James Spader

Who is Red Reddington?

That's the question NBC's new fall thriller The Blacklist poses. In order to play the series' central mystery man, veteran actor James Spader felt it was necessary to reset his image, starting with shaving his usual full head of hair. "Actors are burdened with everything else they've done before that," he said at the Television Critics Association fall previews on Saturday. "I thought it would be nice to take off my hat [in the pilot] and it's a completely different person."

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On the show, Reddington is a notorious wanted criminal who surrenders himself to the FBI but stays out of jail by tipping them off about a list of uber criminals that only he can help the Bureau capture. The caveat? He only wants to speak to rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

As for comparisons between Red and Elizabeth's relationship and that of Silence of the Lambs' antagonist Lecter and hero Clarice, Spader insists that the similarities are merely visual. "It's based on imagery more than anything else. He's in shackles," he pointed out. "But the basis of their relationship is real — there is a past between them that she is not aware of." Executive producer John Eisendrath added, "There's a big difference between the characters on our show and Silence of the Lambs: Red is not a psychopath; he's more of an enigma."

The Blacklist premieres on Monday, Sept. 23 at 10/9c on NBC. Check out the official trailer below: