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Harper, Hill

Hill Harper

1966—

Actor, writer

Called "one of the more compelling actors of his generation," by Blockbuster.com, Hill Harper, originally named Frank Harper, has become an actor who, according to Blockbuster.com, "has earned a reputation for turning in complex performances defined by equal parts intensity and charisma."

Born on May 17, 1966, in Iowa City, Harper started acting when he was seven, but it was not originally what he intended to do as a career. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a bachelor of arts degree before going on to Harvard University, where he received a JD (cum laude). He also earned a master's in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government, a part of Harvard University. He did, however, continue acting throughout his college career—even becoming a member of Boston's Black Folks Theater Company, an acclaimed theater troupe, when he was attending Harvard—so perhaps it was no surprise that Harper turned to acting in the end. "I'm motivated by something that motivates most men—making your father proud and getting girls," Harper jokingly told Essence.

Began Acting Career on Television

Harper began his television career playing Aaron on the hit comedy Married … with Children. From there, he won parts in several feature films, including Confessions of a Dog (1993), Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994), and Zooman (1995). Also in 1995, he wrote and was seen in the movie One Red Rose. It was in 1996, however, that Harper became well known in the film industry for his portrayal of the student filmmaker documenting the Million Man March in Spike Lee's Get on the Bus. Newsweek said of the film, "A great cast, including … Hill Harper, breathes life into every scene…. A sermon wrapped in a road movie, at its best it can stir the soul."

The role of Xavier in Get on the Bus opened a door for Harper. After the Spike Lee film, he was seen in a slew of feature films, including Steel (1997), a comedy about superheroes, Hav Plenty (1997), a romantic comedy, and The Nephew (1998). The next movie Harper was seen in was Park Day. According to Variety, the film "concentrates on the lives of ordinary black Americans rather than criminals, drug addicts, recently freed slaves, or other well-worn archetypes." It was exactly the type of film that Harper had always wanted to see more of. Also in 1998, he took a part in another Spike Lee film, He Got Game, a movie about basketball that met with mixed reviews.

In 1999 Harper was involved with Loving Jezebel. In this movie, Harper played the lead—a man who seemed to have no luck at love because he was always going out with women who ended up getting him beaten, shot at, and threatened. The Daily Herald said that Loving Jezebel had "a sweet earnestness about it. Plus, it offers one of the most appealing casts ever hired for an independent motion picture." In 2000 Harper was seen in the movie The Skulls alongside Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker, and Leslie Bibb. Harper played Jackson's best friend, who tried to convince Jackson not to join the secret Skulls fraternity. The Seattle Times said the actors "do their work smoothly" and that, even though Harper's role is underwritten, he "makes the most" of it.

Enjoyed Challenging Characters

His next film, The Visit, won much acclaim, and Harper himself won the Audience Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival for his portrayal of a prisoner who was incarcerated for a rape he might not have committed. The movie deals with prisoner Alex, who has been told that he has AIDS, and therefore has begun struggling to reconnect with his family before he dies. Harper chose the role because it was a risk. He has never believed in what he calls, according to Essence, the "Hollywodization" of movies—those movies that "sacrifice quality for commerce."

But whether it was a risk or not, Harper's gamble paid off in the critical acclaim he received. The New York Times said of his performance, "Mr. Harper's part is the most challenging; really, it is four or five different parts, since Alex … changes according to his company…. Mr. Harper melds these distinct personas in a moving, understated performance." The biggest challenge in playing this part seems to have been that most of the main character's changes are internal, and yet have to be expressed to the audience.

Next, Harper tried his hand at television in CBS's City of Angels, a medical drama in which Harper played a young resident. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the show was notable because "its cast is largely made up of African-Americans and other minorities, which shouldn't be such a rare thing in a network drama but emphatically is." But the show was soon canceled. In 2000 Harper was awarded the Emerging Artist Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. In 2001 he was awarded the John Garfield Best Actor Award and was also listed as one of the Top 29 Most Eligible Super Bachelors by Ebony.

Harper completed two more movies: Higher Ed (2001) and The Badge (2002). He took part in the March of 2001 play Dogeaters, a two-act play about the Philippines in the 1980s in which Harper plays the part of a drug-addicted hustler. He was also seen in the off-Broadway show Blue, playing a rebellious son in a Roundabout Theatre Company production. The play received mixed reviews. Called "stale" by Variety, a reporter from The Record said, "Despite its obviousness, the play does have an old-fashioned sweetness in its affection for its characters and its affirmation of family ties…. [It is the] equivalent of easy-listening music, soothing and undemanding." The cast was African-American, but the audience was not entirely, and that was something that Harper was glad to see. "Scientists proved that human beings are the most alike of all species in the world," Harper told the New York Post. "We always want to talk about our differences, but it's sad that we do…. I love that the Roundabout audience is predominantly white and older. To have a 75-year-old white man say, ‘That was my mother,’ or ‘That was my story,’ reinforces what I've always believed: That all our stories are universal."

