be my last pilot season,” Jackson explained. “I was going to start trying to transition out from acting. I hit a point where I was like, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time for me to be realistic and get a regular job and try to have some stability in my life.’ Then this job happened and not only was it a job that gave me a little bit more faith, but also, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect job and a more perfect show for me to be on this one,” he said. “Sitting here with you talking is like a miracle to me, because I’ve been at this for a while, not nearly as long as some, but longer than others.

Harper’s role in the NBC show was announced last February, nearly four months after filming wrapped on “Paterson.” So if not for the heavenly intervention of “The Good Place,” Everett might have been Harper’s swan song as an actor.

“The Total Bent” stars David Cale, William Jackson Harper and Vondie Curtis-Hall. (Photo by Joseph Moran)

The first time I recall encountering him was in 2012, when he appeared in the first Public Theater production of Stew & Heidi Rodewald’s musical play “The Total Bent.”

He was so thoroughly entertaining and impressive that I made a point to put him on my watchlist.

Later that year, he appeared in the ensemble cast of the Brian Mertes-directed staging of Jose Rivera’s compelling and incredibly bloody “Massacre (Sing to Your Children)” at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Harper also co-starred with Carrie Coon (“Gone Girl” and HBO’s “The Leftovers”) in what The New York Times called the “slight but divertingly offbeat” 2015 off-Broadway play “Placebo” at Playwrights Horizons.

William Jackson Harper, second from left, in the 2012 Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production of Jose Rivera's

William Jackson Harper, second from left, in the 2012 Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production of Jose Rivera’s “Massacre (Sing to Your Children)”


William Jackson Harper and Carrie Coon in “Placebo” (Photo by Joan Marcus)


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