The hit NBC drama series The Blacklist is back for Season 2, and Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) is sure to be as shady and mysterious as ever. Along with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), the two have been making their way through a list of politicians, mobsters, spies and international terrorists that Red has compiled over the years, some of whom have proven to be more difficult to stop than expected.
During this interview to discuss the show’s return, actor James Spader talked about the questions about who Elizabeth Keen’s father is, how Red’s relationship with the FBI has changed, always turning things on their ear, how Mary Louise Parker’s character is connected to Red, the return of Peter Stormare as Berlin, how the show surprises him, that some of the criminals will be connected to a bigger story and some will be connected to things that are much more immediate, and how much he enjoys working in both film and television. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JAMES SPADER: We are shooting Episode 4, right now, in the second season, and that story has not been extrapolated on. That is just percolating for a little bit. The other thing to remember is that Elizabeth Keen has spoken of a memory of being in a fire when she was a child and somebody pulling her out of that fire. She may be assuming that it was her father, but we’ve never said whether it was her father or not.
At this point, what are Red’s feelings about working with the FBI? Will he be as cooperative as he was, last season?
SPADER: I think that the circumstances had reached a tipping point, where he felt that he needed to make tangible contact with Elizabeth Keen. But then, also, the avenues that would be open to him by an association with the FBI were necessary, considering what he saw in the near future, which we’ve already gotten a taste of. Part of it is also flushing people out. By making such a dramatic move as that, he put a lot of people into play that were still in the shadows. His relationship with Fitch, played by Alan Alda, really didn’t come to the fore until he turned himself in. I think that was something that he felt he needed to flush Fitch out of the bushes and get him to engage. I think that will only increase and change direction. But it was clear, after the incursion at the FBI facility, everything changed. The protocol for how Red operated changed dramatically. Prior to that point, he was conducting in-person communication with the FBI taskforce. That has entirely changed, in the second half of the first season and going into the second season. He has to conduct his relations with the FBI in a very different manner, considering the events of last year.
The Blacklist doesn’t seem to have any problems killing off major characters. Will that be the case again, this season?
SPADER: There is no question that, on our show, we attempt to turn things on their ear when we are able, and that is certainly a very effective way of doing that, but it really has to relate to story, and it did last year. One wouldn’t have to be a wizard to realize that we will be in a cliffhanger situation where, for very practical purposes, we are going to need people curious and hanging in there. But, it will be very hard predict how this season unfolds and whether that will translate into major characters on our show disappearing. I don’t know if I can really speak to that, in an articulate way, without telling you something that I shouldn’t tell.
What can you say about Mary Louise Parker’s character this season, and how Naomi is tied to Red?
SPADER: I can’t, except that she is someone from his past, and it’s a very complicated relationship. And she is someone who has been living a very different life, away from him, until the events of the day drag her back into his life.
We know that Peter Stormare will be back as Berlin, and we did not see Red and Berlin together in the Season 1 finale. Can we expect to see you guys sharing anything in the first few episodes of Season 2?
SPADER: Yes, we’ve already shot a couple of scenes. I can’t really tell you what the scenes are about. Otherwise, it would just blow the episodes.
What will the dynamic between the two of them be like?
SPADER: Cautious. It is very, very hard to speak of the specifics of this show because one of the elements that is very important to the show is surprise. I can only speak so much about something before it dissipates the element of surprise, to a degree.
Working on the show as an actor and producer, has there been anything that’s surprised you, story wise?
SPADER: Yes, there have been some things. Usually, the surprise doesn’t come when the script shows up because I have had lengthy conversations prior to a script landing. Last year, we had a big conversation, which also dictated a lot of the rest of the season. We had to pay very close attention to the collateral damage of that incursion to the post office, and what that would mean, in terms of changing the protocol for Red’s involvement with the FBI. We also had to determine what the greater affect would be, in terms of the breach in security. That also played out, at the end of the season and going into the second season. The taskforce itself was in such disarray, at the end of last year. We had to put things back together in a different shape for this season. This season starts just a few months after the end of last year, so it really is following real time. It is a matter of trying to make it cohesive again.
