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William Jackson Harper On Jacked Chidi, Peeps Chili, And Saving Souls On ‘The Good Place’

NBC/Uproxx

It has been an eventful season on The Good Place. Initially assembled in Australia, the so-called “Brainy Bunch” nearly went their separate ways before learning (all over again) about the existence of an afterlife with odds that are now completely stacked against them. A nihilist streak followed, but soon, Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani found a new purpose — saving wayward souls.

It’s a breathtaking transformation for a show that continues to surprise and something that doubtlessly keeps the cast on their toes. Uproxx spoke with actor William Jackson Harper (who plays Chidi) about that continuing evolution, the reaction to Chidi’s life as a secret fitness freak, the will they/won’t they relationship between Chidi and Elanor, the thrill of playing Chidi gone wild, and whether peeps chili is as disgusting as it sounds.

Warning: there are some light spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up with the show.

We wrote about it and a few other places definitely picked up on it. Your response to the debate about Chidi’s ripped physique, your ripped physique? How do you feel seeing that reaction on the internet to those shirtless scenes?

It’s not a reaction I was expecting. Honestly, I was… I work out. Pretty much, just as a dude… I just work out. But I’ve never been called ripped before. So I wasn’t expecting that. I was honestly just trying to escape ridicule. And so, the fact that it was such a positive reaction for so many people, I was completely unprepared for that.

Our writer, Brian Grubb, had some questions about how Chidi would be able to decide which machine to use at the gym. Was there any discussion about how Chidi is just this secret fitness fiend?

No. Early in the series, Eleanor did say Chidi was surprisingly jacked. That’s one of the things they dropped in early because, I guess.. and I do work out. But we didn’t really discuss it. I honestly just read the episode, saw that I had to be shirtless, had a mini-freak-out, and then just sort of ramped up my gym visits and sort of tweaked my diet a little bit so I could just, like I said, escape ridicule. I just didn’t want anyone talking bad about me. Yeah, that’s all I was trying to do.

No one would talk bad about you because you could clearly kick their ass. You don’t have to worry about that.

I don’t know. I don’t know about all that. Just because you can maybe do a couple pushups doesn’t mean you know how to throw a real punch.

That’s a good point. It was interesting, though, seeing Chidi let loose a little bit. Was that fun to play? Was that something you want to play a little bit more so the character isn’t as tightly wound?

I’m open for any evolution of the character, anything where we start in one place and end up in another. I’m down to explore. It was fun to play a completely unhinged dude. It just allowed me to go ahead and get weird. I honestly feel like a lot of the stuff that I got to do in that episode sort of leans into some of my more natural impulses as a performer. So it was fun. It was fun. I feel like, sometimes, when we get to the table read and stuff like that, I’m definitely making weird, whacked out choices just to see how they work and if there’s any value to them. And then we get to set and it really has to fit more in the world that’s set up there. And this was one where I got to go crazy at the table read and I also got to go crazy when we shot it.

With that episode, were there any outtakes or any plans at one point for you to actually eat the peeps chili and how much money would they have had to pay you for you to eat it?

I did eat that chili. You didn’t see it happen, but I did eat that chili. And there were some takes where I actually straight-up ate a little bit. The fact that it didn’t make it in is disheartening because it did not taste good. But yeah, I did eat that chili.

Do you think they did that on purpose with no plan of using it?

Honestly, if they did, kudos to them because that’s a good practical joke. And I have nothing but respect if that was the case.

When you signed up for the show, did you have any idea where this would go in terms of the existential depth and these different realms and whatnot?

No, no. No idea. No idea whatsoever. Every time we get the script, we’re just sort of like, “What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?” And because the show is such a long narrative, it really just sort of leaves you at the edge of your seat, especially as a performer. And so we really have no idea. We get a sort of general overview of what the ideas might be for the season, like at the beginning of the season. We didn’t in the first season, but in seasons two and three we got a general idea of where the seasons were headed. But honestly, that changed by the time we got to the end of each season. So yeah, I think there’s a vague idea of what’s going to happen and really they sort of just let the story lead them, which I think is great. It makes a bit more sense than trying to sort of wrestle something to a conclusion that feels a little bit more forced.

NBC

The characters are in an interesting place right now where they’re aware of the afterlife and kind of trying to do some good in the world. Is it nice to be back in that space (dealing with the notion of an afterlife realm) as opposed to being more in the real world setting from earlier this season?

I think there was a lot of fun stuff in the real world, sort of in the real world section of the show. I think there was some fun stuff there. I had fun being Chidi, sort of dealing with his indecision and anxiety honestly and sort of being proactive about. I actually sort of liked that part of the story being addressed in the real world. I feel like that sort of opened things up for me personally. I will miss that, but then we also still have that knowledge. And moving forward, we get to go back to the sort of really super weird surrealistic stuff, which is really surprising. And I feel like now we get to be ahead of the audience in a way that you just don’t get to do in an earthbound show, you know what I mean? Because we’re making up all the rules in this weird sort of multidimensional cosmic universe, we teach the audience how to watch the show and therefore we’re ahead of them. And I love that. So I’m excited to get back to the surrealistic stuff.

We met Jason’s father, we met Eleanor’s mother. Are we going to see anyone from Chidi’s past that he’s looking to try and look after?

You’ll have to wait and see on that one.

All right. Fine. I’ve got to try for that, you know.

Yeah, I know.

Obviously, there’s a kind of “will they/won’t they” situation with Eleanor [which came back to the forefront on Thursday’s episode]. I feel like the way the writers have handled that has been really, really smart, but there’s a history on television where those kinds of things can change the dynamic of a show. Not always, but sometimes. Do you have any apprehension about that or is it just all trust for the writers?

It’s all trust. They’re very good with restraint in storytelling, I think, as far as kicking a puppy is a restrained act. [Laughs] But they’re very good at sort of just doing enough, and I have nothing but trust in where we’re going with Eleanor and Chidi. I’m excited about it too because of the nature of memory being something that can be taken away and rediscovered and seen. It’s like the rules of our relationship are not… It doesn’t just build, you know what I mean? It sort of allows things to just sort of be what they are as presented in the story. We don’t have to necessarily adhere to a whole bunch of stuff that had to happen in season one or even two. So it’s fun. I have a lot of trust in them.

‘The Good Place’ airs Thursdays on NBC at 8:30PM after Superstore.

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