At a Glance …

Born Frank Harper on May 17, 1966, in Iowa City, IA. Education: Brown University, BA (magna cum laude), 1988; Harvard University, JD (cum laude); Kennedy School of Government, MA in public administration.

Career: Acted in various theater, movie, and television productions, 1990s—; CSI: NY, 2004—.

Awards: Audience Award, Urbanworld Film Festival, 2000; Chicago International Film Festival, Emerging Artist Award, 2000; John Garfield Best Actor Award, 2001.

Addresses: Office—6253 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 501, Los Angeles, CA 90028.

Worked to Break Typecasting of Race

Harper has objected to the disparity between the sorts of films that are being done about African Americans and the ones being done about whites. Harper told the New York Post that African-American films are either "comedies or gangsta films; Pootie Tang or Baby Boy. There's nothing wrong with those films, but it's wrong to say there's no space for anything else." It is to hoped that a man who has been called "thorough at his craft" by Blackfilm.com will have the chance to do a lot more with his career. "Hollywood needs more Hill Harpers," wrote Interview. "He's the kind of actor who will—by the scope of his choices and depth of his characters—force the system, and the viewing public, to abandon typecasting and categorization. Because he has."

In 2004 Harper won a starring role as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes in CSI: NY, a television drama detailing the lives and work of a group of forensic detectives and staff in a New York City crime laboratory. Harper won critical acclaim for his role as a child prodigy turned chief medical examiner for the New York forensic unit and was hailed, by fans, as one of the show's most complex characters.

In 2006 he published the book Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny, which was intended to serve as an inspirational guide to avoiding the problems and pitfalls facing African-American youth. With the help of friends and colleagues, including Barrack Obama and hip-hop artist Nas, Harper collected a series of inspirational messages on a variety of common issues. Among his chief goals was to help young African-American men avoid the belief that their "self worth is attached to outside things," such as the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. Harper received critical praise for the conversational tone of his writing, which enabled him to make complex concepts accessible to a young, urban audience.

In conjunction with the release of his book, Harper founded the MANifest Your Destiny Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping to fund programs for African-American youth. The foundation functions through a series of scholarships, grants, and mentorship programs, funded in part by proceeds from the sale of Harper's book. "Part of the problem," Harper said in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio, "has to do with how we, ultimately, as African-American men, perceive ourselves." Harper explained that he believes that as more African Americans expand the boundaries set by society, others will take notice and do likewise. "As we really reach out to each other and start to go for elements of self that are more expansive" he said, "you'll see examples everywhere."

Selected writings

Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny, Gotham Books, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 27, 2000.

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 27, 2000.

Ebony, June, 2001.

Entertainment Weekly, April 14, 2000, p. 49; May 4, 2001, p. 45; May 11, 2001, p. 54; May 18, 2001, p. 58; November 2, 2001, p. 55.

Essence, January, 2001, p. 54.

Interview, February, 2001, p. 58.

Jet, July 16, 2001, p. 56.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 16, 2000.

New York Post, July 9, 2001.

Newsweek, October 28, 1996, p. 74.

New York Times, December 15, 2000; March 20, 2006; May 26, 2006.

People Weekly, May 7, 2001, p. 33.

The Record (Bergen County, NJ), June 29, 2001.

Rocky Mountain News, May 1, 1998.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2000.

Seattle Times, June 19, 1998; August 25, 1999; March 31, 2000.

Variety, August 18, 1997, p. 33; January 11, 1999, p. 116; November 15, 1999, p. 92; March 12, 2001; July 9, 2001, p. 29.

Online

"CSI's Hill Harper: ‘Letters to a Young Brother,’" National Public Radio,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5358913 (accessed December 19, 2007).

Flint, Rebecca, "Hill Harper," Blockbuster.com,http://www.blockbuster.com/catalog/personDetails/182134 (accessed December 19, 2007).

"Hill Harper," Hollywood.com.http://www.hollywood.com/celebrity/Hill_Harper/187498 (accessed December 19, 2007.

"Hill Harper," IMDB.com.http://imdb.com/name/nm0004991/ (accessed December 19, 2007).

Jones, Shelby, "Actors Making the Grade: Hill Harper Is Fearless in the Active State of Being," Blackfilm.com.http://www.blackfilm.com/0305/features/i-hillharper.shtml (accessed December 19, 2007).

