James Spader Still Lives for the Surprise of ‘The Blacklist’
Posted January 11, 2018 5:01 p.m. EST
With just three days until “The Blacklist” was scheduled to break for the holidays, James Spader was sounding, well, a little out of this world.
“I’m terribly, terribly sorry,” he said, trying to untangle the plot machinations leading up to the NBC drama’s 100th episode Wednesday — a testament to the show’s longevity in an age of distracted attention spans and its loyal audience, which averages 8.7 million weekly viewers who either watch the show live or record it. “I keep a lot of episodes in my head at the same time, and you might as well have plucked me up and dropped me on a different planet.”
Spader’s befuddlement is hardly surprising given a series known for its Byzantine storylines and frenetic shooting schedule. When Season 5 resumed this month, criminal mastermind Raymond Reddington (Spader) was giving FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), now confirmed to be his daughter, some space after the attack that left her comatose for nearly a year and killed her husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold). This week introduces Nathan Lane into the lair as Abraham Stern, a cunning manipulator out to recover, at whatever cost, the fortune that is his birthright.
In a phone call during a break from shooting, the delightfully voluble Spader, 57, talked about the pleasures of playing the provocateur, and why now’s the time for men to keep quiet and listen. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: What’s required to keep a show going for that long?
A: As many twists and turns as one can provide. When I first read the script, at the end I realized I knew less about the character than when I first started reading. And I thought, “What a great trick that is” — to retain a certain enigmatic aspect. The premise was perfectly suited to go in any direction and somehow find its way back on track again.
Q: How did Nathan Lane end up on the show?
A: I’m a great fan of his, and he’s been a lovely, faithful fan of mine. I had seen him in “The Iceman Cometh,” (on Broadway in 2015)and Nathan mentioned that he’d love to do the show.
Q: Is there a turn you’d like to see Red take?
A: A surprising one. I’ll tell you something funny. I didn’t watch much television growing up, and before I did “Boston Legal,” I had no understanding of what it was like for a viewer to look forward to finding out what was going to happen the next week. There will be an episode of “The Blacklist” that is just fun and another that is very intense and then another that is rather ruthless and brutal. I still love the element of surprise, even for myself.
Q: You often play the provocateur, and people tend to assume you are your characters.
A: My career had been split pretty evenly between good guys and bad guys until I finally grew into myself enough to play a decent antihero, where you can combine the two. The protagonists that I’ve played tend to be people who make trouble. Or even if they don’t make it, they certainly disrupt things. It’s fun to do that in life as well. But I don’t think I ever played myself.
Q: Were you surprised to read that Charlie Rose was accused of asking a female employee to watch “Secretary,” your movie of a sadomasochistic relationship, with him?
A: Somebody sent me that, and I don’t know whether they thought it was strange and funny or something, but I am not finding anything funny about any of it. I don’t think anybody in the entertainment industry or in politics is surprised by the fact that those worlds are rife with promiscuity and irresponsibility — certainly a lack of accountability. But the level of aggression and exploitation has been overwhelming.
Q: I rarely get to ask a man about sexual harassment in Hollywood.
A: It’s a little like asking someone their perspective when they’re in the middle of a flood, you know what I mean? I feel like the floodwaters are rising. And I’m a little bit ashamed to say that I’m finding that the most important things being said on this subject are being said by females, not by males. I think that men should think hard and listen carefully and perhaps we’ll learn a thing or two. Q: Any upcoming projects of note?
A: Oh, my gosh, no. I don’t have a moment. Listen, I’ve been very lucky to work in every capacity as an actor, and I have loved it. But working on an hourlong television show is certainly a job that swallows one whole and refuses to spit you out.
Q: So you’re gurgling somewhere in the intestinal tract of this thing?
A: I’m not even in the lower intestines yet. I’m still being consumed by the stomach acid. If someone could just drop a few Tums down here, it would be much appreciated.