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Hill Harper
updated 8/13/2004 2:44:14 PM ET 2004-08-13T18:44:14

Forget Bush and Kerry! If he has it his way, it’ll be President Hill Harper in the Oval Office. For now, however, the 31-year-old actor is focusing on his upcoming role as a pathologist on the CBS hit “CSI New York,” as well as his ongoing effort to change stereotypical images of blacks through taking on positive movie roles.

“I participate in projects that respect black people, he said from his Los Angeles home last week. “I love black people, and black people love me.”

The native Iowan has parlayed that love of community into over a decade of strong performances in movies like Spike Lee’s 1996 drama, “Get on the Bus,” 1998’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s  “Beloved” and “Park Day”, another late ‘90s slice-of-life film recently released on DVD.

Limited roles
He’s also a familiar face on the TV screen, where he’s showed up on everything from HBO’s “The Sopranos” to Showtime’s acclaimed black family drama “Soul Food”. That series wrapped up earlier this year after a five season run-leaving yet another absence in the genre Harper says is already threatened by limited roles and studios who look to overwhelmingly white Nielsen families in deciding which shows will last.

He pointed to “City of Angels,” the CBS black hospital drama in which he played Dr. Wesley Williams, as an example. The 2000 series lasted just one year.

He listed UPN’s sitcom “Girlfriends,” and its drama “Kevin Hill”, as promising black-centered shows. “There are tons of people watching these shows but the shows aren’t getting the credit,” he said, adding if more black families were including in the Nielsen ratings counts, “I believe ‘Soul Food’ would still be on the air.”

Further challenges remain on the silver screen, where he said black men are often portrayed as obsessed with one of three things: women, cars or the ever-present bling bling. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good and wanting to have nice things,” said Harper, who admits to enjoying nice cars in particular. “But at the same time, my life is much more than that.”

‘Uplifing roles’
Harper combats such characterizations by accepting only “uplifting” roles. “The key is just being cognizant of what the stereotypes are, and trying to create interesting characters that play against the stereotypes,” he said. “We need more people creating their own work.

“Not content with simply talking about the problem, the Brown University graduate hopes to be part of the solution, planning to produce one of two “compelling, African American dramas” he’s currently writing some time next year. So far, he’s keeping the plot points secret.

When he’s not studying medical books or visiting hospital rooms to beef up for his role as medical examiner Sheldon Hawkes, the newly single actor enjoys exercising, movies, learning to play guitar or reading books like “The Da Vinci Code.”

In the future, he said, he’d like to run for president. Right now, he’s taking it one film role at a time. “When cats are wasting two, three, four hours a day, he said, “I want to be out making changes.”

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