James Spader James Spader

Three-time Emmy winner James Spader is back on TV, but this time, the Boston Legal vet is on the dark side of the justice system.

"I thought this character would be fun," he says of Raymond "Red" Reddington, the enigmatic international career criminal at the center of this hook-filled drama. "He's stubborn about what he says and doesn't say." Sitting in his dressing room at the show's studio at New York's Chelsea Piers, Spader is as inscrutable as his character, but it's clear he's excited to be playing someone who will have audiences guessing. "We could go a long way without learning all of the answers. The questions can keep coming."

For example, why does Red turn himself in to the Feds in the pilot? How come he offers to sell out every one of his underworld contacts in exchange for immunity? And is he trying to help or manipulate Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), the rookie profiler he picks as his sole point person within the agency? "I have my ideas," Spader teases, assuring us that Red isn't a cut-and-dried villain. "Depending on the day, he vacillates between being a bad guy who does some very good things and a good guy who does some very bad things."

Whatever his deal is, he's definitely well-connected. "Red was the concierge of crime," explains executive producer Jon Bokenkamp. "If you needed uranium or new passports, he was the guy you contacted — he was the facilitator. And that is how he knows virtually everyone within the criminal world." 

While Blacklist is a procedural, Bokenkamp says that the cases of the week — inspired by info Red feeds exclusively to Keen — will be mixed with a mythology tied to Red's motives for surrendering and his link to Elizabeth. "We will have real answers as to why Elizabeth and why now."

That's great news for Boone. "Elizabeth has no idea why Reddington has requested her!" she says while relaxing in the dining room of her character's massive brownstone. Though she's exhausted from being in almost every scene, the relative newcomer remains upbeat between takes — a far cry from her troubled character, who is dealing with not only the sudden interest of America's Most Wanted, but also a suspicious fellow agent (Homeland's Diego Klattenhoff) and a husband (90210's Ryan Eggold) who may be more dangerous than Reddington. Says Boone with a laugh, "Pretty much no one in her life can be trusted."

Thankfully, it's the opposite case off camera. "I love working with James," she says. "He has such experience under his belt working on one-hour dramas, and this is a whole new ball game for me. So he has taken on this sort of paternal-mentor position in my life — it's been a real gift." Should their chemistry be captured on screen, it would be a real gift for NBC's bleak list of recent hit dramas.

The Blacklist premieres Monday, Sept. 23 at 10/9c on NBC.

For more on the new fall shows like Ironside, The Michael J. Fox Show, and Sean Saves the World, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, Sept. 12!

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