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CSI Files

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Hill Harper

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at July 15, 2009 - 2:55 PM GMT

CSI: New York's Hill Harper (Dr. Sheldon Hawkes) has some exciting news for fans: he's going to be Twittering from the set of the show, which resumes production in Los Angeles today. In an exclusive interview with CSI Files' Kristine Huntley, Harper shares all the scoop about his decision to Twitter, his hiatus and what's to come for Dr. Hawkes and the rest of the team following last season's cliffhanger.

CSI Files: So you have some cool news about something you're going to be doing for the upcoming sixth season of CSI: New York!

Hill Harper: Yes! I'm really excited. I want to invite everyone who is on CSI Files to my Twitter, @hillharper, and I'm going to tweet all season long from the set. I'm going to include when we're shooting scenes--maybe we'll talk scenes, we'll talk about the actors in them, I'll hand my Blackberry to Carmine [Giovinazzo, Danny Messer] and Eddie [Cahill, Don Flack] and Gary [Sinise, Mac Taylor] and Melina [Kanakaredes, Stella Bonasera] and Anna [Belknap, Lindsay Monroe] and have them tweet something. I really think that welcoming people in in real time is really important. I want to just do it this whole season and see how people respond and see if we can build up a big following of people talking back in real time. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens. Obviously I'll talk to the producers about what I can and cannot include as far as spoilers and this and that, but I think it's going to be really fun, so I'm excited about it.

What's interesting is maybe as I'm doing it, since it's going to happen in real time, someone's response can influence a scene, or what we do in a scene. I don't know. It will be all new territory obviously for me as well as for whoever's following, so you never know. Someone will say, "Well, what about this?" and maybe that will have an impact. So I don't know. I'm excited about exploring the new frontier and really interacting with the audience.

CSI Files: For those not familiar with Twitter, how will does it work and how will it allow you to interact with fans?

Harper: It's 140 characters, so it's shorthand. The reason I like it because unlike MySpace or Facebook or e-mails or blasts where you can go on and on and on, it's shorthand so you really have to think about what you want to convey quite quickly without wasting a whole lot of time. So I really like it in that regard. So what it is is that you can post something and if you're following me, you can see it, and then you can either Re-Tweet it, RT space, and post that out there or just reply. And I can Re-Tweet and reply and so on. So you can end up interacting with a whole lot of people. And because it's shorthand, it's able to come up on my Blackberry. So I'll be doing it from my Blackberry. I'll bring my Blackberry to set with me.

CSI Files: So you'd Tweet anything from, "Eddie just tripped over that egg carton" to "Wow, we're shooting this really powerful, beautiful scene in New York"?

Harper: Exactly! It could be any of that as well as, "Hey, I'm handing my Blackberry to Eddie--he's going to say hello." Or "What do you guys think? I'm shooting a scene with Carmine--I was thinking about drinking coffee in the scene. Should I or should I not?" I really want to do that kind of stuff. Obviously I can't do too much of that or the producers will get very upset, but I'll do some of it. It's that kind of thing where it's literally welcoming people onto the set.

CSI Files: Fans of the show definitely love the behind-the-scenes scoop!

Harper: I could say something like, "Carmine is in a bad mood today--watch out!"

CSI Files: And then he grabs your Blackberry...

Harper: [...and writes,] "Don't you Tweet about me ever again!"

CSI Files: Are you hoping the other actors will get in on the Tweeting as well?

Harper: My thing is I've always just been the type of person who leads by example and then [others] see it or realize it and they get in it because it shows them how it can be done or how easy it is. And I'm learning, too--there are things about technology that I have no idea about. And I love the idea of using new technology in entertainment. Technology and social networking--it's all changing entertainment. CSI Files as a site has had a huge impact on the CSI franchise and all the shows. What people say on the site impacts stories and impacts characters--it's real. But for the internet and a site like CSI Files, the shows would be different I believe. Therefore let's keep pushing with it, let's keep going, let's explore everything. I really am interested in it.

So I'll be Tweeting all season long and my Tweets will still be mine as well. So it won't just be from the show, but since we're going to be shooting the show from mid-July all the way through April, I think it will be exciting to explore it.

CSI Files: How was your hiatus?

Harper: It was great. I was able to go to the International Television Festival in Monte Carlo and that was fantastic. I got to meet people who are acting or producing or directing television from all over the world, and then all this international press. What was really heartening was to see that the show is watched and liked around the world.

