For some, the road to acting was paved from childhood - a kind of predetermined path; for others, it was more of a winding road, ending up unexpectedly in front of a camera. Hill Harper fell into the profession after pursuing a Renaissance-man existence, with a distinguished education and a string of outside accomplishments to show for himself. With his law school background, Harper could have succeeded in whatever he had applied himself to, but acting wound up being the path he ultimately chose. He brought an earnest intellect and intensity to his roles, coupled with a distinct appeal to the opposite sex - to the point where he was named one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive." Much of his acclaim came from the strength of his performance as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the popular procedural spin-off, "CSI: NY" (CBS, 2004-12).
Long before he was toiling in the morgue deciphering murders on primetime TV, Frances Harper was born May 17, 1966 in Iowa City, IA to father, Henry Harper, a psychiatrist, and mother, Marilyn Hill, one of the first practicing black anesthesiologists in the U.S. Although Harper started acting at the age of seven, education was his main focus throughout his young life. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1988, also earning a J.D. (cum laude) from Harvard Law School and a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government. It was during his Harvard years, that he found himself classmates with future U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama. While studying law, he also became a regular in Boston's acclaimed Black Folks Theater Company; with the stage experience priming him for a recurring role during the 1993-94 season of the lowbrow comedy series, "Married with Children" (FOX, 1987-1997) and a turn in the short film "Confessions of a Dog" (1993), with Harper as a shameless womanizer who gets a comeuppance on Valentine's Day. His first inauspicious shot at a feature film came with 1994's "Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings," followed shortly by a turn as Lou Gossett's teenage son in the provocative Showtime drama, "Zooman" (1995).
Harper's exposure caught the eye of director Spike Lee, who cast him as an aspiring student filmmaker in "Get On The Bus" (1996). Thrown into the mix with a busload of other men with nothing more in common than their destination - the Million Man March - Harper's role as Xavier proved to be a breakthrough for the up-and-comer. He teamed up with Lee again for a supporting role in the basketball drama "He Got Game" (1998), and showed off comedic chops as a self-absorbed, womanizing rapper in "Hav Plenty" (1997). Picking up career momentum, he had a regular role as a physician in the short-lived "City of Angels (CBS, 2000), and notable guest appearances on "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007) and the CBS cop drama "The Handler" (2003-04). "The Skulls" (2000), a so-so thriller based on the Yale Skull and Bones society, played on Harper's Ivy League credentials. On the indie-film front, his role as HIV-positive inmate Alex Harper in "The Visit" (2000) brought numerous awards, nominations and critical accolades. Another indie, the offbeat "Love, Sex and Eating the Bones" (2003), had Harper as a porn-addicted man who gets brought around to reality. The Canadian-lensed feature bagged several film-festival awards along the way.
But it was the durable television franchise "CSI: NY" that truly established Harper as a standout in the public eye. As Dr. Hawkes, Harper played a capable surgeon who left regular practice after losing a couple of patients. As the series progressed, he proved to be a perfect fit for the stylish "CSI: NY" take on the grim police procedural. Hawkes was content leaving the field work up to the techs while he did the gruesome cadaver stuff back in the medical examiner's office, teasing clues out of corpses and making them tell him how they died. By Harper's own account, the show's cast members all got along well off-camera, translating into an enthusiasm that came across in the show's final product.
Off-screen, Harper founded the MANifest Your Destiny Foundation, providing scholarships to deserving young men and women, funded by proceeds from his book Letters to a Young Brother. As for his onetime association with Obama, if Harper has any political aspirations of his own, he kept them to himself at this time of the presidential primaries - although in 2008, he did appear in a video for Obama. As Harper's Bazaar coyly wrote, "You might expect Hill Harper to be the next actor vying for the presidency... but he has other things on his agenda."
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
TV acting debut, bit part in an episode of the ABC drama "Life Goes On"
Film acting debut in the short "Confessions of a Dog"
Played recurring role of a shoe salesman protege of Al Bundy on the Fox sitcom "Married...With Children"
Feature film debut, "Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings"
Co-starred as Louis Gossett Jr's son in the Showtime movie "Zooman"
Debut as series regular, in the UPN series "Live Shot"
Breakthrough screen role as a film student documenting the Million Man March in Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus"
Played a rapper and romantic rival to Christopher Scott Cherot in the comedy "Hav Plenty"
Played featured role in the two-part CBS drama "Mama Flora's Family"
Re-teamed with Spike Lee to play the cousin and teammate of a star high school basketball player in "He Got Game"
Had title role of a biracial man who travels to Ireland to meet his relatives in "The Nephew"
Co-starred with Omar Epps and LL Cool J in the drama "In Too Deep"
Cast as a medical resident in the Stephen Bochco-produced CBS drama "City of Angels"
Co-starred as student journalist out to uncover an elite secret society in the thriller "The Skulls"
Played a prisoner estranged from his family who attempts a reconciliation in "The Visit"
Appeared on stage with Phylicia Rashad in "Blue"
Played opposite Joe Pantoliano's on CBS' "The Handler"
Cast as forensic pathologist Sheldon Hawkes on "CSI: New York" (CBS)
Co-starred in the southern drama, "Constellation"