James Spader Tells What Drew Him To 'The Blacklist'
October 7th, 2013 12:15pm EDT
NBC's The Blacklist has been one of the fall's most buzzed about shows, in large part due to the return of James Spader to our small screens as notorious criminal Raymond 'Red' Reddington. Last week, BFTV was able to chat with Spader about coming back to television, how his newly announced role in The Avengers 2 impacts his TV gig, and Red's many mysteries.
After having reinvigorated The Practice in its final year and spearheading the long-running Boston Legal, the veteran actor was drawn back for another series by the fundamental thing that attracts many actors. "That character," he explained. "I just thought, first of all, that he seemed like he’d be great fun to play in the pilot, but he also just seemed like he’d sustain over the course of the season and even over the course of multiple seasons. There’re so many unanswered questions and it felt like it would take a long time to answer the questions. And for me, just from a completely selfish point of view, that was enticing, because it opened the door to all sorts of surprises as time goes on."
One of those surprises is going to be Red balancing his criminal enterprise with his new partnership, as he hasn't suddenly become a saint just because he's helping the FBI. "You do start to see him conducting business," Spader told us. "The first episode after the pilot [last Monday's 'The Freelancer'] is really the transition from him being a prisoner to working out the parameters of his deal with the FBI and the Department of Justice. Fom that point, right away, you see he’s now moving freely. He is still living his life away from the FBI and in subsequent episodes, you see small samplings of him still conducting his nefarious affairs."
"I know that he still has criminal activity that’s going on. How much the FBI is going to serve that or not remains to be seen," he continued. "And there certainly is an agenda in terms of the targets that he’s picking and there absolutely is an agenda in terms of the direction that he’s taking this little group. But his main focus is really Elizabeth Keen, and I think it was just much about having her join his life as [Red] joining hers."
Spader cautioned folks about comparing Red's relationship with Elizabeth (Megan Boone) to that of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in the now-classic flick Silence of the Lambs. "I understand that based on the pilot, because you know so little, and also because of the imagery in the pilot with somebody who’s shackled to a chair in a big containment cell and this young FBI woman coming in," he said. "And there seems to be what might be perceived as a sort of obsessive compulsion that the criminal or the shackled guy has about her. That [imagery] disappears rather swiftly after he’s come to an arrangement with the FBI. He’s now moving freely again and he’s no longer a guy shackled to a chair in a containment cell.
"But also, it’s very different from sort of psychopathic obsession about this woman. He clearly has a very real, given one-sided, but very real relationship with her and has intimate knowledge of her background and her past," he continued. "So I think it’s a lot more than just fixating on somebody and finding out everything you can about them. He really knows this woman and he knows of her background. He knows of her family. He knows of her present life. I think the similarities between these two things disappear very quickly."
Will we ever get an idea of what made Raymond Reddington transition from company man to one of the nation's most wanted criminals? We've already learned that he had a military career, wife and family he abandoned before his rise to infamy. "I think that’s going to be sort of eked out slowly over the course of the episodes," the actor speculated. "[As for] a sort of overall history lesson, I don’t think it will ever happen on the show. I think it’ll be over the lifespan of the show that you start to discover more and more about him."
By virtue of playing the character, Spader has information about Red and The Blacklist's mythology before viewers do - but how much does he want to know? We asked him if he preferred being told important plot points in advance, or allowing himself to discover them with each new episode.
"It really depends on the medium I’m working in, you know," he said. "I mean, in theater, you know everything going in. In film, you know a little bit less but still an awful lot. And in television you know very little. And I think that’s fine for me. Working in theater or film or television are three different sorts of jobs for an actor and I accept them as such, and the volume of material on a television show is so vast that I think that it helps in a way if it’s surprising from week to week.
"I’ve never been a big TV watcher," he continued. "And so for the first time, when I first started working on the series, I got the feel what it felt like to be a viewer and then I was so anticipatory about the next script that was going to come in, and then what direction we’re going in and how the story might unfold and how relationships might evolve or what kind of mess we might be getting into next. With this show, it just seems like the possibilities for that are limitless. It has sort of an inherent surprise factor just because you know so little going in.
"I like that aspect of it a great deal and I also [like] being able to find the piece of material that’s sort of growing and fun to watch - and then also can be very dark and quite serious, but also at times can be funny and humorous and irreverent. This show sort of marries those things very well and I like that because it’s just more exciting and compelling, I think, from an actor’s point of view. It’s just a much more compelling job."
Spader has another job in his near future, having been cast as Ultron in the highly anticipated sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Asked how that might impact his commitment to The Blacklist, he told us, "I’m hoping that it’s going to be a fairly smooth transition but, you know, I don’t know. We’ll wait and see how long The Blacklist plays, whether it plays a full season. If it plays a full season, then I’m sure I will be packing my bags in the last few days of our production on The Blacklist, in preparation to get over to London and start shooting The Avengers."
NBC subsequently ordered a full 22-episode season of The Blacklist, so Raymond Reddington will be keeping Spader - and audiences - busy for awhile.
The Blacklist is all-new tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on NBC.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Photo Credits: NBC