William Jackson Harper on his Emmy nom and protesting for social justice

William Jackson Harper is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a comedy series for his role in NBC's 'The Good Place'

william jackson harper
(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)
(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)

William Jackson Harper is a man of many talents. The 40-year-old actor whose TV work recently earned him an Emmy nomination is also a star of the stage and big screen and it turns out, he’s a pretty dedicated dog dad. 

Harper is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Chidi Anagonye on NBC’s The Good Place. While news of his nomination was a welcome surprise, he received it at a pretty inconvenient time for him and his pup. 

FYC Event For NBC's "The Good Place"
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 07: William Jackson Harper attends the FYC event for NBC’s “The Good Place” at Saban Media Center on June 07, 2019 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

“I was actually just getting up to try to do my little workout before we had our appointment with this animal communicator, a.k.a. dog psychic,” he exclusively tells theGrio.

“My publicist, Michael called me and told me I was nominated and it was like, ‘Wow! What?’ and then I called my mom and she was like ‘Wow, what?’ and there was a whole bunch of that, like a solid half hour. And then we got on the phone with the dog psychic. So it was bananas. It was a strange, off-the-wall morning.”

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Harper explains that his canine companion just hadn’t been acting like himself, so he and his girlfriend enlisted the help of a dog psychic. 

“He’s been spending a lot of time in his crate and just sleeping and that’s not how he behaves. He’s a very energetic, very curious guy,” he shares.

“So we actually had this animal communicator reach through the ether to communicate with him over the phone and she said that he had some neck problems and he also had an ear infection. And she encouraged us to go to the vet and they confirmed that that’s what was going on with him.”

The Hollywood Reporter & SAG-AFTRA 3rd Annual Emmy Nominees Night Presented By Heineken And Anastasia Beverly Hills - Red Carpet
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 20: (L-R) Keegan-Michael Key, William Jackson Harper, D’Arcy Carden and Sterling K. Brown attend The Hollywood Reporter

The actor admits his time in quarantine may have had something to do with his ability to notice the red flags in his pet. 

“We’re just sitting at home, staring at our little dog all day long. like That’s what we do. That’s what’s happening now,” he said.

But Harper has been doing more than just sitting around in recent months. He hit the streets of Los Angeles to protest alongside the thousands of others who demanded to be heard after the tragic death of George Floyd. 

“There are people that have been on the front lines of actually dealing with this every single day for years. And so for me, the thing that I know to do is to put my body into space. And that’s all I did,” he explains.

“I just hit the streets and protested like so many other people did. I just felt like I couldn’t sit back and just watch it all unfold on CNN. This is my life we’re talking about. This is the lives of my family and my friends that we’re talking about that are just being devalued.”

2019 Summer TCA Press Tour - Day 17
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 08: (L-R) Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper of ‘The Good Place’ speak during the NBC segment of the 2019 Summer TCA Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 08, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Harper maintains it was necessary for him to get involved.

“If I’m not going to take my own side in a fight then what am I even doing? And so for me, it’s really just been a matter of going and being present and listening to the people that have been doing the work every single day. They’re really important voices to listen to, especially in this moment,” he continues.

Harper is currently in production on Barry Jenkins’ Amazon limited series The Underground Railroad set to premiere in 2021. Earlier this year, he completed production on the indie film We Broke Up opposite Aya Cash.

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When it comes to his Emmy nod and the record-braking number of Black creatives nominated this year, Harper says he doesn’t know what to expect. 

“I don’t really have a good barometer for how things are going to go when it comes to these awards and things. It has not been something that I’ve actively participated in and I haven’t had any sort of success before, honestly,” he says.

“Awards are not the reason why I got into acting. I would like to be recognized, but that’s not the point. I mean, of course it’s very nice and I’m totally honored, but it’s just not the point,” he says. 

Harper also lauds the representation in the nominees.

“I did notice there’s a lot of Black nominees this year and I think it’s correct. I feel like a lot of artists of color are often ignored in this forum,” he enthuses.

“And so seeing how many artists of color in particular Black artists are nominated, there is a long way to go, but I think that I will take the victory of having Black representation this year. It is a step in the right direction.” 

While he’s honored to be nominated alongside such amazing actors, it’s clear Harper may actually be rooting for some of his competitors. 

The Hollywood Reporter & SAG-AFTRA 3rd Annual Emmy Nominees Night Presented By Heineken And Anastasia Beverly Hills - Red Carpet
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 20: (L-R) Aldis Hodge, Sterling K. Brown and William Jackson Harper attend The Hollywood Reporter

“Especially in my category, all of the actors that I’m, ‘competing against’ I think they’re all brilliant. Sterling K. Brown and Kenan Thompson— these are guys that I’ve seen doing amazing work year after year after year. Kenan Thompson has been the glue for me on ‘SNL’ for a long time,” he adds.

“And the consistency of how he shows up in that show; it just feels it feels correct to give him recognition for that. And I feel like he should have more of it, honestly. I’m so excited because there’s just so many artists that I’ve been admiring for a long time getting recognition that I think they absolutely deserve,” he says.

He also divulges a moment of brutal honesty.

“I think I was just trying to do my job and not get fired,” he admits.

The other project he’s rooting for is HBO’s groundbreaking series, Watchmen

“I love that show. I loved it with my whole damn heart. I thought it was just. I thought it was just an expertly done show. And seeing the nominations that they got, the way that it shook people awake about the racial history in this country and putting it in a work of fiction, but actually having, you know, a kernel of an actual event of a true thing that happened sort of kick off this this entire world that we go into,” he says.

He continues about his appreciation for the project.

“I thought that was just brilliant. And what was really eye-opening to me was how many people just did not know about the Tulsa race massacre,” he says.

“I mean, obviously, I have a vested interest in learning about these sort of things, so of course I had come across it, but I was surprised that so many people my age had heard nothing about it and the fact that it was brought into their homes and brought into their consciousness, I think it’s the sort of work of art that helps us to be a little bit more honest with ourselves about who we are as a country and as a people. And I think that’s important and I think that show did it very, very well.  I’m just over the moon that people were recognizing it. I think that’s very fair and that makes me very happy.” 

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