William Jackson Harper From ‘The Resort’ Explains The Show’s Delightfully Weird Scooby-Doo Vibes

While chatting with William Jackson Harper over Zoom, we throw out a ton of pop culture comparisons in an effort to define his latest TV series, Peacock’s The Resort.

We liken it to Scooby-Doo. We dissect its “Jurassic Park vibes.” We dig into its relationship drama and its mysterious, jungle-vined setting … so obviously, Lost comes to mind. But we never settle on just one genre to categorize it in. And that’s part of why Harper loves it so much.

He’s done stage projects. He’s been on one of NBC’s most popular comedy series, The Good Place. He’s even done horror movies, getting sent home rather early in Ari Aster’s vacation from hell (a.k.a. Midsommar). But The Resort, which sees Harper reuniting with Cristin Milioti to play one half of an unhappy couple desperately hoping a stay at a luxury resort in Mexico will solve all of their marital woes, is a mix of all of these – a dark comedy, a drama, a mystery (with some shocking deaths thrown in for good measure) and a treasure-hunting adventure sprinkled with a few sci-fi tropes.

It’s unlike anything Harper’s done so far, and pretty unique in terms of what’s on TV right now. So, naturally, we wanted to get the actor to explain exactly why we were so hooked on this show.

Below, we talk to Harper about finding balance in The Resort’s heightened setting, haunted motel rooms, what he thinks of the true crime boom, and that one time he got drunk on stage.

You’re used to doing comedy but why this comedy?

I think the fact that it was tonally all over the place. It wasn’t like, “This is a comedy and these are the jokes.” It was kind of dark. There were a lot of Jurassic Park vibes in it and then there’s some fantastical stuff, and then there’s some relationship stuff, which feels a little sticky. So I was like, “Huh, I’m not really sure how this is meant to feel.” That’s interesting to me. I think the fact that it was hard to categorize is the thing that really got me excited about it.

It’s a good mix of Scooby-Doo-like adventuring and relationship drama. How do you balance both?

The Scooby-Doo stuff is fun and it comes easy. We spend basically an entire episode doing the investigation pretty much drunk the entire time, which is… that’s fun. I think that when it comes to the relationship stuff though, it’s really just about listening and just being there and not trying to force much of anything. I think that we’re both a couple of chuckleheads on set. So letting that energy into these scenes that very much aren’t that does… I don’t know. It gives an interesting undergirding to those scenes where it’s not two people who hate each other, it’s two people who have grown apart and don’t like the fact that they’ve grown apart and don’t want to face that down.

You’re down in Puerto Rico filming. You’re supposed to be drunk and solving crime. Did a little method acting ever take place?

Oh no, no, no. No alcohol was imbibed while working. Actually, I did that one time in a play and that was an experience that I don’t ever need to have again.

I can’t imagine anything going wrong.

Yeah, yeah, everything worked out great for everybody. We were missing a prop and someone ran around the corner and got this 40 that I was supposed to drink on stage in the play. And they’re just like, “Here, just do this one.” And then I started drinking it and was like, “Oh, this is real malt liquor.” By the end of it, I was tanked. It was a 10-page play and I was forgetting lines by the end of it. The audience could smell it, like, “Oh, he’s drunk. He’s lost it.” They were having a great time.

The Resort obviously likes to play with our collective fascination with true crime. Why do you think there’s such a true crime boom happening right now?

For me at least, it’s hard to imagine actually doing something really terrible to another person. What drives a person to that? And then, once that act is committed, the lengths that they’re willing to go to cover it up, to try to get away with it. Is there any remorse or is it just self-preservation at that point? I think you just want to dive into the psyche of somebody that turned a corner to do something that a lot of people don’t ever consider doing. And then what do they do with that damage afterward?

For struggling couples, is the answer to take a vacation and try to find a decades-old mystery to solve, because it sounds a lot more fun than therapy.

[Laughs] They should stick to therapy.

Right. This method only works out for Noah and Emma.

I mean who knows if it actually works out for Noah and Emma? That’s sort of a question mark at the end of it. But yeah, I think, stick to therapy, but take the vacations when you can.

Creator Andy Siara is good at taking beautiful locations and giving them an off-kilter vibe. He did it with Palm Springs, he does it here. Have you ever traveled somewhere like that?

One time I was on a road trip, I think we were going to San Diego or something like that, me and my partner at the time. We stopped at this hotel and we both had terrible sleep. The room was oddly cold, no matter what we did. And then we had terrible dreams and were at each other’s throats. And then when we left the room, we were fine.

Oh, so… haunted then?

That’s what it felt like. It was like, “This is weird. We’re having a really bad time in this room.” And then we left and we were fine. But we both addressed it afterward like, “That was a weird room, right? The energy was off in there.”

Did you leave a Yelp review?

That this motel’s haunted? No, we didn’t do that. I think we were just sorting ourselves out after that.

This is the second white-people murder vacation you’ve taken (on-screen). Why does this keep happening to you?

I don’t f*cking know, man. It’s the stuff that comes. If the story is interesting, I’m down. But I mean, look, the characters all behave very differently from how I would behave in any of these situations. In The Resort, I would’ve been like, “Oh, you found a phone. Well, let’s recycle it and get rid of the battery, so no one winds up catching something off it.” And then in Midsommar, once people start jumping off of cliffs and stuff…


I’m out. I will see y’all later and hey, don’t worry about driving me anywhere. I got it.

My legs work perfectly fine.

I’ll walk. I’m good.

Did you have those conversations with Andy though, about the difference in terms of how Emma might be viewed while traipsing around a foreign country trying to solve this mystery and how Noah might be treated?

Look, I mean, the real-life version is like, “No, I’m locking the room. We are staying in here. You’re not going to abandoned resorts at night by yourself and we’re going to hash this out.” But yeah, we did talk about it because I do think that she can move through the world in a different way than I can and there’s a benefit of the doubt that she’s going to get that I’m not. Noah knows that. And he’s like, “I’m not playing with it.” That’s why there’s a lot of Noah under his breath saying a bunch of stuff like, “This is a terrible idea” and “I’m doing something real dumb now.” All those things, that’s a product of some of the talks that we had about how he really has no business being here and doing this and that if things go bad, they’re going to go worse for him than they will for her in certain ways.

Does Noah struggle with understanding the difference between being content and being happy?

A huge part of Noah’s journey is he feels like he’s reached his allotted amount of happiness and it’s like, “Yeah, things get a little boring and stale, but that’s just what happens in life. And I don’t understand why that’s not okay.” I think that she’s a little bit more in touch with, “No, we should be happy. We shouldn’t be in this rut and we should fight against that.” I think that he’s like, “Well, you ride the wave. And sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not so great, but you just ride it out.” He’s willing to sacrifice happiness for stability at times. And sometimes depending on who your partner is, that’s not a recipe for something that’s going to work. So he’s having to face that down with this whole journey that they’re on.

The Resort just wrapped up its first season on Peacock.