William Jackson Harper has scored an trade hat trick.
The veteran stage and display screen actor co-stars in Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ Amazon sequence “The Underground Railroad” and headlines Season 2 of “Love Life” (HBO Max), which simply wrapped capturing on its first episode in New York City.
He additionally takes a memorable street journey within the just lately launched film “We Broke Up” — or, as he calls it, “an indie anti-rom-com” co-starring Aya Cash (“The Boys”).
“It starts off with a couple who’ve been together for 10 years. I play Doug, who asks his girlfriend, Lori [Cash], to marry him — and she throws up,” mentioned Harper, 41. “The film takes off from there as they’re heading to a marriage ceremony and attempting to get via that weekend.
“It’s a really thorny thing when two people are in a relationship and love each other, but want different things. Somehow that feels very grown-up and interesting to me.”
On the TV entrance, Harper performs Royal in “The Underground Railroad,” the 10-part Amazon sequence primarily based on Colson Whitehead’s 2016 alt-reality novel. Set within the nineteenth century deep South, it envisions a world through which slaves attempting to flee to their freedom use an precise underground railroad — full with prepare tracks, engineers, a conductor, and so on. The sequence focuses on Cora (Thuso Mbedu) and Caesar (Aaron Pierre), who’re trying to flee from a Georgia plantation. Royal, who’s additionally featured within the guide, is a freeborn black man and an operator on the railroad who helps get passengers as far North as potential — and strikes up a friendship with Cora.
“It’s a real paradigm shift for Cora when she sees Royal because she says, ‘He’s just looking people in the eye and talking to them — there’s nothing subservient about him,’ ” Harper mentioned. “There’s nothing about him that feels obsequious in any approach, and that’s one thing I held on to when attempting to play the character.
“I wanted to get a feel for how Royal moves through the world,” Harper mentioned. “There is such a factor as doing an excessive amount of analysis for sure components, however that wasn’t the case with this piece. I believe Royal has arrived at sure conclusions…and I actually latched on to that.
“I knew about the book for a while; it was one of those books I kept meaning to read but avoided because I knew it would upset me,” he mentioned. “I knew the challenge was coming to the display screen in some capability, however I didn’t assume in a million years that I might get to audition for it, a lot much less be concerned. When I did learn the guide I couldn’t put it down — it was heartbreaking and likewise very hopeful in moments and I used to be actually cheering for Cora.
“It was so effective, evocative, harrowing and important in so many ways.”
Harper, who performed Chidi Adagonye on “The Good Place” for all 4 seasons of the NBC afterlife sitcom — for which he acquired an Emmy nomination — pivots subsequent to “Love Life,” taking on within the anthology sequence from Anna Kendrick’s Season 1 character, Darby Carter.
“I’m playing Marcus,” he mentioned. “The first season was about what it is to be in New York in your 20s and discovering love being a massive a part of that, together with a host of different points tied to being a younger particular person new to town.
“My story takes off from the viewpoint of a one who’s lived in New York for a whereas, is a little extra secure and a bit older [than Darby] and thinks his life is going to be this fashion going ahead — and what occurs when all of that is thrown up within the air…what it’s wish to be older and attempting so far and determine who you’re when all the things you thought you had been has utterly shifted.
“It’s exploring other issues through the lens of trying to found who you’re meant to be with.”