Fashion & Beauty Editor
Embodying many of the quirky characteristics of his character Chidi Anagonye on NBC’s The Good Place, theater veteran William Jackson Harper sits with Kontrol mag for a chat on his place on the hit show and shares why he almost left acting. Surprisingly, there was no big story behind William getting the role as Chidi Anagonye, which wasn’t much more than a string of auditions before he’d gotten his break-out role on The Good Place. I suppose that in itself is the surprise. When something big happens to you–it just kind of happens.
“I had been doing a lot of theater out here in New York, but I hadn’t figured out a way to make a real living,” he told me. “I was make’n it fine for a guy in his mid thirties, but if I wanted to have any sort of stability in my life I had to figure out a way to make this economically viable,” William told me.
“I’d done a play in April of last year, and decided that that was gonna be my last one until I figured out what to do. I took a year off and focused on getting some TV. and film work, but I also started to look at transitioning out of acting. It’s kind of funny how I start to let go of the idea of being an actor and this job shows up.”
For William Jackson Harper, playing Chidi Anagonye wasn’t a huge stretch from who he is as a person. The self-proclaimed taco-fiend and geek sees a lot of himself in the young philanthropist and philosophy scholar. “Honestly Chidi is all of my neurosis wrapped in one incredibly hyper nerdy package. He’s paralyzed with indecision and is obsessed with what’s good and what’s right.”
William was equally as enthusiastic when recanting about working with co-stars Kristen Bell [ Eleanor Shellstrop] and Ted Danson [Michael]. “I grew up watching Ted, he’s a national treasure as far as I’m concerned. He’s one of the most relaxed and considerate actors I’ve gotten to work with. He [Ted] really understands comedy. For me comedy is a bit harder, because if you don’t get the laugh in some capacity then things kind of fall flat, whereas with drama there’s a much wider range of responses. But with comedy it’s a bit more technical. I steal from Ted as much as I can (laughs).Kristen is one of those next-level humans. One of those people that’s juggling so many things, but she does it incredibly well.
Like one of my favorite songs Exhale (shoop-shoop), was the best way to describe how William felt about being granted the role of Chidi. “I think exhale is the exact verb for that how I felt at the time. I remember the day I got the call. This huge wave of relief just hit me. This is exactly what I’ve been working for my entire life and I’m finally getting a shot.”