Warning: spoilers ahead for season 3, episode 4 of The Good Place, "Jeremy Bearimy."
William Jackson Harper has had to do a lot of uncomfortable things in his hilarious and heartfelt role as Chidi Anagonye on NBC's hit show The Good Place. (The acupuncture needles sticking out of his face, hands and feet in season 2 come to mind.) But filming last night's episode took Harper to a whole new level of discomfort.
In the episode, Chidi has just been told that he died, went to hell, was tortured for centuries, was brought back to life so he could try to work his way into the Good Place, but now ultimately will return to the Bad Place, no matter what he does.
This news sends him spiraling, in typical Chidi fashion, into a full-on existential crisis. But, unlike the Chidi we've come to see in previous seasons, the season 3 "Everything is pointless" Chidi strips down to his pants and walks around campus and the grocery store shirtless after getting drenched by a sprinkler. And, as his fellow Bad Place alum Eleanor (Kristen Bell) would say: Holy motherforking shirtballs, Chidi! Under that stuffy sweater-vest and button-up combo, Chidi is ripped.
Still, Harper wasn't thrilled about showing off his body on camera.
"I do not like taking my shirt off ever in public, so, this episode, I'm facing one of my 5 biggest fears," he tells Shadow and Act just a few hours before the episode aired. "It was pretty nerve-wracking, honestly."
The fear started when he was bullied in childhood. "I grew up sort of an awkward, chubby kid and I got made fun of a lot," says the 38-year-old actor and playwright. "It just sort of stays with you, even now at this age, as a very, very grown ass man, I'm still scared of it."
William Jackson Harper as Chidi, shirtless, on "The Good Place," Season 3, Episode 4, "Jeremy Bearimy," NBC Studios
But he pushed through and conquered the fear long enough to do the scene, which ended hilariously with a grocery store clerk forcing Chidi to cover up. He complied by putting on a lavender "Who, What, When, Where, Wine!" T-shirt that was hanging on a rack across from the produce.
Now that it's over, he's not expecting his DMs to be popping, ("I hadn't thought of that at all," he says) but he does consider the scene a success: "The world didn’t end. Everyone’s ok," he says.
(Some of us are still fanning ourselves, but, we'll live.)
In the meantime, Harper is keeping busy off-Broadway now that his playwriting debut Travisville is in production at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. "It’s about racial politics and eminent domain in a small southern city in the mid-60s," he says, and it closes on October 28.
Harper's other projects include a starring role in director Ari Aster's 2019 film Midsommer, and, of course season 4 of The Good Place. Though it hasn't officially been picked up for another season, Harper's still got the goods on what the next season of this trippy, refreshing show would entail.
"And I am not gonna tell you," he taunts. But in a compromise, he does share what else is on his list of top 5 fears:
"I always have this fear that I’m going to be in this park and I’m going to be running and I’m going to be shocked and then I’m going to have my mouth open and I’m going to fall and land face first on some dog boo boo," he says. "I’m afraid of that."
"I’m pretty afraid of wasps but I’m sort of starting to get over that one. They’re terrible," he says.
And finally: "There’s other big ones but I think they’re more existential and I really don’t want to get into those because I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole because I’m here in my apartment by myself."