Hill Harper

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 7, 2009 - 6:41 PM GMT

Season five of CSI: New York has delved deeper into the character of Sheldon Hawkes than any season before it, exploring both Hawkes' romantic past and his deep sense of integrity when faced with personal challenges on the job, from an old friend asking for an unethical favor to making a stand when a colleague calls in sick with the blue flu. Hill Harper shared his desire for a romance for Hawkes in the future and what he likes best about the character with CSI Files' Kristine Huntley, as well as his enthusiasm for the show and his outside projects--including a third book. Some spoilers ahead!

CSI Files: You're finishing up season five of the show! How is the rest of the season looking?

Hill Harper: Fantastic! I think that it has been one of the best seasons. It's been a joy. I think the writing has been great. The storylines have been really interesting. I've been really captivated by a lot of the episodes. I think they've been great--extremely well written. My mom calls me after every episode airs and she's really just excited. Every time she calls me, she says, "The writers are doing such a great job! All these storylines are so interesting and complex and entertaining." So that's a really nice affirmation.

CSI Files: This has been a really great season for Hawkes--it's really opened him up a lot as a character. And we even got to see some of his romantic past in "Help". Did you enjoy getting to explore that?

Harper: I thought that was great. The more love interest material they can give me, the better! I think it's great and I love it!

CSI Files: That was obviously a more serious storyline given the fact that Kara had been raped while she and Hawkes were dating. What did you draw on to bring out the more emotional side of Hawkes?

Harper: It's great because we're all actors on the show and we like to be able to play different emotional realities in different circumstances, but at the end of the day, it's a show that's a procedural. So when those opportunities come along you really relish and enjoy them as an actor because you can draw upon other things and very personal experiences. In my book Letters to a Young Sister, Gabrielle Union wrote the forward and she talked about when she was raped as a younger woman and talked about her experiences. The young women that I meet across the country at book signings and things have talked about their experiences with violence and being in relationships in different settings. All of those things affect me in the real world and in real life, and certainly to portray a character that has feelings and is in a romantic relationship with someone that had been a victim of abuse on that level was just a really wonderful challenge and something that I'm proud that I got a chance to play.

CSI Files: How do you think Hawkes coped with the dissolution of that relationship? Do you think he got over it, or do you think it's always haunted him?

Harper: Over time, in his relationships I think that subtextually is pretty clear. He never says it and I don't want to spoil anything, but there is a situation where it [is evident that it] clearly had an effect on him. Before the season is over, he mentions it again. It's definitely had a real effect on him.

CSI Files: Mac (Gary Sinise) and Hawkes clashed a bit when Mac caught Hawkes staking out the suspected rapist in the episode. Did you like how that played out? Did you think Mac was right or did you sympathize with Hawkes more?

Harper: That scene with Mac actually is one of my favorite scenes I've done on the show. It's very well written. There are a lot of givens there, a lot of layers to the scene. There's the professional element of overreaching or perhaps doing something that's not appropriate professionally and I think that both Mac and Hawkes take their professions very seriously. I think they're both very proud of the fact that they maintain a level of excellence in terms of their work. I think that's kind of born out--many of the characters come to Hawkes for their answers because he's really on top of his game when it comes to doing his work. He's very professional, and obviously Mac Taylor is the epitome of professionalism, so there's that layer. But then there's also the friendship layer--I think these two people are friends and I think that in a certain way Mac Taylor is a mentor to Hawkes. They've also developed a friendship and a collaboration, having worked together for such a long time, and a mutual respect. And so you have the layer of the professional not wanting to make a mistake professionally, to do something out of bounds, but at the same time wanting to protect a friend, but also wanting to be honest with a friend, to say, "You know what? This isn't right. It's messed up. Something's wrong here." Just being honest and being frustrated, wanting to do something but feeling hamstrung in a way. I think that scene played out really well and that really came through.

CSI Files: Were you at all bothered by the fact that we didn't get to see Hawkes' reaction after the rapist was caught?

Harper: I don't think of things that way. I really look towards the script as to what the script is. The writers write things for reasons and sometimes there's a much bigger picture involved than individual characters. I kind of just take it as this is the story. There've been very few times that I've gone, "Shouldn't this be that or this?" I think there's only been one time in the whole five seasons when maybe it was a group of us at the end of an episode, and I can't remember if Hawkes wasn't included in it or something like that--I don't remember. I very rarely think, "Oh, we should have seen this or we should have seen that."

CSI Files: Do you ever go to the writers with suggestions or feedback about the scripts?

