NBC’s The Good Place is ramping up its four season run on an extreme high note by earning six 2020 Primetime Emmy Award nominations – the most the series have garnered throughout their run. Fan-Favorite Chidi Anagonye, played by rising star William Jackson Harper, earned his career first Emmy nomination this year on the heels of the shows triumphant final season. Awards Daily talked to Harper about what The Good Place has meant to him over the past four years, the legacy he hopes The Good Place will leave on the television landscape, his first Emmy nomination, and his slate of upcoming projects.
Awards Daily: First off, I want to congratulate you on your first Emmy nomination. Did you expect to be nominated this year?
William Jackson Harper: I never expect anything like that, just because there’s a lot of thing to watch so just having a job is enough of a blessing. So getting recognition beyond that is amazing. I just never really thought about it.
AD: I was screaming on nominations morning at your name, and the fact that you were nominated with five other Black men in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series is historic and groundbreaking!
WJH: I feel incredibly fortunate! I feel I definitely snuck in, and I’m fine. I’ll take it! As long I am mentioned with actors of that caliber of work who I respect and I’ve admired for a long time, so to be even mentioned in the same breath as those guys, that’s already the win for me! I’m good, I’m fine, I can go home!
AD: Explain how final season of The Good Place meant for you to wrap up the series on your own terms and having a definitive ending planned and leaving Chidi and all these other beloved characters behind.
WJH: Well, more than anything, we enjoyed working together! So to be saying goodbye to people you have spent so many hours whit over the last four years is the toughest part right there. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to ride a narrative wave like the The Good Place provided us, to know there’s an endgame coming. It’s fun to sort of build that journey because there are places that might be interesting to be at in at certain points in the story, especially our story that’s moving forward at all times. It was always great to work on a show that has a very serious narrative thread that’s leading to a conclusion because it’s fun to explore a character in that way, instead of ‘What would Chidi do in this situation?’ it’s more about something bigger happening and looking at it through the lense as a person faced with a huge even that is going to chance their lives moving forward, and that’s a treat. So going in knowing we were wrapping up was going to be exciting because we didn’t know what the ending was going to be like.
AD: Yes, because I couldn’t image a show like The Good Place being unceremoniously cancelled without a proper ending. That would’ve been tragic.
WJH: I really appreciate the integrity and storytelling of The Good Place – that we weren’t going to run the storytelling into the ground until everyone’s sick of it. We’re going to tell the story we’re going to tell. It’s also leaving the audience wanting more, and that’s what you want to do. I do feel we’re definitely leaving on a satisfying note for the audience, it’s upsetting at some points, but for me it’s a very satisfying ending and I think audiences appreciated that. It wasn’t just something to hook us in just so everybody watched so we could stay on the air. We wanted to tell you this story and we wanted to give a beginning, middle and end so you can go back and watch whenever you want. It just feels nice!
AD: Your Emmy submission episode is actually the series finale “Whenever You’re Ready.” Did you have any input on what episode you’d select as your submission episode?
WJH: I actually selected that episode. I had gone through a few episodes, but I wasn’t really sure how these things are judged. I feel like for fans of the show, that finale is really satisfying for them to watch and it’s a completion of Chidi’s evolution and that made sense to me. I was deliberating between this episode and “The Answer” which is the episode where Chidi gets all his memories back, but I just saw myself more emotionally drawn to the finale so that’s what I selected. We’ll see! Anything happens beyond this point is gravy, it’s all a win for me!
AD: You have a lot of upcoming projects ahead! I know you’re currently in production on Amazon’s The Undergorund Railroad from Barry Jenkins, and you also recently joined the cast of the Williamstown Theater Festival presentation of Animals by Staci Osei-Kuffour. A lot of great things on your plate post-The Good Place.
WJH: I basically went straight from The Good Place and went straight into production on The Underground Railroad last fall, so I’m pretty much done with that project. I’m actually in rehearsal for Animals right now. I just got off a Zoom call about an hour ago so it’s a really, really interesting play! I think it’s going to be a play that brings up a lot of conversations and a lot of questions that are going to be very uncomfortable, but I’m really excited for people to take a listen to that.
AD: I’ll definitely be on the look out for that, and all your upcoming projects! I wish you all the best during Emmy season and all endeavors. I loved your work in Midsommer and Dark Waters the last few years so I know your next few projects will be amazing!
WJH: Thank you for that, Jordan!
AD: In the years ahead, what do you want people to take away from The Good Place when they discover if for the first time?
WJH: I feel like our show is a very optimistic show that manages to never punch down, and I’m really proud to be apart of something like that. It really does investigate larger questions about goodness and what that is and what that actually means. What is our role in all of this? I hope that people go back and watch this show or look back at this show like a psychedelic trip. It was also really interesting knowing this is something that everyone could watch, from the children right up to the adults, and everyone can learn and grow from this series. At the end of the day, it’s a show that had a really good heart and I want people to see and feel that. I want them to feel a closeness to the characters, so that’s really all I can hope for. I want people to laugh and be comforted by this and you know, maybe our show can get people to smile at each other in the street more! That’s what I hope for!