Accomplished film, television and stage actor Hill Harper first came to fame as a movie student documenting the Million Man March in Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus (1996). Four years later, he gained even more recognition for his starring turn as a prisoner dying of AIDS on the independent drama The Visit. For his bravura acting, he was handed a Method Fest Award, as well as an Independent Spirit nomination and a Black Reel nomination. Other film credits include Hav Plenty (1997), He Got Game (1998), The Nephew (1998), Loving Jezebel (1999), Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (2003), Constellation (2005), The Breed (2006) and 30 Days (2006). He also has supporting roles in the upcoming films like The Shanghai Hotel (2007) and This Is Not a Test (2007).
However, the handsome, charismatic, stage-trained performer is probably best known for his television work. One of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” (2004), Harper currently enjoys success with the hit CBS series “CSI: New York” (2004-?), playing forensic pathologist Sheldon Hawkes. The role has brought the actor three Image nominations. He also nabbed a 2001 NAACP Image nomination in CBS medical drama “City of Angels” (2000, as medical resident Wesley Williams) and a 2004 Golden Satellite nomination in CBS crime series “The Handler” (2003, as undercover FBI operative Darnell). The Sacramento native also has acted in numerous TV films and guest starred in countless TV shows.
Childhood and Family:
Hill Harper was born Frank Harper on May 17, 1966, in Iowa City, Iowa. He attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and later graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He received a J.D (cum laude) from Harvard Law School and a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
While studying at Harvard, Hill Harper started his acting career by joining one of the nation’s oldest and most respected African American traveling theater troupes, the Black Folk’s Theater Company in Boston, Massachusetts. He performed in several off-Broadway productions, including “Your Handsome Captain,” David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” and “Freeman,” and starred in Jessica Hagedorn’s “Dogeaters” at Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York. Harper’s first screen role arrived in 1993 when he was cast as Phil Wilson in the 30-minute short Confessions of a Dog. The same year, he also stepped to the primetime series with his guest starring gig in the ABC family drama “Life Goes On,” playing a nurse.
A string of guest roles followed, including playing Aaron, a shoe salesman protégé of Al Bundy in episodes of Fox’s sitcom “Married with Children” (1993-1994), before the young actor made his big screen debut in the unremarkable sequel Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994), which he followed with performances in One Red Rose and Drifting School (both 1995). He fared better as Victor, the teen son of Rueben Tate (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) in the highly praised Showtime film Zooman (1995), and landed his first series regular that same year, as daredevil cameraman Tommy Greer in the UPN show “Live Shot.”
After guest starring on shows like “Murder One” and “NYPD Blue,” Harper’s film career started to improve when Spike Lee handed him his breakthrough screen role, as an aspiring filmmaker, in Get on the Bus (1996), which earned an Image nomination and a GLAAD Media nomination in the category of Outstanding Motion Picture. With the fame he got from acting in the movie, he next was cast in many movies, including portraying a rapper and romantic foe to Christopher Scott Cherot in the comedy Hav Plenty (1997), the cousin and eclipsed teammate of a star high school basketball player in Spike Lee’s He Got Game (1998, starred Denzel Washington), a biracial man in The Nephew (1998, with Pierce Brosnan), Theodorous in the indie-comedy Loving Jezebel (1999) and costarring with Omar Epps and LL Cool J in In Too Deep (1999). Meanwhile on television, the budding performer appeared on the CBS drama Mama Flora’s Family (1998) and in an episode of popular shows like “ER” (1997).
Kicking off the new millennium, Harper enjoyed success with his critical acclaimed turn as a HIV positive, Alex Waters, in Jordan Walker Pearlman’s indie-drama The Visit. His performance won him a Best Actor award from the 2000 Method Fest, as well as an Independent Spirit nomination and a Black Reel nomination. He also costarred as a student journalist in the thriller/horror The Skulls (2000), opposite Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker. 2000 also saw the actor return to series TV as a medical resident in the Stephen Bochco-produced CBS medical drama “City of Angels,” costarring with Blair Underwood and Michael Warren. The role brought Harper a 2001 NAACP Image nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Following the show’s cancellation, Harper portrayed Christopher Bell in the 2002 series “The Court” and Darnell, a go-getting undercover FBI operative on the CBS crime series “The Handler” (2003), which gave him a 2004 Golden Satellite nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. However, he did not hit the big time until he joined Gary Sinise, Melina Kanakaredes and Carmine Giovinazzo in the renowned CBS drama series “CSI: NY” (2004-?). As Dr. Sheldon Hawkes, a withdrawn coroner who departed a promising surgical career after the traumatic loss of two patients, he was handed three Image nominations for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series (2005, 2006, and 2007). Harper also acted in films like Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (2003), Andre Royo’s Big Scene (2004), America Brown (2004), My Purple Fur Coat (2004), Lackawanna Blues (2005, HBO), which based on a Ruben Santiago-Hudson critically applauded stage play, and Jordan Walker-Pearlman’s Constellation (2005). In 2006, he had five movies under his belt: Whitepaddy, Max and Josh, Premium, The Breed and 30 Days.
As for his forthcoming projects, Harper will play Carlos in director-writer Jerry Allen Davis’ The Shanghai Hotel (2007), Carl in This Is Not a Test (2007) and Damion Marshall in the direct-to-video A Good Man Is Hard to Find (2008). On the small screen, he is scheduled to star as trooper Augusts Walley in the Western miniseries “Rescue at Pine Ridge” (2008).
- Method Fest: Best Actor, Feature Film, The Visit, 2000