First things first: If you aren’t already watching The Good Place, NBC’s show about moral philosophy, acrobatic plot twists, and delightfully absurd hijinks, you need to stop what you’re doing and go here to catch up.
Now: If you *are* watching (or have recently watched) The Good Place, you know that William Jackson Harper’s co-starring role as Chidi Anagonye is, among the many highlights, perhaps the highest of them all. What you might not be aware of is that Harper is probably best-known to the general public for his professional middle name, since it leads a great many people to ask: Is William Jackson Harper related to Samuel L. Jackson?
The short answer is no, he is not. The longer, more interesting answer is that Harper’s middle name is not Jackson, it’s Fitzgerald–but, as he recently explained to Vulture, he thought “William Fitzgerald Harper” was too long to work as a professional name. (Which is maybe true, but only because it sounds more like the name of a federal judge than an actor.) And “William Harper” was already taken. So, he replaced it with his mother’s maiden name instead, in order “to honor both [his] parents.”
Here’s Harper’s full explanation, via Vulture:
I’ve guess I’ve seen it on Twitter, like, someone tweeted at me, “Dude, just tell me. Are you related to Samuel L. Jackson?” And I just…I’m not even gonna…I’m not dealing with this. That’s weird. But no, I’m not. I’m not at all related to Samuel L. Jackson. Actually, the Jackson in my middle name, that’s actually not my middle name. Long story short, I had to change my middle name in order to get my equity card years and years ago. There was already a William Harper, or a Bill Harper, or something like that, and I couldn’t use any variation of just those two names, so I had to insert a middle name. And my real middle name is 11 letters long, so I was like, “I can’t. William Fitzgerald Harper is just too long a name.” So I just took my mom’s maiden name and put that in the middle, which was nice, to be able to honor both of my parents.
The whole interview is definitely worth your attention: check it out to see which other Good Place character Harper wishes he could play; how he and Chidi are most alike; how television acting is vastly different from acting in the theater, which is where Harper got started; and how the show managed to pull off its recent acupuncture gag.
The Good Place returns Thursday, January 4th at 8:30 on NBC.
(Photo credits: Is William Jackson Harper related to Samuel L. Jackson via Nicky Nelson / WENN.com)