Harper: I think everyone [has]. Our show is a real collaboration. I think we all give feedback and input in an attempt to make the show as good as it can be. There's always a dialogue and input, feedback and ideas exchanged.

CSI Files: Do you think there's any chance for Kara and Hawkes to find their way back to each other, or do you think their story is pretty much over?

Harper: I'm not sure about that, but what I really like about it is that it feels like that potentially brought some closure to that piece, so now Hawkes could move on and actually date someone new. So it feels like there's been closure, that's cleared out, now Hawkes is open to having a real fulfilling, sustained relationship with someone else. That's what I'm thinking. If it ends up being Kara, that's great, too--either way.

CSI Files: So you want some more love for Hawkes, basically?

Harper: I love playing those elements because having positive, healthy relationships portrayed on screen--I love that. Particularly I like the idea of breaking stereotypical images--seeing an African-American man who's intelligent, hardworking but also has a healthy love interest. I think all of those things are really positive, reinforcing imagery, which I really support.

CSI Files: Here's hoping season six brings a good relationship for Hawkes!

Harper: Why can't we have the people on CSI Files start a rallying call for love for Hawkes in season six? The writers seem to be responsive to what the fans demand, so if we could get some folks behind this rallying call for Hawkes to get some lovin', maybe it will happen! Everybody deserves loving and we've seen other characters settling down.

CSI Files: There has been a lot of that lately, with Danny and Lindsay getting married and expecting a child and Flack and Angell dating. What do you think of all the romance on the show?

Harper: I think they're great--the more the better. But I think it all needs to come around! It's Hawkes' turn. We need to at least have a nice scene where there's the long look into the eyes and the slow lean into the kiss because that's big!

CSI Files: We did see the romance with Kara in flashbacks--none of it was actually in the present!

Harper: Exactly!

CSI Files: On a non-romantic front, Hawkes had a great confrontation earlier in the season in "Sex, Lies and Silicone" when a friend wanted him to tamper with evidence. The friend played on Hawkes' emotions by using the fact that his father had paid for the last year of Hawkes' medical school. Do you think Hawkes was torn at all at any point, or that it was a difficult decision?

Harper: Oh, I don't think Hawkes was torn in the least. I just think he was shocked and surprised--he didn't know that [the friend's] father had actually paid for his last year of medical school. I think that was a surprise, and I think that Hawkes doesn't want to feel like he owes anyone anything, or that they feel like they can hold something over his head.

That's the one thing I love about Dr. Sheldon Hawkes--he as a high degree of integrity. What's right is right. You'll see in some of these final episodes, there are certain things the writers are giving me to play in certain situations that really speak to this idea of Hawkes having an opinion on what is right. One thing in particular in the episode with Katherine McPhee ("Prey"), there's an idea of what Hawkes believes is right and what's wrong, and I think it's really well written, the way it kind of unfolds. The audience is going to see Hawkes has a real clear sense of and his own level of integrity in what he believes to be right and wrong. I'm really excited for that episode!

CSI FIles: We've heard there's a big death in the finale! Can you shed any light on the effect that's going to have on the team?

Harper: I don't know!

CSI Files: It's not Hawkes, is it?

Harper: I don't know! I seriously don't know. I hope it's not me! I think that there's a lot more that I have to do with Hawkes that I can do on the show, so hopefully Hawkes isn't going to get killed in season five. There's a lot more to do. We're literally just starting to scratch the surface. There are a lot of wonderful stories and a lot of wonderful interaction. I really like the relationship built over time, the friendship, between Danny (Carmine Giovinazzo) and Hawkes. I think it's a really great friendship of mutual respect--there's some ribbing and kidding there, but also a real friendship. There's a lot of good stuff that I'm looking forward to playing in the future. I don't know much about the death--it could be anybody! I'm being really honest about it--I have no idea.

CSI Files: Fans have made that point, too, about Hawkes, that there's so much left to be explored about his character! The only fear was that you planned to leave CSI: New York to go to Washington to do great things politically.

Harper: I have no plans to leave CSI: New York! I really enjoy it. So if it is me, it wasn't voluntary!

CSI Files: Getting back to Danny, Hawkes clashed with Danny when the latter stayed home with the blue flu in "The Party's Over". Hawkes came down the hardest on Danny over the issue. Why do you think that was?

Harper: I think that again speaks to Hawkes' [sense of right and wrong]. What's been made clear this season which I really like is that Hawkes will act and speak on what he believes is right and wrong. He's not just "okay, this is the letter of the law." He's like, this is right, this is wrong. He has a clear opinion and point-of-view and he's confident enough in his point-of-view that he'll articulate a position but he does it from a place of love and respect, so he's also very fair. That's what I love about him. There's some really good stuff coming up that I wish I could talk about more, involving issues of race and things and conflict around those issues that I think are really well written and really well done, and I'm glad we got a chance to really act in that area.

