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Why William Jackson Harper of ‘The Good Place’ Can’t Quit the Theater

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

The characters in “Travisville” are good men and good women stuck between what’s safe and what’s right, what’s responsible and what’s brave. Do you tend to make brave choices?

I mean, I try to artistically. I try to make the weird choice. In life, I’m pretty safe. Wait. That may not be true. I mean, I ride a bike in N.Y.C., and that’s definitely not the safest choice.

Off Broadway pays terribly. How did you go so many years making so little money?

By keeping my overhead low. I always had a ton of roommates, and I just learned to go without. The thing that theaters bank on is that people onstage are addicts for it. When a show is going well, there’s nothing like that. I started to develop an unhealthy relationship to it, where if I was working, I was valuable, I was contributing. And if I wasn’t working, I was nobody, I was nothing. I made my peace with being done with theater for a while.

How does it feel to come back to the theater as a playwright. Do you feel jealous of the actors?

Oh, I don’t feel jealous. I did sort of think, Oh, I should write something for myself., But as I kept going, I kept thinking of other actors who would be better than me in all these parts. So I’m really just excited to see these actors take on the play.

Do you have more plays in you?

I’ve tried to write some other things, and most of them are straight garbage. I have a desktop full of things that are gobbledygook, that make no sense, that are incredibly boring or just dumb. So we’ll see.

Can you spoil the third season of “The Good Place”?

I can’t. I need to keep my job. But I can say that the show gets weirder and weirder and weirder.

I know that “The Good Place” is ostensibly set in hell. Why does it feel so hopeful?

That’s the thing, right? It is an optimistic show. People are nice. That’s not to say we’re making a bubble gum candy mess. We deal with some real things. But it’s O.K. to have a show be warm, to have people looking out for each other.


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