—Catherine Victoria Donaldson
and Micah L. Issit

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"Harper, Hill." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Harper, Hill." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harper-hill

Harper, Hill 1973–

Hill Harper 1973-

Actor

At a Glance

Sources

Called one of the more compelling actors of his generation, by Blockbuster.com, Hill Harper has become an actor who, again according to Blockbuster.com, has earned a reputation for turning in complex performances defined by equal parts intensity and charisma. Frank Harper, his given name, was born May 17, 1973 in Iowa City. He started acting when he was seven, but it was not originally what he intended to do as a career. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a bachelor of arts degree before going on to Harvard University where he received a J.D. (cum laude). He also earned a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, a part of Harvard University. He did, however, continue acting throughout his college careereven becoming a member of Bostons Black Folks Theater Company, an acclaimed theater troupe, when he was attending Harvardso perhaps it was no surprise that Harper turned to acting in the end. Im motivated by something that motivates most menmaking your father proud and getting girls, Harper jokingly told Essence.

Harper began his television career playing Aaron on the hit comedy Married with Children. From there he won parts in several feature films, including Confessions of a Dog (1993), Pump-kinhead II: Blood Wings (1994), and Zooman (1995). Also in 1995 he wrote and was seen in the movie One Red Rose. It was in 1996, however, that Harper became well-known in the film industry for his portrayal of the student filmmaker documenting the Million Man March in Spike Lees Get on the Bus. Newsweek said of the film, A great cast, including Hill Harper, breathes life into every scene . A sermon wrapped in a road movie, at its best it can stir the soul.

The role of Xavier in Get on the Bus opened a door for Harper. After the Spike Lee film he was seen in a slew of feature films, including Steel (1997), a comedy about superheroes, Hav Plenty (1997), a romantic comedy, and The Nephew (1998). The next movie Harper was seen in was Park Day. According to Variety, the film concentrates on the lives of ordinary black Americans rather than criminals, drug addicts, recently freed slaves, or other well-worn archetypes. It was exactly the type of film that Harper had always wanted to see more of. Also in 1998 he took a part in another Spike Lee film, He Got Game, a movie about basketball that met with mixed reviews.

At a Glance

Born Frank Harper on May 17, 1973, in Iowa City, IA. Education: Brown University, B.A. (magna cum laude); Harvard University, J.D. (cum laude); Kennedy School of Government, MA. in Public Administration.

Career: Actor: Pumpkin head ll: Blood Wings, 1994; Confessions of a Dog, 1993; Married., with Children, 1987; Live Shot, 1995; Drifting School, 1995; One Red Rose, 1995; Zooman, 1995; Strange Days, 1995; Drifting School, 1995; Get on the Bus, 1996; Hoover Park, 1997; Hav Plenty, 1997; Steel, 1997; The Assistant, 1997; Mama Floras Family, 1998; Beloved, 1998; The Nephew, 1998; Park Day, 1998; He Got Game, 1998; Slaves of Hollywood, 1999; In Too Deep, 1999; Loving Jezebel, 1999; The Visit, 2000; The Skulls, 2000; City of Angels, 2000; Higher Ed, 2001; The Badge, 2002. TV guest appearances: Life Goes On, 1993; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 1994; Walker, Texas Ranger, 1994; M.A.N.T.I.S., 1994; Renegade, 1994; Murder One, 1995; Dangerous Minds, 1996; NYPD Blue, 1996; ER, 1997; Cosby, 1998. Writer: One Red Rose, 1995. Theater Actor: American Buffalo; Your Handsome Captain; Freeman; The Toilet; Full Cycle; The Meeting; Las Virgines De Guadalupe; The Night the War Came Home; Reasons; The Colored Museum; The Dark Symphony; Beyond Therapy.

Awards: Audience Award, Urbanworld Film Festival, 2000; Emerging Artist Award, Chicago International Film Festival; John Garfield Best Actor award, 2001; One of the top 29 Most Eligible Super Bachelors, Ebony.

Addresses: c/o Brian Dobbins, 9665 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. (310) 2742294.

In 1999 Harper was involved with Loving Jezebel. In this movie, Harper played the leada man who seemed to have no luck at love as he was always going out with women who ended up getting him beaten, shot at, and threatened. The Daily Herald said that Loving Jezebel had a sweet earnestness about it. Plus, it offers one of the most appealing casts ever hired for an independent motion picture. In 2000 Harper was seen in the movie The Skulls alongside Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker, and Leslie Bibb. Harper played Jacksons best friend who tried to convince him not to join the secret Skulls fraternity. The Seattle Times said the actors do their work smoothly and that, although Harpers role is underwritten, he makes the most of it.