CSI Files: How do you think Hawkes felt about Dr. Marty Pino's fall from grace in "Point of No Return"?

Harper: I think that broke his heart. That's where Hawkes came from (the ME's office). He knew Dr. Pino--trained him, brought him in and worked with him. It broke his heart. That was a really well done episode. What I like about it is look at someone like Ashley Simpson-Wentz--she did a great job in that episode.

CSI Files: Getting away from CSI: NY for a moment, I hear you're at work on a third book! Can you tell me anything about it?

Harper: The third book is called The Conversation and it's a book about relationships and really going into relationships between men and women, and obviously my own issues, personally, around relationships. From doing a lot of speaking around the country and meeting many, many people, whether it's book tours or speeches, there's clearly a fissure in certain ways between men and women. We're in a situation right now where we see that 32% of African-American children are being raised in two parent households, and that number is just really low. What's going on? What's going on between men and women in general, what's keeping us apart and how can we come together? And then also kind of holding up the mirror to myself and saying, "I'm not married yet. Am I part of the problem?" Me, as a man. So it's really an interesting, very personal book. I'm scared and excited about it at the same time.

CSI Files: When is it going to be published?

Harper: I'm not sure, but I think it's going to come out some time in the fall.

CSI Files: When can we expect your previous book, Letters to a Young Sister out in paperback?

Harper: It comes out May 5th, so during our hiatus, I'm going to do a scaled-down, one week tour to support the paperback release. Readers out there, I may be coming to a city near you, so please come out and say hello!

CSI Files: Do you know yet what cities you'll be going to?

Harper: As of right now, the schedule has me going to Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, Charlotte NC and Houston. Since the [paperback of Letters to a Young Sister and The Conversation] are coming out relatively close to each other, I wanted to choose different cities for big events for each. Obviously I didn't include New York or L.A. in this paperback release. I did those cities for the hardcover and I'll do those cities for the release of The Conversation.

CSI Files: You're obviously a very busy man, but you managed to make it to President Barack Obama's inauguration in January. What was that like?

Harper: It was wonderful. It was a wonderful culmination of so many people working so hard. The actual inauguration celebration and all the activities around it were fantastic, and so humbling. I received an award or two for some of the work I did, so really, it was a humbling honor, and something I'll never forget for the rest of my life. It truly felt great to be a part of something so positive and so historic.

CSI Files: What's it like having a friend in the White House? Do you ever get phone calls from him?

Harper: I want put all the readers at ease, no, no one is calling me asking me to give them advice about policy or anything. So no one has to worry about me giving bad advice about policy measures!

CSI Files: I don't think anyone is worried about you giving bad advice! With two degrees from Harvard, you're probably not giving bad advice.

Harper: The State Department actually sent me to Italy to do a trip in Italy to speak to young people. I was in Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna. I met with high school students, college students and grad students all over, thousands of young people throughout Italy, speaking on this cultural exchange program [organized] by the State Department. These are the types of volunteer efforts that I think are critical for all of us to think about doing. So any of you that are out there reading, please try to find a way to volunteer whether it's something internationally or something domestic or within your own community. To have positive change happen, it takes the work of all of us. We just can't look to Washington to "solve our problems"--we really have to look at ourselves, so I really want to encourage folks to volunteer in whatever way they can and to be involved.

CSI Files: CSI: NY is just about to wrap up its fifth season. What do you think the future of the show will be?

Harper: Looking towards the future of our show, I really do believe that for the next two to three years we are really going to enter the golden age of CSI: NY. Now that the show has pretty wide distribution on cable, all these people are being introduced to the show who maybe didn't watch when we first came on because they were on procedural overload. They're seeing that this show is better than the others--not just CSI, but the other shows like it out there. The level of acting on our show is just top notch. I really do believe that you're going to see CSI: NY in the next two to three years on the top ratings-wise. That's my bold prediction!

CSI Files: It's great to see you so fired up about the show!

Harper: It's not just our show--it's all TV. I believe that across the board TV is great and it's actually better than movies. I'm going to Rome for the Roma Fiction Fest in July and one of the things I was asked in Italy [last year] was, "How come American TV is so good?" It all starts with the writers. The way writers are developed in this business is really positive. The writersí room is a really cool environment. It's a really fair system that develops talent in a really wonderful way.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.