The Blacklist is already certified as a major hit for the 2013 Fall TV Season. A criminal mastermind, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) turns himself in to the FBI promising his full cooperation to help them take down the really bad guys, but he’ll only work with new profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). The NBC show has been described as a combination of Alias, Silence of the Lambs and maybe a touch of Homeland, but it still manages to bring something new, and fun, to an episodic spy show. It’s an interesting premise with lots of mystery and plot points enough to keep things going for several years.
But what really makes The Blacklist special and almost a guarantee for awards next year is… James Spader. Or as Spader says…
QUESTION: How did you decide what the look of this particular character would be? We’re used to seeing you often with a lot of hair so did you decide you wanted the guy to look a certain way like this?
JAMES SPADER: Yes. It sort of worked backwards from one moment, and that’s what I love in that opening sequence when he goes in and surrenders himself, the juxtaposition. I knew the very first thing when I got to New York to shoot the pilot — I had very long hair, and I knew that they were going to shoot a surveillance photo of Reddington to have on the wall there when he surrenders himself. I thought it would be just a great moment when he surrenders himself, he takes his hat off, and the juxtaposition of the shot of him with long hair and then like this. And I also thought that it would be nice just because actors are burdened with everything else that they’ve done before in any role that they’re playing, and I thought it would be nice to take off my hat and it’s an entirely different person and a very different look to go with that.
But working backwards from there, you know, the way his life has been for the last 20 years, he moves very swiftly through his life. He’s moving from place to place very quickly. I thought he should have a haircut, that he can do himself if he cares to or he can go to some barber shop in a little town in Cambodia and they can cut his hair in ten minutes. I just thought it was streamlined, and his clothes are like that, too, in that he looks well dressed, but traveling clothes. You know, he wears clothes that he can go from a bank to a cave and he’s dressed accordingly. And he’s also in a lot of different climates over the last 20 years, so I thought it would be appropriate that he that he dress and look as if he’s able to move through the world easily and comfortably.
QUESTION: What made you so interested in playing a character like Reddington?
SPADER: I was really drawn to the enigmatic quality of the character. I know certain things about his past, but I don’t know the facts and figures of the last 20 years where he’s been invisible, living in plain sight around the world. And I didn’t want to. That’s part of the fun of doing a television show as opposed a film. I like that a television show is fluid and it evolves and develops and changes. And especially with this show I want to be surprised every week. I want it to sustain me over the life course of the show and those surprises are part of that sustenance. So I have only asked from the writers for enough for me to be able to do the work that I need to be able to do. And when I need a question answered they answer it. But I don’t ask more than that because I want them to also have the freedom to be able to write in that fashion where the show can grow and change direction and surprise me the same as it surprises the viewer. If I knew the entire bible of this show, all the past, the present and also the future, for me the experience of making the show would be done. And I’m not interested in that. If anything, when looking for something in a television show, looking for a piece of material, I’m specifically looking for something that I’m going to have a lot of unanswered questions for as long as possible.
QUESTION: This is sort of superficial, but some viewers are going to make a Silence of the Lambs comparison. Is that sort of connection that you want to embrace or steer away from?
SPADER: The basis of their relationship [Reddington and Elizabeth] is very real. I mean, it’s clear, even from the pilot; there is a past between the two of them that she is not aware of, but he has an intimate knowledge of her past, her childhood, relatives of hers and so on. The relationship between [the characters] in the film you refer to is obsession, and it’s not based on any sort of reality at all. And I think that as the story starts to unfold — and that becomes a driving force — is what the basis of their relationship really is. I think that issue is so invoked in a viewer’s mind based on imagery more than anything else. In the pilot, obviously he’s in this [glass security] box. He’s shackled to the thing. A girl comes in. She’s a rookie and so on and so forth, but the imagery is so powerful and so strong in terms of that, and I think that’s probably where the correlation comes from more than anything. But as soon as Reddington hits the streets, at a certain point, he has to work as an asset, and therefore, he’s got to move freely in public and so on. So I think that the relationship that you’re talking about, that imagery will end fairly soon.
The Blacklist airs on NBC Mondays at 10:00PM