And I [was] the president of the jury of the Roma Fiction Fest, which is a huge honor. The jury that I [was] the president of judged episodic television internationally, so TV shows, half-hours and hours from around the world.

I also shot a movie, a sci-fi film, and I'm not going to say the name because one thing I've learned in my career with sci-fi and horror movies, you want to watch them first before you tell anybody, because you never know how they're going to turn out! Sometimes they turn out amazing and sometimes they turn out corny--you just never know. So I shot a sci-fi film and I played the bad guy, the villain. I don't get to play the villain very often so I'm like maniacal villain who's out for world domination and destruction. So it was a lot of fun because I always get cast as the good guy, which is great, but it's also nice to change it up so this time I'm the bad guy!

CSI Files: What was your experience playing a villain? What did you bring to it differently than you would playing a good guy?

Harper: One thing I try to bring to every character I play whether I'm a villain or the good guy is a sense of humanity. Even if you're the bad guy, you're doing it for a reason. I remember I had an acting coach who would talk about Jeffrey Dahlmer and he would say, "Even Jeffrey Dahlmer loved things." Not every [bad guy] is just purely maniacal and nasty and horrible--they're taking the actions they're taking because they're passionate about something. So, can you find that? Can you play that? Can you bring the humanity to it? I think it makes the character a little more interesting when you do that.

CSI Files: What's the status of your third book, The Conversation?

Harper: The Conversation comes out September 8th. It's my first book for adults, specifically. So I'm really excited about it. The hope is for it to promote a lot of conversation.

CSI Files: It's about relationships, specifically romantic ones?

Harper: Yes--and from a single man's perspective.

CSI Files: And you'll be doing a book tour to support it?

Harper: I'll be traveling around the country to support that, so I'm excited to get out there.

CSI Files: Are you excited about the upcoming season?

Harper: Definitely! I think this is going to be the best season yet, and I think it's going to be the best season for Dr. Hawkes for a lot of reasons, but I'm super-excited about it.

CSI Files: Have you read any of the scripts yet?

Harper: I've read scripts and I've also had meetings with the executive producer to talk about the entire season. There are some really exciting things coming up!

CSI Files: We've heard there's a new character joining the show, Kaye Sullivan. Are you worried that not everybody's walking out of that diner from the shootout in "Pay Up"?

Harper: No, I think everybody's walking out. That's just my personal feeling. I'm pretty confident about that, but I think some people get injured, let's put it that way. And I think that the new character is going to start out as a recurring. I don't think [she's] going to start out as a series regular per se, and if the audience responds and it works well, eventually [she] would become a regular.

CSI Files: Has the role been cast yet?

Harper: I know for a fact that there is an actress choice waiting to be confirmed. We should know extremely soon because she will be appearing very early in the season.

CSI Files: Why do you think the decision was made to bring in someone new?

Harper: I think it's a lot of things. You want to keep the show fresh, hot and sexy. Look, Detective Angell (Emmanuelle Vaugier) was one of the most beautiful, sexy, interesting, strong female characters on TV, period. She's awesome. So I think if you look at the show, if you lose someone that appealing, with all that sex appeal and strength, you want to make sure you have characters that come and represent that. So why not? There are so many great personalities and actresses out there, why not find someone who's great and beautiful? I think that's awesome.

CSI Files: What was your reaction when you found out it was Detective Angell who was being killed off in the finale?

Harper: I love her as a person, so this is more of a personal reaction. It was, "Wow, I'm not going to get to see her all the time?" This is Hill, personally, not Sheldon Hawkes. But it's interesting--all of us could be killed at any time. Like you said, people could not walk out of that diner. That same thing could happen in episode three, seven, ten... who knows? For many of us on the show, this is the last year of original contract. So you never know what's going to happen. And the entertainment industry is changing, and it is shifting and evolving, so you can't take anything for granted.

I am committed to and excited about CSI: New York because I just think the show has gotten better and better and better and the chemistry among the actors is incredible. And that's why I really think the next three years of CSI: New York are going to be the golden age of the show. In my opinion--and obviously there's a sibling rivalry and all sorts of things--but I think our show is going to be the best procedural on television, period, over the course of the next three years. I just think that the writers are so good and in a zone, the actors are really embodying their characters really well, and we're just going to be great! I'm excited. The writing talent we have is just incredible. Pam Veasey and Peter Lenkov are two of the best writers, not just on television, just period. They're incredible. You have someone like Peter who does big, big studio films and Pam is just an incredible showrunner. The show is just great.

