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Damon Gupton: Here's this fall's supporting actor to get excited about

Last July, I was invited to do press coverage for WEtv’s first original series, The Divide. It was a project that I’m still honored to be associated with, because of the caliber of people that I was able to work with over the show’s entirely too brief run. One of those people was an actor by the name of Damon Gupton, and from the moment I sat down across the table from him, I thought, “This guy is going to be something.”

Really, I was just starting the obvious. Gupton has been consistently turning in top-notch performances, without getting much attention for them. Now he’s snagged another regular role, as Las Vegas detective Cal Brown in NBC’s upcoming drama The Player. Without a doubt, he’s this fall’s supporting actor to watch.

Gupton is one of those performers who continues to get better at his craft with every role that he takes on. It’s as much a pleasure to watch him evolve as it has been to see whatever part he’s currently playing. He’s been doing his best work yet over the past year: He followed up a recurring role on the U.S. adaptation of Rake with a two-episode stint as opposing counsel James Quelling on USA’s Suits.

Now, there have been a lot of enemy lawyers who have crossed Harvey Specter, and about half of them don’t stick in the memory for two reasons: Either the character gets destroyed by the end of their arc, or the actor can’t quite contend with Gabriel Macht, who’s as good an actor as Harvey is a lawyer. Quelling was different; he took a beating (and deservedly so), but credit was due to the Suits writers for giving him a story that also humanized him.

Taking that opportunity and running with it was Gupton, who was able to play both vulnerable and vicious, holding his own in scenes with both Patrick J. Adams and Macht. In one scene, he was getting audiences all verklempt as Quelling confessed all his problems to Mike Ross; in one of his last moments, Harvey threatened to break every bone in Quelling’s body, and Gupton played his character’s position of weakness without letting himself get overpowered. From an acting standpoint, he was one of the most enjoyable lawyers Suits has enlisted.

Then came The Divide, and Gupton outdid that performance and then some. As District Attorney Adam Page, Gupton gave one of the most interesting and complex portrayals of what it means—and what it takes out of you—to be a public servant. The whole time, his character struggled with his family, his beliefs, and realizing that the case on which he’d made his name wasn’t as solid as he’d believed. Like all the characters in The Divide, Adam went through the wringer, but there was never a beat that Gupton didn’t hit.

Those eight episodes showed us what he was really capable of. It goes without saying that actors do their best work when you give them the best resources, and Gupton had gone from the first-class writing on Suits to a show co-created by Academy Award nominee Richard LaGravenese and Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn (who never gets enough credit for how talented a storyteller he is, but that’s a whole other article). Gupton’s regular scene partners were veteran TV performers Nia Long and Clarke Peters, and Gupton played off both of them wonderfully. With everything at hand, he crafted Adam as a truly compelling character, and emerged as a true leading man.

After The Divide, you might have recognized him as Detective Calvin Walker on FOX’s Empire earlier this year. But it’s The Player that’s going to have you learning Gupton’s name, because once again he’s in a great position. Cal Brown isn’t just the detective caught up in all the action; he’s also the close friend of main character Alex Kane, which means Gupton is working opposite Philip Winchester. There’s already a whole other article detailing how Winchester is the king of underrated TV actors, and when you put two brilliant and similarly hard-working, always watchable people together, good things are going to happen.

The Player also thoroughly benefits from casting Gupton. In so many shows where there’s a mystery arc like this one, the cop character is usually the most underutilized. It’s that person’s job to stand there and be confused about everything that they don’t usually get to really participate in. While we don’t know what’s ahead for Cal, we do know that the man playing him isn’t a passive actor. Whether Cal gets to go along for Alex’s ride or is stuck dealing with his fallout, Gupton is going to find a way to develop him. His casting automatically elevates what could be a thankless character to being someone who matters.

And while this doesn’t count for anything onscreen, it’s always meaningful when a good person gets a great break. Something else Gupton has in common with Winchester is that they’re two of the classiest people one could ask to work with. They’re true gentlemen who make a show better just by being a part of it; having them at the core of a new series is a tremendous foundation.

The result is that everyone’s about to win. Winchester has the best possible partner, audiences will get to enjoy two remarkable actors in one show, and The Player has a secret weapon that hopefully won’t be a secret for much longer. For the last two years, Gupton has proven that he’s got everything it takes to be big—and now he’s in the perfect position for us to take notice.

The Player will air Thursdays this fall on NBC.