Press Tour: James Spader talks hair, Robert California and 'The Blacklist'
To promote the new NBC show "The Blacklist," (premieres Mon. Sept. 23 at 10:00 p.m.), a clip was shown before the panel in which Raymond Reddington (James Spader) sat facing a green FBI profiler Liz Keen (Megan Boone), doling out information by half spoonfuls. In person, Spader is by no means so tight-lipped.
When asked to discuss why he chose to portray "Red" with a shaved head, Spader offered a minutes-long explanation, which started with how he looked when he arrived to shoot the pilot ("I had very long hair") then onto how much he liked the juxtaposition of a surveillance photo of Red with long hair against his shaven experience, to how he believed the character has moved through the world for the last twenty years ("I thought he should have a haircut he can do himself, or go into some barbershop in Cambodia") to his wardrobe "I just thought it was streamlined… traveling clothes. Clothes he can go from a bank to a cave").
There's no doubt Spader has given a great deal of thought to his character, though critics could argue that the pilot looks an awful lot like "Silence of the Lambs." While executive producer John Eisendrath was quick to dismiss comparisons, he admitted, "We'd be lucky to, in some ways, be compared to it. But Red is not a psychopath, he's much more of an enigma… [Liz] may start out in a Clarice place, but this is much more a journey of discovery, not just for the audience but the character. This will take her down a path very distinct from Clarice. The journey they're going to go on is distinctly different."
Spader also wanted to address the "Silence" question. "The basis of their relationship is very real. There's a past she has no knowledge of, but he has a knowledge of her past and her childhood. The film you referred to ["Silence of the Lambs"] is obsession… as the story unfolds, I think that issue is so invoked in a viewer's mind, I've answered this question a few times already today, the imagery is so strong in terms of that, but Reddington hits the streets and at a certain point has to work as an asset and has to move freely. The relationship [viewers have to] that imagery will end fairly soon."
Just as the show's producers promise this isn't a TV-sized "Silence of the Lambs," the also promise the rest of the show is full of surprises. As we see in the pilot, Liz's husband ends up in the hospital after a brutal attack, but he may not simply be an innocent victim. "None of the people in this show are who they appear to be. Liz's husband, that certainly holds true for him as well. I don't know what to say. I can't walk around that one," executive producer Jon Bokenkamp said.
"There will be a journey for Liz about whether or not she'll trust her husband. From her point of view is that universal story of a spouse who may not be who they appear to be. They were an incredibly loving couple in her mind, and now she has this… [situation]… We will give her signposts that say she can trust him and signposts that say she can't."
Spader also addressed questions about past projects, specifically his role as Robert California on "The Office." "My first exposure of the show was doing the finale -- I said this is just a one off, right? But I had such fun doing it." He admitted that he took a more involved role because it allowed him to do another project, "Lincoln." "I was offered 'Lincoln,' a film everybody was doing for very little money, and yet the commitment was eight months advance, but I needed the money... I think people responded to the character [of Robert California], so they called and said we'd love to have you back in any capacity that you're willing. That sadly dictated the trajectory of the character on the show; they had a character who had to disappear for a pile of episodes. I never felt like more than a visitor there. It was a great thing to be a part of. It worked out just perfectly for me."
Back to "The Blacklist," Eisendrath addressed whether or not the show will hew to real crime given Red's oversized surrender scene in the pilot. "I feel like this is a show that's distinct from a show like 'Alias,' we do try to dramatize this as real as possible. The depiction of law enforcement is real as it could be… it feels like it's a part of our universe. [But in the promo] there may have been a few too many buzzers."