CSI Files: Along with writer Barbie Kligman, Peter Lenkov wrote one of the most powerful episodes of last season, "Yahrzeit". What was your reaction to your take on the approach to racism in the episode that we saw through Hawkes and Danny's interactions?

Harper: I thought it played out great. The acting was great. There's an example of Twitter and how that can be used [to share stories about the show]. Peter decided in celebration of that episode to have a viewing party at his house. And that was the first time we'd really done that. So we all went to Peter's house and we watched it the episode. And Ed Asner watched with us and it was just such a beautiful thing. I really enjoyed it. We all watched it together, right on television--it wasn't a DVD. It was really watching it at the same time the rest of the audience was watching it. I think it was a real bonding thing as well.

The episode was extremely well acted; I thought it was extremely well written. It was very touching. I'm so proud of that show; I'm proud of that episode and I'm proud of CSI: New York taking on these issues but still providing the show. It's a tightrope you have to walk.

CSI: Files: Was that a difficult episode to film?

Harper: It was a lot of personal stuff, which I love. Hawkes doesn't often get the opportunity to be emotional and talk about his personal life. What was nice, too, was that I had a real Uncle Frank that meant a lot to me. Originally [Hawkes'] uncle wasn't named Frank, and I asked Peter if I could just change the name to my real uncle as kind of a homage to him. There's really a lot of stuff like going on in the show. I know that Gary made some change and some other people made some changes just to make it a personal thing, so that episode is really personal to a lot of people.

CSI Files: It definitely wasn't the average episode of CSI: NY.

Harper: What I also loved is that Danny and Hawkes kind of had a bonding moment in two different ways. When he comes in early on in the episode and is like, "Hey man," and I say, "My uncle passed away," he kind of comes over and supports me, gives me a hug. You don't see that kind of heterosexual male love on television that much, so I love that. Everyone's [usually] trying to be super macho.

CSI Files: Danny is definitely the emotional male character on the show--if anyone is going to give someone a hug, it's probably going to be Danny!

Harper: Yeah, I don't think Mac is going to come up and give Hawkes a hug! Maybe this season, they'll write [Hawkes] saying, "Come on Mac, just give me a hug!"

CSI Files: So there's a baby on the scene now (Danny and Lindsay's daughter Lucy). What is Hawkes going to be like as an uncle?

Harper: He's going to be great! He's going to teach the baby all about using science to solve her problems, to use the Bunsen burner to heat up her baby formula. I'm excited--Hawkes is going to get to babysit!

CSI Files: Do you know who was injured that shoot out in that fifth season finale?

Harper: I do! One of the [fans'] favorite characters on the show was injured. You're definitely going to see the aftermath this season. I can't say who, but I'll be Tweeting clues about a scene. What's going to be cool about the Tweeting is that if people are really sharp, you'll be able to pick up clues. Let's say--and I'm projecting now--I'm talking about doing a scene from a hospital and mentioning which characters are there, then people can kind of put two and two together without me mentioning anything specifically.

CSI Files: So people can kind of narrow down the list or make guesses.

Harper: Exactly.

CSI Files: So are you pretty confident everyone will survive that first episode?

Harper: I think so. We have a good team so I don't think they want to break it up. [We're all missing] Detective Jessica Angell! I was proud that Danny and Hawkes were in her first scene on the show. That episode replayed on Spike recently and I happened to catch it, and I just remember [it] so fondly. I had a line in that scene where I say, "Angell got her wings." Danny said something smart to her, and she responded with something smart and then I said that to her. That was a few years ago! That was actually the first scene we shot that season, the first scene of the season for Carmine and me. So it's very memorable. For some reason, you always remember the first scene you shot for a particular season.

CSI Files: So is there hope for a love interest for Dr. Hawkes this season?

Harper: Yes, I can tell you that that is going to happen! Logically, it's time. Danny's had it, Flack had it, Mac's had it. I'm talking about the guys; so it's my turn. Are they going to give it to Adam (AJ Buckley)? Come on! I don't even know if Adam likes girls!

CSI Files: Do you think it will be someone in the lab or outside of it?

Harper: I don't know--let's see who Kaye Sullivan ends up being, and maybe it will be her! I'm very excited about what this season offers for Dr. Hawkes.

Discuss this interviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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