Harper continually fought to convince a rather reticent world that African-American films that do not contain slapstick comedy or horrible violence can find a niche in the entertainment field. Upon release of his next film, The Visit, he wrote a letter to the public to solicit support for the film. The Visit is intended as a spiritual adventure, an experience that we hope after seeing it makes you feel more alive than when you came in, Harper wrote, as posted on www.blackindc.com. The film won much acclaim, and Harper himself won the Audience Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival for his portrayal of a prisoner, incarcerated for a rape he might not have committed. The movie deals with prisoner Alex, who has been told that he has AIDS, and therefore has begun struggling to reconnect with his family before he dies. Harper chose the role because it was a risk. He has never believed in what he terms, according to Essence, the Hollywoodization of moviesthose movies that sacrifice quality for commerce.

But whether it was a risk or not, Harpers gamble paid off in the critical acclaim he received. The New York Times said of his performance, Mr. Harpers part is the most challenging; really, it is four or five different parts, since Alex changes according to his company . Mr. Harper melds these distinct personas in a moving, understated performance. The biggest challenge in playing this part seems to have been that most of the main characters changes are internal, and yet have to be expressed to the audience.

Next Harper tried his hand at television in CBSs City of Angels, a medical drama in which Harper played a young resident. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the show was notable because its cast is largely made up of African-Americans and other minorities, which shouldnt be such a rare thing in a network drama but emphatically is. But the show was soon canceled. In 2000 Harper was awarded the Emerging Artist Award at the Chicago International Film Festival, and was also seen hosting a multicultural runway show of younger designs by such designers as Emporio Armani, Sean John, DKNY, Nautica Jeans, Ecko, and Dolce & Gabbana. In 2001 he was awarded the John Garfield Best Actor award and was also listed as one of the top 29 Most Eligible Super Bachelors by Ebony.

Harper has also completed two more movies: Higher Ed (2001) and The Badge (2002). Also Harper took part in the March of 2001 play, Dogeaters, a two-act play about the Philippines in the 1980s in which Harper plays the part of a drug-addicted hustler. He was also seen in the off-Broadway show Blue, playing a rebellious son in a Roundabout Theatre Companys production. The play received mixed reviews. Called stale by Variety, a reporter from The Record said, Despite its obviousness, the play does have an old-fashioned sweetness in its affection for its characters and its affirmation of family ties . [It is the] equivalent of easy-listening music, soothing and undemanding. The cast was African-American, but the audience was not entirely, and that was something that Harper was glad to see. Scientists proved that human beings are the most alike of all species in the world, Harper told the New York Post, We always want to talk about our differences, but its sad that we do . I love that the Roundabout audience is predominantly white and older. To have a 75-year-old white man say, That was my mother, or That was my story, reinforces what Ive always believed: That all our stories are universal.

Harper has objected to the disparity between the sorts of films that are being done about African-Americans and the ones being done about whites. Harper told the New York Post that black films are either comedies or gangsta films; Pootie Tang or Baby Boy. Theres nothing wrong with those films, but its wrong to say theres no space for anything else. It is to be hoped that a man who has been called thorough at his craft, by the Blackfilm website will have the chance to do a lot more with his career. Hollywood needs more Hill Harpers, wrote Interview, Hes the kind of actor who willby the scope of his choices and depth of his charactersforce the system, and the viewing public, to abandon typecasting and categorization. Because he has.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 27, 2000, p. P13.

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 27, 2000, p. 35.

Ebony, June, 2001.

Entertainment Weekly, April 14, 2000, p. 49; May 4, 2001, p. 45; May 11, 2001, p. 54; May 18, 2001, p. 58; November 2, 2001, p. 55.

Essence, January, 2001, p. 54.

Interview, February, 2001, p. 58.

Jet, July 16, 2001, p. 56.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 16, 2000, p. 1E.

New York Post, July 9, 2001, p. 36.

Newsweek, October 28, 1996, p. 74.

The New York Times, December 15, 2000, p. E26.

People Weekly, May 7, 2001, p. 33.

The Record (Bergen County, NJ), June 29, 2001, p. 017.

Rocky Mountain News, May 1, 1998, p. 7D.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2000, p. B7.

The Seattle Times, June 19, 1998, p. G5; August 25, 1999, p. El; March 31, 2000, p. J5.

Variety, August 18, 1997, p. 33; January 11, 1999, p. 116; November 15, 1999, p. 92; March 12, 2001; July 9, 2001, p. 29.

Online

blackfilm.com

www.blackindc.com

www.blockbuster.com

www.hollywood.com

www.harpnet.com

www.imdb.com

www.thevisit-movie.com

Catherine Victoria Donaldson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Harper, Hill 1973–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Harper, Hill 1973–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harper-hill-1973

"Harper, Hill 1973–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harper-hill-1973