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With 'Love Life,' William Jackson Harper reaches a good place in his career -- as leading man

Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"There was a time where all of us were in the house doing homework," Harper recalls. "She was just pounding Dr Pepper and studying — and so was I, and so was my sister. The three of us just three students in the house. My mom gave up a lot and put up with a lot to give us options."

He wasn't a child who showed early signs of being a performer. He took theater in middle school only because his mom made him — an attempt to get the shy kid out of his shell. "I thought it was corny. I thought it was going to be a whole lot of getting down on one knee in front of a balcony wearing some stockings and some pumpkin pants — I wanted nothing to do with that."

Eventually, however, that ambivalence turned to admiration; acting not only brought him out of his shell but it also became a passion that fulfilled him.

"I just wasn't interested or excited by the same things as kids in my grade," Harper says. "I didn't care about homecoming or school spirit stuff. It wasn't like an anti thing. I just wasn't invested in it. ... But [theater] was something I was good at in school. I'm not athletic, I'm not the best student. Theater made me feel special. And you need something that makes you feel a little special at that time in life, something to find yourself in."

After graduating from the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, he moved to New York, working flexible jobs — waiting tables (poorly, he adds), working the concession stand at Broadway theaters, stuffing envelopes as a temp — to sustain him in his anxious pursuit of becoming a working actor, always aware that success could fall away just as magically as it was achieved.

Maybe that's why Harper's peers sense both ease and intensity in his work ethic.

"He has such ease as an actor. He is one of those people you think might have been born to do it," Bell says. "He is very hard to throw off his game. But he also makes some of the most outrages outrageous choices I have ever seen made by an actor; particularly when choosing the volume or tempo with which he delivers a line, but somehow they work every single time."

 

"He's a very methodical and very cerebral performer," is how Jenkins describes Harper. "Once he gets a full understanding of the character, then he kind of becomes more instinctive, like he's moving on intuition.

"I don't know if you've met him in person, but he's kind of an old dude. I don't mean his age; he's my age. He just feels like an old dude. Like in 'Do the Right Thing,' when all the cats are sitting in front of the corner store — William reminds me of those dudes, in his aura, in his personality."

Harper's just happy to leave an impression. Whatever this secret film turns out to be and with whomever he teams up next, it's clear he's enjoying this moment.

"Getting to work with these people I've watched from afar for so long is a privilege that is not lost on me," he says. "It feels like midnight on Christmas Day when you were a kid, but like all the time. I've got these new toys I keep opening up, and I don't want to put them down."

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