Emmys: On the Set of 'The Blacklist' as James Spader Deconstructs the War Room
A glimpse into how a real-life mentor-protege relationship and signature villains drove NBC's intense drama to the top among last season's freshman shows.
This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"Is it downloading or uploading? What's the contemporary term for what you do these days?" James Spader wonders aloud April 18, betraying his veteran status among younger castmates. Taking note as the star brainstorms blocking options are Megan Boone, 31, who plays FBI rookie Elizabeth Keen, and Diego Klattenhoff, 35, as agent Donald Ressler. Spader, 54, portrays enigmatic fugitive Red Reddington on NBC's The Blacklist, which pits his bad guy and the FBI against his roster of even more deadly threats. Averaging a 4.9 live-plus-seven-days rating in the key 18-to-49 demographic, the Sony series was the highest rated new show of the 2013-14 season and NBC's first full-season pickup and renewal.
After rehearsing a monologue for part one of the two-part season finale, "Berlin," Spader paces the war room that is set in Washington, D.C., but shot at a Chelsea Piers soundstage in New York. Entertaining the cast and crew with a wry deconstruction of the busy graphics and maps on the screens behind them, he says: "It just seems odd to me that there's all this shit up there. As an FBI agent, I assume you're aware of it, but you're not actually monitoring it -- unless you [are pulling it up on] your CNN app."
Every week, the cast, which includes Ryan Eggold, 29, as Keen's mysterious husband Tom and Harry Lennix, 49, as FBI assistant director Harold Cooper, works together to catch a different villain. Notable turns of evil have included Dianne Wiest secretly imprisoning attorneys on behalf of wrongly convicted criminals and Linus Roache eliminating his clients' political rivals by elaborately framing them. "With each Blacklister, we ask ourselves why this bad guy wouldn't be on any other show," says creator Jon Bokenkamp. "'What is the movie poster of this Blacklister?' I think we succeed more often than not in trying to differentiate our 'bad guy of the week.'"
The chemistry between Spader and Boone, who plays the only agent with whom Red will work, also can be credited for the show's success. "I'm grateful he's taken me under his wing," says Boone. Adds Spader: "It's not dissimilar to their relationship on the show. It was that way from the start, which serves the show very well. A lot of this is new to her -- it's an undertaking for someone who has never done it before." His advice? "Save my money!" jokes Boone.
Even as the series scored NBC's coveted post-Super Bowl slot for 2015 -- during which Blacklist will begin a two-part episode that resolves four days later in its new Thursday night time slot -- Spader, who nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for lead drama actor, remains as cool as his character: "I do my best to try to work with a certain amount of alacrity."
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