In Season 5 of the NBC series The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington (James Spader) is feeling surprisingly unencumbered, when it comes to rebuilding his criminal empire. With Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) by his side and the secret about their family connection now out in the open, his lust for life makes their search for Blacklisters more fun than ever, as the line between her role as an FBI agent and her criminal instincts blur.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Jon Bokenkamp talked about this new chapter for The Blacklist, the challenges of keeping things interesting, five seasons in, the fun of having an actor like James Spader at the show’s center, always looking ahead to the endgame, reaching the milestone of 100 episodes, why this new beginning is so freeing for Reddington, the bigger mystery of the suitcase of bones, Liz and Tom’s (Ryan Eggold) relationship, and the biggest challenges in pull off over 20 episodes of a one-hour drama, each season.
Collider: Season 5 feels like a new chapter for The Blacklist and the characters. What are you most excited about, with what your doing this season?
JON BOKENKAMP: I’m most excited to go on the ride with Red. You’re right, it is a new chapter, and it’s a new perspective and headspace for this character. In a world where most people would probably be devastated and want to curl up into the fetal position on the floor, by having their business wiped out, Reddington finds it incredibly refreshing and embraces the notion that he’s suddenly unemployed and has to rebuild from scratch. So, well said. It is a new chapter.
When you create one of the most interesting and fun to watch characters on television, with Raymond Reddington, are there challenges specific to keeping him fresh, so many seasons in?
BOKENKAMP: I think James [Spader] is a big part of that, in terms of keeping the character fresh. The stories are hard to tell. The cases are difficult to break. It’s hard to find the Blacklisters that we hope you wouldn’t find on every other show. One of the things we take great pride in is that our bad guys are the people the FBI doesn’t know about. That is challenging. But I have to say, writing the character and his voice is just really a blessing. It’s super fun. He’s a guy who’s constantly trying to surprise himself. He’s always trying to embrace new experiences, so there aren’t really limits with where he can go. We’re not worried about his reputation or what anyone thinks about him because Red isn’t worried about his reputation or what anyone thinks about him, and that’s incredibly liberating to write for.
When you have someone like James Spader at the center of your storytelling, do you just throw anything and everything at him because you know he can pull it off? Is there anything you’ve ever found that he can’t do?
BOKENKAMP: Not really. He’ll tell us, if he thinks something is too far or if something tells us too much about the character. One of the things he’s very good at is being very protective of the character and having him remain a bit of a mystery. One of my favorite things to do is to Google strange, far flown places and hear him try to figure out how to say them. I’ve never met anybody who can play a run-on sentence without that many commas and no periods, and it ends up playing great. I think everybody in the room has fun playing a little wish fulfillment. We’re doing it through the computer and Googling places and dreaming up stuff, but that character is actually going out and living those experiences. It’s fun to throw weird things his way, and he is always up for it and open to it.