James Spader Answers Burning Questions from ‘The Blacklist’

Diego Klattenhoff, left, and James Spader of "The Blacklist" (Photo: NBC)

The Blacklist” continues as one of the top-rated new series of the Fall TV season, starring James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former member of the U.S. intelligence community who’s gone rogue and is selling information to the highest bidder.

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As a result, Red was placed on the FBI’s list of 10 Most Wanted — until the day that he turns himself in voluntarily — with one caveat. He will only speak with profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). It is Liz’s first day on the job, so she has no clue as to why Reddington picked her, which is one of the mysteries we will learn the answer to in Season 1, but the timing is definitely no coincidence.

In next Monday’s episode, Red and Liz go undercover when a high-ranking Chinese spy (guest star Chin Han) is looking to hire an expert to decode a classified CIA transmission — and Liz pretends to have the skills to do just that, so one more name will be crossed off of “The Blacklist.”

But first, xfinityTV got the answers to some burning questions about the TV thriller when James Spader spoke to reporters on a conference call to promote his new NBC series.

The broad strokes of Red’s nefarious past were glazed over in the pilot. Are we ever going to get into the details of the horrible things he’s done in the past?

I think that’s going to be eked out slowly over the course of the episodes. I don’t think an overall history lesson will ever happen on the show. I think it’ll be over the lifespan of the show that you start to discover more and more about him.

We do start to see in subsequent episodes him conducting business. [Last week’s episode] was really the transition from him being a prisoner to working out the parameters of his deal with the FBI and the Department of Justice. But from that point, you’ll see he’s now moving freely. He is living his life away from the FBI, and, in subsequent episodes, you see small samplings of him still conducting his nefarious affairs.

Catch-up on Full Episodes of “The Blacklist” Here on xfinityTV

Is there any particular scene or moment or something coming up that you’re excited for people to see?

The three episodes that follow the pilot are all very different. And now I’ve now seen the fourth and the fifth episode. They’re all quite different from one another in terms of the nature and tone of the different episodes, but also the form of them is different from one another, but also what you learn about these people as you start to learn more is very intriguing and compelling.

It involves everyone. There’s no one who’s left out of it. And I think that the writers have done a great job in terms of balancing what you learn and what you don’t learn, and then how you learn it and whether what you learn is right or wrong.

Red turns himself into the FBI but we don’t know his motivation. Is he going to be above board with them, or does he still have some criminal activity going on which the FBI may actually be unwittingly helping with?

I think it’s a combination of all the things you just discussed. I know that he still has criminal activity that’s going on, whether the FBI, or how much the FBI is going to serve that or not, remains to be seen.

And there certainly is an agenda in terms of the targets that he’s picking. There absolutely is an agenda in terms of the direction that he’s taking this little group. But, his main focus is really Elizabeth Keen and, I think, it as much about having her join his life as Red joining hers. I think that it seems to be the one way that he seems equipped to prove that he knows things about her life that she’s unaware of.

Parminder Nagra is joining the cast. What role will she play and what will be Red’s relationship with her?

Parminder Nagra plays CIA agent Margot Malik, who is brought in actually by Jane Alexander’s character Diane Fowler, who works for the Department of Justice. It’s one of the stipulations that [Fowler makes] in approving this deal that everyone is [very reticent] about striking with Reddington — that they bring on board this CIA woman that she trusts and has faith in.

And so Malik joins the group based on that. And Red’s involvement with her, right now at least, parallels the same sort of involvement that he has with the other FBI people, besides Elizabeth Keen, in that it’s set at arm’s length and it’s with a certain amount of caution.

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What do you say to the people who are comparing the relationship of Red and Elizabeth to that of Hannibal and Clarice Starling?

I understand that based on the pilot because you know so little and also because of the imagery in the pilot — somebody who’s shackled to a chair in a big containment cell and this young FBI woman coming in. And there seems to be what might be perceived as a sort of obsessive compulsion that the shackled guy has about her. That disappears rather swiftly after he’s come to an arrangement with the FBI.

But also, it’s very different from the psychopathic obsession about this woman. He clearly has a very real, given one-sided, but very real relationship with her and has intimate knowledge of her background and her past. So I think it’s a lot more than just fixating on somebody and finding out everything you can about them.

There’s some speculation that Red is actually Elizabeth’s father. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t really have any thoughts on that because I don’t think he is, but I don’t know for sure. That’s something that, first of all, I wouldn’t divulge what the nature of their relationship was to you in any case no matter what it was because I think that’s something that the only way one earns that information is to watch the show.

That’s been something that’s been posed to me in the past and I’ve always been surprised when faced with that as a possibility as an outcome because it seems too easy. But, you know what? Maybe it’s a very circuitous route back to the simplest answer of all. So we’ll have to wait and see.

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So you just mentioned that Red being Elizabeth’s father would be too simple. But we also have learned at the end of the pilot episode that there’s something weird going on with her husband. Could there be a connection between Red and her husband?

You’re going to have to watch just a couple more episodes and you’ll start to see more and more. But I don’t think there’s anything that’s alluded to in any of the episodes that aren’t either by design for what’s going to unfold next, or a purposeful misdirection to lead you down the wrong path so that you’ll be better surprised when you arrive at the right path.

How long do you think it will take for Elizabeth to find some trust in Red?

I think it starts happening quicker than she’s even aware of. First of all, it’s hoisted upon her so she sort of has to accept that lot. But, I think, also she finds herself sort of compelled to be doing that in spite of either her intuition or her better judgment. I think in a way, there’s something that compels them to each other and in subsequent episodes, she wrestles with that. She wrestles with the fact that he’s in her life, like it or not. And he’s not just in her life because of this work. He’s in her life because it’s becoming abundantly clear that he’s part of her life. Even if she turns away from it, it’s still going to be there.

A character like Red is so mysterious, so how far in advance do you know where his story is headed, and, as an actor, do you like to know, or would you rather have that unfold for you as well?

It really depends on the medium I’m working in. In theater, you know everything going in. In film, you know a little bit less but still an awful lot. And in television you know very little. And, I think, that’s fine for me.

With this show, it just seems like the possibilities for that are limitless. It has an inherent surprise factor just because you know so little going in. I like that aspect of it a great deal.

“The Blacklist” airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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