They say you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. In the case of NBC’s The Player, it’s been keeping some very good company indeed.
The series already boasts a perfectly cast main ensemble in Philip Winchester, Wesley Snipes, Charity Wakefield and Damon Gupton; you couldn’t ask for more from any of the principal actors. But like icing on the cake, The Player has attracted a level of remarkably great guest stars to come and play in its high-pressure, high-adventure game. Over eight episodes it’s been a delight to see who’s next to cross the paths of Alex Kane or Mr. Johnson.
Last week, in “A House Is Not A Home,” viewers got an emotional performance from Michael Irby – of The Unit and The Following – as an aggrieved father out to take revenge on the people who cost his family their house. In tonight’s episode “Downtown Odds,” Hell on Wheels staple Christopher Heyerdahl guest stars and makes life very difficult for Alex, not unlike The Swede has done for Cullen Bohannon.
Before that, audiences were treated to Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, in a multi-episode arc as Judge Samuel Letts – a key figure from Mr. Johnson’s past whose present took a sharp turn for the worse. There was Will Yun Lee, fresh off his major role opposite Winchester in Cinemax’s Strike Back, turning up in “House Rules” as a Chinese gangster who’d forgotten the regulations of the game and needed to be put in his place.
Eric Roberts emerged in “The Big Blind” as a mobster with plenty of power even behind bars, with Carmine Giovinazzo from CSI: NY and Nikki DeLoach in the same episode. Joseph Sikora, from Power and Banshee, had his own evils as a former contact of Alex’s gone mercenary and leading a band of brutal thieves.
Nick Wechsler from Revenge has had a recurring part playing Cassandra’s boyfriend, who doesn’t even know his girlfriend’s real name, much less what she does for a living. The Shield‘s Catherine Dent emerged last week as Barbara Lee, Alex’s hard-drinking mother-in-law who told him some harsh truths. And we’ve already spoken about how much the recasting of Ginny Lee changed the show.
In every episode, there’s someone amongst the guest cast worth tuning in for. That’s a testament to the quality product that the cast and crew of The Player have turned out every week. If there weren’t talented actors shaping amazing main characters from multi-layered scripts out of a very smart writers’ room, there’d be nothing to attract anyone to their sandbox. But not only has this show been able to bring in guest stars, it’s snared people that are truly quality contributors to each installment.
These aren’t big names for stunt casting purposes. They’re not actors who don’t know what they’re getting into. They’re not just whomever happens to be free. No, The Player has recruited great people who are also possessing the right set of skills to hang with the main cast and to succeed in its action-heavy environment. When it comes to needing someone to kick ass, one doesn’t get much better than Will Yun Lee, who’s as close as can be found to an actual ninja. The criminal heavyweights are being played by actual heavyweights like Roberts and Roundtree. These guest stars reflect the characters they’re supposed to be.
The casting directors on The Player deserve a round of applause for the roster that they’ve put together, because guest stars really can make all the difference on any TV show. To really build a quality universe, you have to build out around your main characters and populate their world, and you have to do it with actors that can contribute to that world and not just fill space. The people who’ve been a part of this show have deserved to be a part of it, and that’s noticeable every time audiences tune in.
It’s just one more reason why The Player is such a remarkable show, not just in front of the camera but behind the scenes as well. There are so many quality decisions that are being made, whether it’s how carefully the episodes are plotted out so that they fall into line, or not overloading the show too much in one direction, or casting the right actors in the proper roles.
It’s evident how much effort and care has been taken in making the NBC series something that’s truly a quality program, and no matter how long the show ultimately lasts, TV audiences can take pride in knowing it was very good every step of the way. Whether a character is there for every episode or just one, they’ve all been part of a winning hand.
The Player airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.