Once again James Spader dons the role of an unusual character in the new Monday night drama The Blacklist, which has soared to the top of the rating heap for NBC. He was fascinating to watch as the shameless attorney Alan Shore on The Practice and Boston Legal, making him the only actor to win consecutive Emmys playing the same character on two different series. He also was quirky as well as funny in his stint on The Office, a real departure for him.
Now Spader stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington in the action thriller The Blacklist, which has him as an intriguing super-criminal known as “The Concierge of Crime.” Red has always eluded the FBI, but he mysteriously turns himself in and offers to help the Feds catch his personal “blacklist” of super bad guys. But he’ll only cooperate if he gets to work with a rookie FBI profiler Liz Keen (Megan Boone), who has some connection to him, unknown to her.
Red has compiled his blacklist over the years, and it includes politicians, mobsters, spies, and international terrorists. On the show there have been great stories that go beyond just catching the bad guy/gal of the week. And to its credit the fast-paced drama has the quality of a big screen production.
At the TCA press conference, of course Spader was asked how this compares to playing Alan Shore, and he was amused at the suggestion. “With television you have to be cognizant of whatever you’ve done for a period of time, then it’s prudent to do other things before you jump into something else again that you’re going to do for a period of time. But I think it does help if whatever departure you come up with next is a well-drawn character. If the world is very different, then it is easier to accept you among the inhabitants of that world. I did Lincoln last year, and it was worlds apart from anything I’ve ever done,” said the star of the Steven Soderbergh classic Sex, Lies and Videotape before adding, “People seem to have short memories when it comes to pop culture.” Among Spader’s list of credits are the award-winning films Crash and Secretary, also 2 Days in the Valley and Less Than Zero. He starred on Broadway in David Mamet’s Broadway play Race. Most recently Spader shot the film The Homesman, starring Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, who also directed.
On The Blacklist, the relationship between Red and Agent Keen is not obsession but a more useful liaison that puts Red in the role of a mentor who wants Liz to be great at her job. He teaches her to think like a criminal and see the bigger picture, whether she wants to or not. But what are Red’s true intentions? Spader evaded the question with, “The basis of their relationship is very real. 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, and so on.” And Liz has secrets of her own, but the producers just want the viewers to enjoy the ride without revealing too much as the show builds.
The new series also stars Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland), Harry Lennix (Man of Steel), and Ryan Eggold (90210). The talent behind the scenes is impressive too with Jon Bokenkamp (The Call, Taking Lives), John Eisendrath (Alias), John Davis (Predator, I, Robot, Chronicle), and John Fox serving as executive producers of the Sony Pictures Television and Davis Entertainment production.