James Spader talks The Blacklist and playing Raymond Reddington

James Spader talks The Blacklist and playing Raymond Reddington

Question: What did you find most appealing when you first signed on to play Raymond Reddington?

I think — probably — his sense of humour. The character’s sense of humor — I thought — was such an interesting juxtaposition to what the realities of his life were. The realities of his life are — very often — very dangerous, and quite dramatic, and quite extreme. And I saw the possibility for a sense of humor within that life and within his life experience. And I thought that that was very dichotomous, the notion that somebody who’s life is – the stakes of his life are very, very high; very often life or death. And yet, he has a very acute sense of humor and irreverent view of the life which he lives. And I responded to that — immediately — and have done everything I can to try and explore that as much as we can on the show.

Question: How involved are you in developing Reddington’s character evolution?

Very. The writers — John Bokenkamp, and John Eisendrath — and myself have been collaborating very closely about every aspect of this character and how he fits within the life of the show since the very beginning — since the very first episode.

Questions: The producers told us you fought to keep wearing the hat even when they weren’t convinced. Why did you consider the hat so important in the casting of Raymond? And, were you inspired by other fictional characters?

No. There was no other character that’s inspired me in the decisions for him to wear a hat. But I just thought it was a very, very practical thing for him. He travels to all different parts of the world, and all different climates. He might be someplace cold in the morning and someplace hot in the afternoon. It may be raining, or it may be bright sun, or it may be snowing. And a hat is a very, very practical piece of clothing for a man to have if they find themselves in many different settings, and in many different climates, and different types of weather.

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Question: You said that you were very active collaborating in the script. Was it your idea to infuse the character with the sarcasm?

When I first read the script for the first episode, I saw the possibility for much more humour with him. And I saw opportunities where there was not humour written in the scene, but I thought that he might have a very humourous viewpoint or point-of-view, rather, for the circumstances of the scene. And, therefore, I tried to explore that as much as I possibly could — and still continue to do that.

Question: What keeps Red from degenerating into super-villain territory?

That’s a balance that is very important to the show. And we’ve been very careful to never swing too far in either direction in that I don’t think that we can sustain this character for any length of time in the show if — all a sudden — you realize behind all of the bad, it really is all good. Or that you were to realize that the sort of humanity or more sympathetic aspects of his character are just a mask that cover just a straight-to-head villain. I just don’t think that would sustain well for the series — for any length of time — of this sort.

And to me, it just wouldn’t be interesting to play. I’m much more interested in the idea that you’re never quite sure what he is more, whether he’s more a good man who’s capable of very, very bad things or whether he’s a bad man who’s capable of very good things. And I think it’s much more interesting and curious that you’re never quite sure which of those it is. And so, as much as we try to balance that — and sort of go back and forth a bit — I think it keeps us on our toes. And it keeps the viewer slightly off balance.

Question: What kind of Red can we expect to see in Season 3? And now that Liz is not in law enforcement, does that change the relationship?

I think as often as the case on our show, I don’t think that one should take anything for granted. And I don’t think that one should think that they may know exactly what the status of things are because the status changes very, very quickly on our show. And so the circumstances that we finish Season 2 with can go in many, many different directions.

At the end of Season 2, all the pieces of the show were thrown up in the air. And I think at the beginning of Season 3, it will be exciting to see where they land and then how we find a way to put all the pieces together again. And once the pieces are together again, what that shape will be that is created because I’m sure it will be different than what it has been in the past.

Question: How long can the mystery about who is Reddington continue to excite audiences now that there have been many revelations about his background and motivations?

For me, as compelling as what the answers are about the past, and what the answers are about the nature of the relationship between Reddington and Elizabeth Keen, and what Reddington’s intent is in terms of his relationship with her and his relationship with the FBI, those questions may be very important. And they may be very compelling. But, for me, very often what’s happening right now in the show — in the present day — and the nature of the relationships of the different characters right now today, and not from the past, but right now today and how they are evolving and developing for the future are just as compelling for me, and just as interesting for me.

And it’s very funny because I live in New York City. And we film the show there. And when I used to walk around New York — the first season — the first question everyone would always ask was, ‘What was the relationship from the past between Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen?’ And that question is not posed to me even half as much as it used to be.

Now the questions tend to be, or the comments tend to be more about what’s happening right now, or what’s going to happen next, or how is this relationship going to evolve. Or what direction is it going to go in? And for me, that’s the sign — to me — that the audience is, although they may be interested in those other answers, they are as compelled by the nature of what’s happening today — on the show.

Question: After two seasons playing this character, what have you learned about Red and in what ways has this character has surprised you in your career?

I think one of the things that I’ve noticed, that I’ve enjoyed, is that Reddington, as I’ve become more familiar with him and as audiences become familiar with him, I’ve started to see how his priorities have shifted — in a way. And also, I’ve been able to see what some of his vulnerabilities are. And when the audience and myself first started getting to know Raymond Reddington, he seemed invulnerable.

And as the show has unfolded, I think he’s found himself — again, and again — vulnerable in a very practical sense, and in a physical sense, but also emotionally. And I think that that has been something that’s been interesting to explore. And also, how he is watching and how he is allowing Elizabeth Keene to find revelations and discover things about herself, about him, and about her life that she was not aware of before — but how important that discovery process is and that it not be something that will happen all at once but instead be how important it is that he not simply tell her something or give her an answer to something, how important it is for her to be able to find some of those answers herself. And that’s been interesting to me.


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