SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “Lawanda: The Book of Hope,” the latest episode of Black Lightning.
Black Lightning‘s Inspector Henderson is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Freeland cop has his hands full with The 100, the city’s most dangerous gang — and now Black Lightning has come out of retirement to stir up even more trouble. To Henderson, the vigilante is more of a hindrance than a help; as much as Black Lightning aims to do good, he is still operating outside of the law, which Henderson has sworn to uphold.
Speaking to CBR during a set visit, Inspector Henderson actor Damon Gupton weighed in on his character’s struggle to save a community that is “set against him.” He discussed Henderon’s view of family, how he will react when Thunder and Lightning come onto the scene and why his character transcends race. He also weighed in on the ramifications of Lala’s death and why that spells trouble for Tobias Whale, the corruption in Freeland’s police department and music’s influence on the show and more.
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CBR: What is your favorite part of playing Inspector Henderson?
Gupton: My favorite part of playing Inspector Henderson is that he’s kind of alone in his world, because he’s a man who lives by the book of the law but he has very few allies in it. You’ve got a community that’s kind of set against him and causing not-so-nice things. He has a best friend in the relationship who we don’t know yet what he knows in terms of him being Black Lightning. So he’s kind of walking on his own island, back and forth just trying to do good, and I like that conflict, that rock in a hard place kind of feel.
Because of his job, Henderson must view Black Lightning through two lenses: personally and as a cop. How does he reconcile that?
Right now, I think he pretty much has one approach, and I think it’d be great to flesh out the two, as you so astutely observed. Right now, he’s a problem. I think that guy’s a problem. He’s a vigilante. He is in the way. He does things that get people in trouble or hurt and I have to clean up his mess. I think, right now, we’ve got that. Is there a time where he may have to lean on him? I’m almost certain, because it’s happened before, since before Black Lightning retired and now he’s back. But now, I think I like that throughline of, “Look, dude, you’re in my Kool-Aid and you need to get out the way. I got to do my job. I’ve got my life. I’ve got my plans. I’m trying to help too.”
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Thunder and Lightning are coming up on the show. How do you think Henderson will react to them?
Well, at first, he probably won’t know who they are, but I’m sure it’s going to drive him absolutely friggin’ crazy. He’s got enough trouble on his hands with the one big guy with the electric suit. [laughs] Now he’s got his little minions and stuff! He’ll probably be pretty ticked off at that and confused and frustrated. It’s good for him.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve read the comics —
A little bit, yeah. I bought a ton.
Henderson has been portrayed as both white and black. How did that affect the way you approached the character?
What I like about somebody who’s been represented as both black and white is that so there’s so much you can draw on, and yet there’s nothing, because all it is is about this man of the law. It doesn’t matter what color he is; it just looks like that there’s this cop who is hellbent — and if you’re talking about old school Inspector Henderson, it’s Metropolis and there’s Superman, and he’s like, “No, Superman, we’ve got to this!” I love that element of it, how dogged he his about his work and justice. I think that’s the through line through both colors, if you will, of Inspector Henderson and our show.
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Do you have a favorite moment or scene coming up that you’re excited for fans to see?
You know, I haven’t seen the first two episodes, so I hate to tease it and have it not show up in the episode, but I know there’s one scene that Inspector Henderson has where he gets to actually do some serious police work. I think, so far, it’s been my favorite scene because you see him doing what he does and not just being buddy buddy to Jefferson, which is important, or looking over a dead body, which is obviously important, but you get to see that he’s a good cop. I think scene will hopefully be in there. That’s all I can say about that.
What can you tease about Henderson’s reaction to Lala’s death?
I think Henderson knows a lot of Lalas and he’s known Lala for quite a while, and he probably isn’t surprised that he’s met his demise. In terms of who’s behind it, I think he’s still a little foggy on that. Maybe, at some point, he has concerns about do other people in the department know things that he doesn’t know and, if they do and he knows it, how does he go about bringing that to light? That tricky line that you have to walk when dealing with corruption. It’s fun stuff.
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How conscious do you think he is of corruption in the force?
Right now, I don’t believe he… I think, as an African American head of a task force in a police precinct, he’s conscious of some things, but I think he doesn’t the depth of how far it runs. Does it run up to the mayor? Does it run up to deputy chief? So I think he probably has some suspicions, but we may get to see some episodes where some things come to light and he gets to explore that more.
What is Henderson’s history with Tobias Whale?
He has known Tobias for quite a while, since he’s of the community… Nobody knows where Tobias Whale is. I think he believes he’s a ghost right now. So if there’s a revelation that Tobias does exist and who knows where that’s coming from, I’m sure he’ll be — in addition to shocked — amped, because he knows that if he topples him, the walls will come tumbling down.
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What is Henderson’s view of family?
Henderson values family very much. He’s married. He grew up in the community, which has obviously had to stick together through a lot. So I think his sense of immediate family and extended family is pretty large, if you would. Family is such a big element of the show and it’s one of the things that I’m proudest of about the work that we’re doing. We hope to really connect that way to people.
As someone with a background in music, what’s your take on music’s influence on the show?
I think it’s great! We had a great director too, who came in and decided to use music even in the way he approached breaking down the script to us. So it’s obviously exciting that music plays such an important role in us crafting this world. But when you read it in the scripts and you see a note for which song plays here and you start to conjure up the rhythms and the mood — I love it. As a musician, I’m stoked about it.
Debuting Tuesday, January 16 on The CW, Black Lightning stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, China Anne McClain as his younger daughter Jennifer Pierce, Nafessa Williams as his older daughter Anissa Pierce, Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce, James Remar as Peter Gambi, Damon Gupton as Henderson, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III as Tobias Whale and Chantal Thuy as Grace Choi.