Damon Gupton – Black Lightning
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you are working on?
A) Currently, I’m working on “Black Lightning” as we are still shooting the first seasons episodes. I’m also an orchestra conductor so I am preparing a few concerts to conduct with symphonies in a few months. That’s it for now.
Q) Please tell us the premise for “Black Lightning” and about your character Inspector Henderson.
A) A retired superhero who is also a dynamic high school principal decides to come out of retirement to fight the notorious 100 gang in the city of Freeland. I play a high ranking veteran detective for Freeland who is a longtime friend of Principal Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), but I don’t know that he is also Black Lightning. We grew up in Freeland together so we are pretty close. Detective Henderson is a man of integrity and is working hard to do the right things for Freeland even if the community thinks he is a sell-out and “the enemy” as he is part of law enforcement.
Q) What made you want to be a part of the series?
A) The opportunity to be a part of something that is a “first” and a landmark was appealing. I also was excited to play a black detective who’s voice was created by a black writer. I’ve been fortunate to play wonderful characters from writers of varied backgrounds, but this is my first law enforcement character written by someone like Salim Akil, a veteran creator who would bring something different to chronicling the experience of a black man in law enforcement and a black community. That is a very interesting theme for the times we are living in.
Q) Were you familiar with the comic before joining the show?
A) Loosely, but I bought the comics after joining so I could get into things a bit more.
Q) Was there anything you added to Henderson that wasn’t originally in that breakdown for you?
A) I honestly think we are still discovering Henderson as we speak. The role was a direct offer so there were no real descriptions of the character. I looked through the comic books as Inspector Henderson has appeared in several reincarnations of Black Lightning as well as work with Superman, etc. But none of that applies here as our world of Freeland is removed from the other DC worlds. So, it has given me a palate to develop him and figure him out as I go. We’re still doing that.
Q) What have you found challenging about your portrayal?
A) Trying to remember that Henderson doesn’t know Jefferson is Black Lightning. [laughs] Also, it is trying to find the balance between portraying a confident man in control who is alone in a world with no allies really as well.
Q) What was it like when the cast began working together? Was there instant chemistry or did you spend some time to bond together?
A) The cast has been lovely. We are really natural in our working connections and care I believe. And that is a very nice thing, a nice chemistry. We bond when we can, but we don’t often always work the same days or see one another. But we are always excited when we do.
Q) What have been some of your most memorable moments from filming “Black Lightning?”
A) We had a night the other week where it was 15 degrees and we often shoot at night. THAT was most memorable. [laughs]
Q) In today’s political climate, why do you think it is important to have a person of color as a superhero and someone for viewers to look up to?
A) It’s because people need to see and feel the other. People need to be able to feel proud of something that reflects them. Children need to see their heroes reflected, their accomplishments and visions celebrated. They need to see and hear some of their stories being told. And while one project can’t represent everything, it means a lot that our show is trying to reach people who sometimes feel their voices aren’t being heard. It’s also damn good fun. [smiles]
Q) What do you hope viewers take away from watching the series?
A) That they enjoy themselves, hear another argument, release a judgment here or there, smile, laugh, get mad and have fun.
Q) You are a part of social media. Are you looking forward to the instant fan feedback you’ll receive to episodes?
A) Yes and no. [laughs] The good thing about social media, folks let you know how they feel about you, your work and the show. The bad thing can be that folks let you know how they feel about you, your work and the show. [laughs] I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to work on several projects that have very present fan bases and while my experiences have been mostly positive, sometimes you have to step away from the less supportive things that creep up when fans aren’t satisfied. I am always moved to see when fans are supportive and affected by the work. That’s been 98% of my experience. And that’s a beautiful thing. The good thing is that I feel there will be quite a wonderful and supportive fan base for “Black Lightning.” We’ve seen it already. May it grown and grow.
Q) What would you like to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
A) I say a big and broad, deeply heart-felt THANK YOU. It always moves me when I go places and people pull me aside or say something kind or drop a note. I’ve been on several series now and each has had their own fans and flavor and I’m honored to be part of those universes. I do not take it lightly and it means a lot to me personally that people would take the time to express that something I presented stayed with them, moved them or just helped them have a good time.
And it means a lot to me that you all took the time to touch base with me and ask me good questions. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. All my best to you.