Q&A with William Jackson Harper

The costar of 'The Good Place' is about to have a breakout moment.

Critics are calling The Good Place one of the standout TV shows to watch this season. The NBC comedy follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell) as she arrives in Heaven (a.k.a. The Good Place), but she quickly discovers that there’s been a mix-up and she’s actually not supposed to be there. Bell and Ted Danson are the stars of the show, but one of the breakout characters is Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who plays Eleanor’s supposed soul mate. “He’s a professor of ethics and moral philosophy,” Harper says. “So he has a very strong moral center and his rule book is very tight.” Harper recently gave us an inside look at his character and his version of the Good Place.

What's your favorite thing about Chidi?

Probably the fact that he tries as hard as he can to look for the best in a situation. He would rather try to find a solution than just sort of give up and move on. He would go like ‘Okay, maybe we have some options here before we have to come clean.’ I like that he is more inclined to help someone out than throw them under the bus.

A lot of the characters seem to be obsessed with frozen yogurt in the Good Place. What's the must-have food item you can’t live without?

Oh man! For me it would be tacos. Tacos everywhere. That would be my Good Place, I think.

So the tacos are an indulgence. What's your favorite healthy meal?

Probably a kale salad with some sort of citrus vinaigrette and some lean protein. It gives me energy to keep going and to feel that I actually ate something without a ton of unusable calories.

There’s a little bit of running around at the end of the first episode. What other kind of physical challenges do you encounter in the series?

You’ll have to watch for it. I mean it's not like American Ninja Warrior, but there are some interesting things coming up.

What has been the most physically challenging role you’ve had so far?

I did this play at The Public Theater in New York called The Total Bent where I played this gospel music prodigy turned rock-n-roll artist. It basically just tracks his entire journey from writing music as a kid to becoming this substance-fueled monomaniacal rock god. And it was a lot of singing. It was also physically challenging because there was a lot of running and climbing and jumping, and never leaving the stage. The play was basically a concert. It’s probably the toughest role I’ve ever done.

How do you stay in shape?

I run and I work out like five or six times a week. I usually run two or three times, and then I'll do weights or circuit training three or four times a week. I like to mix it up; sometimes it’s heavy weight training and sometimes it's light weights with high reps just to sort of tone.

Without giving away any spoilers, what’s your favorite moment from the series so far?

My favorite moment honestly comes from the pilot. Basically once you get to the end of the pilot there’s really interesting manifestations of Eleanor’s presence in the Good Place. And I think that is one of my favorite things that I’ve seen written on the page. And in the cut that I saw, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen on screen in a long time. It's just so random and nonsecular and great that I can’t wait to see how people react to it.

Yes, you really don’t think it’s going to go to that kind of extreme but it does and it's really funny.


What’s your good place?

I gotta say it's Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It’s just calm and peaceful, and there’s also a lot of people there so you don't feel completely isolated. And when I'm in L.A., Griffith Park is my favorite place in the city. Hands down. I love the hiking and the views are great.