When Lucas Newsome takes his seat in the Oval Office to brief the President, viewers (especially local ones) may look at the handsome actor playing the part of a CIA analyst on the political espionage thriller State of Affairs and recognize someone familiar. Actually, if you’ve turned on your television in the last two decades you’ve seen lots of Adam Kaufman, the New Canaan native playing Newsome. He’s prominently featured in the buzzed-about upcoming drama that stars another former resident, Emmy-winner Katherine Heigl, as well as the acclaimed Alfre Woodard, playing the nation’s first female president.
Since he took a small part on a Law & Order episode in the late 1990s, Kaufman’s been cast in noteworthy supporting roles on hit shows including Veronica Mars, Mad Men, The Client List, Without a Trace, Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Steven Spielberg sci-fi mini-series Taken. (That, by the way, is a short list.) Indeed, the forty-year-old actor’s credits are so extensive that while he’s not a paparazzi-stalked celebrity who can’t grab a coffee without getting his picture taken, he still gets approached by appreciative fans.
Take those teens and tweens from the Dawson’s Creek era, who Kaufman says were once most likely to spot him and stammer a starstruck “Oh. My. God” They, of course, recognized Kaufman as one-half of television’s first gay primetime kiss, courtesy of his role as Ethan on the series. And Buffy the Vampire Slayer followers still call him out for his turn as Parker Abrams, the first guy intimate with Buffy after the death of her fan-favorite boyfriend. “The Buffy fans, to this day, don’t forgive me for that,” laughs Kaufman.
Despite those roles, the former New Canaan High School baseball pitching ace (who still comes to town to visit family and friends) has managed to live as much of a “non-Hollywood, Hollywood life” as possible. “I’m not Hollywood-obsessed and craving fame on any level,” the single dad to six-year-old son Jackson says. “I’m a regular guy who happens to be an actor.”
One of Harvey and J.P. Kaufman’s five children, Kaufman was a pro and collegiate baseball prospect when he played for the Rams. At Virginia’s Lynchburg College it was his mother who signed her reluctant son up for an introductory theater class. needed another credit and she thought it His professor, Loretta Wittman, recognized Kaufman’s potential. “She took me aside and said, ‘I think you might actually be able to do this for a living.’ That was all I needed to hear.” He’s pursued his craft ever since.
When talking with Kaufman you get the sense that experience has made him cautious about the potential success of any project: He forthrightly notes State of Affairs was his eighth pilot, but the first that’s made it to prime time. “I’ve worked a lot, but there have been highs and lows and lots of frustrations. I’ve been part of things I thought were wonderful when shooting them, but then, for whatever reason, they didn’t happen.”
Expect Kaufman’s matinee-idol profile to be elevated again following the November 16 premier of State of Affairs. His character, a key advisor to the acting CIA director, shares lots of screen time with Heigl and Woodard. Kaufman raves about them both. “It’s almost a cliché to say this, but any time you work with someone that good, it only makes you better.”
While he can’t give up spoilers, Kaufman allows his character is someone to watch; a mystery man who’s definitely hiding something. “In fact, everyone’s got a bit of mystery surrounding them, which makes things interesting,” he says.
As a journeyman actor who’s been on countless sets, Kaufman is especially effusive about the creative process that produced State of Affairs. Its pilot was directed by one of its executive producers, Joe Carnahan, known for his work on NBC’s hit The Blacklist. Carnahan drew creative inspiration from Watergate thriller All the President’s Men and encouraged his cast to dig deep to evoke a suspenseful edginess. “He even had us improvising dialogue. And everyone is so exceptional that it just really seemed to work.” The actor describes the almost cinematic results as a “cross between Zero Dark Thirty with moments that remind me of Clear and Present Danger. I would weave in West Wing, too.”
State of Affairs is a New Canaan double feature. Although Kaufman says the casting of two former town residents was coincidence, he’s long had a tangential relationship with Heigl. The former Grey’s Anatomy star’s older sister, Meg, was a class behind him at NCHS. Several years ago, he spent some time bonding with the actress and her husband, musician Josh Kelley, on a Mexican vacation with his then-girlfriend (and Jackson’s mom) Unforgettable star Poppy Montgomery. (The two split in 2011.) “Katie is a sweetheart,” he says, “very smart, really funny and even a little bit bawdy.” Besides their hometown roots, Kaufman and Heigl have something else to share between takes. “We’re really thrilled to be part of something we’re so proud of.”