You’ve said in the past that you would be disappointed if Red turned out to be Elizabeth’s father because you thought that would be too easy. Now that you are in Season 2 and you see the clues that have been dropped, how do you feel about it?
SPADER: The same way. It is very, very hard to predict roadmap of a television series, especially a broadcast network television series that does not have a finite lifespan. Our show could last two years, or it could last seven years or more. That makes it hard to have a very specific roadmap. You can have an idea of the larger art, but the lifespan of the show dictates how circuitous the route has to be. And once you’ve started taking all of those back roads, the back roads become much more interesting than the destination. It’s funny, I wonder whether that will continue to be the most important question that people ask or wonder about or are curious about, as the show goes on, or whether the more immediate stories and relationships, and the nature of those relationships, will eventually become more compelling. Given our show, I don’t think anything is as simple as it may appear.
Red has great confidence in his abilities and is obviously justified, but have the events of the first season changed him, emotionally or psychologically?
SPADER: I’m not so sure whether they’ve changed him. What I have seen, more than that, is that Reddington’s life, up until the point where he turned himself into the FBI, and probably because of the myriad of reasons why he did that, was ready to take a shift, anyway. And what I think you are seeing, during the course of the first season and now going into the second, and hopefully continuing on from there, is that shift. But I don’t know if it really is a change in him that took place, through the course of the season, or whether it was a change that happened prior to that. What you end up seeing is someone whose behavior is what it is and they are who they are, but they are putting themselves in a different set of circumstances than they’ve been in, in the decades prior to that. He is addressing the past. I think has gone unaddressed in his life for decades, so that’s going to touch him in a different way than his life up until now has touched him. But I don’t know if he is a different person. I think he is the same person, but the circumstances that he is putting himself into are certainly new to him from what has preceded it.
Will this team still be facing different kinds of criminals that Red has connections to or knows, on a weekly basis?
SPADER: Yes. Some of them are connected to a longer, bigger story, and some of them are connected to some things that are much more immediate.
You’ve played some really iconic roles, like Alan Shore on Boston Legal and Robert California on The Office. Is there any particular role that you would like to play, but haven’t gotten the chance to yet?
SPADER: I don’t have any specific role, but I’ve thought that there are many people that I would love to work with. There are many writers that I would love to work with, and writer/directors that I would love to work with. But my head is in the sand of a rather large desert, and the desert is The Blacklist. I really don’t come up for air. Once the show started, I just have not come up for air, at all, so I don’t really have time to reflect on other things much. But there are many people that I would love to work with, and some people that I have worked with before that would be lovely to work with again.
Do you feel that TV is better than film, right now?
SPADER: I don’t know about that. I’ve been able to continue working in film since I’ve been working in television, and I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve done three pictures now, since I’ve been working in some of the shows that I’ve been working on, and they were some of the most satisfying filming experiences that I’ve had. The material has been fantastic. I worked on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln film. And I worked on a film with Tommy Lee Jones, which was a very small thing I absolutely adored doing. And I just finished shooting The Avengers, and absolutely loved working on that. The film business certainly has changed a lot, and so has the television business, as well. The lines between the two fields have blurred. It is all based on material, and I think that there is very good material available out there in film and in television. I just think that part of the difference is that the television programming has expanded to such an incredible degree that there is just a lot of material available that’s very diverse. The opportunities are much broader on television than they’ve ever been and, because of that, they are no longer two separate businesses, where writers who wrote for film only wrote for film, and writers who wrote for television only wrote for television, and the same with directors and actors. That’s just no longer the case. Now everybody who works in film also works in television, and everyone who works in television also works in film. The lines have disappeared between the two businesses.
The Blacklist airs on Monday nights on NBC.