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‘The Blacklist’ star James Spader: It’s not easy being Red

Spader
Spader Getty Images

James Spader is back as master criminal-turned-FBI informant Raymond “Red” Reddington on The Blacklist, now in season 2. And on a recent conference call, the actor — whom audiences first got to know in the 1980s in such fare as Pretty in Pink, Less than Zero and Sex, Lies and Videotape — was just as enigmatic as his often slick antihero character. If you want spoilers (the big one: is Red the father of rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen?) you won’t get them out of Spader, 54. He says you’ll just have to find out by watching the NBC show, which airs at 10 p.m. Mondays.

Will we know this season why Red turned himself in?

He actually spoke to the reasons why he turned himself in, quite specifically to Elizabeth Keen near the end of last season when Reddington had moved past the point where he was allowing her to make discoveries on her own about her husband. Reddington felt that the relationship between her and her husband had reached a point where he was concerned for her safety and well-being and that he felt that it was necessary to make contact with her.

Are there going to be any major events in which major players get knocked off a la “Game of Thrones?”

There is no question that on our show we attempt to turn things on their ear when we are able to, and that is certainly a very effective way of doing that, but it really has to relate to story, and it did last year. Not only a story in the short term, but also a story in the long term. I don’t know what Game of Thrones faces but one wouldn’t have to be a wizard to realize that we are going to — just for very practical purposes — need people curious and hanging.

Can you tell us more about Mary Louise Parker’s character this season?

Naomi is someone from his past, and it’s a very complicated relationship. Unfortunately, for this forum of talking about the show, it is very, very hard to speak of the specifics because one of the elements that is very important to show is surprise.

How is Red like another strong character you played, Robert California on “The Office”?

The two characters don’t relate to each other at all. I don’t think Red would spend much time in the office and neither did Robert California for that matter. That was probably the one way they are similar is neither of them have much patience with spending time in the office.

Since “The Blacklist” is now on Netflix, what do enjoy binge watching, if anything?

I don’t really have time for a great deal of that [but] there have been shows in the past that I have watched. Probably my favorite show and probably the only viewing that I would characterize in the same way that you are describing was a documentary series that played on the Sundance Channel called The Staircase. I would say I watched as many episodes as I could fit in at a sitting. It was just fascinating.

Is there any particular role that you want to play?

I don’t have any sort of specific role, but I’ve thought that there are many people that I would love to work with. Many writers that I would love to work with and writer/directors that I would love to work with, but my head is in the sand of a rather large desert, and the desert is The Blacklist. I really don’t come up for air. I don’t really have time to reflect on other things so much.

How is TV work as opposed to movies for you?

I’ve been able to continue working in film since I’ve been working in television, and I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve done three pictures that were some of the most satisfying shooting experiences that I’ve had. The material has been fantastic: I worked on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and I worked on a film with Tommy Lee Jones, a very small thing [The Homesman] that I absolutely adored doing. And I just finished shooting The Avengers and absolutely loved working on that. The film business certainly has changed a lot and so has the television business as well, but I think that there are lines between the two fields that have sort of blurred. There’s very good material in both.

MADELEINE MARR

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