At the Tribeca TV Festival on Thursday, film and TV great James Spader sat down with moderator Whoopi Goldberg for a conversation about his always-unpredictable, 40-plus-year career, from Sex, Lies, and Videotape to Boston Legal to his current role as cosmopolitan criminal mastermind Raymond "Red" Reddington on NBC'sThe Blacklist, which returns for its seventh season Oct. 4. During the conversation, Spader pulled back the curtain on why he decided to do The Blacklist in the first place.
The story goes back to when he did his one season of The Practice in the early '00s after only doing movies before that. He only agreed to take the part Alan Shore because it was a guaranteed one-season arc. Then Spader won his first Emmy for the role, and his success on The Practice led to five seasons of the spin-off Boston Legal, for which he won two more Emmys. But something became clear to him during his time on Boston Legal: "For me, just for me, to sustain me over a period of time, I can't just be doing this one thing," he said. "I just doesn't sustain me. I will lose interest quickly."
Once Boston Legal was long in the rearview and after he had taken some time off from work, Spader was running low on cash and decided to start looking for his next show. "I was looking for something that I would be interested in doing for a stretch. And that means it can't just be a comedy and that's it, and it can't just be a drama and that's it, it can't just be action," Spader said, explaining he had been spoiled on Boston Legal, which ranged from funny to emotional to intense to straight-up silly at times. "It's gotta be a mix of all those things," Spader added. And then he was sent the script for The Blacklist, which intrigued him with how enigmatic it was.
"First of all, by the end of the pilot, I knew less than I knew before I started reading it," Spader said. "I had way more questions at the end than I had at the beginning."
The other thing that drew him to the script was Reddington's arch sense of humor. "No matter what the set of circumstances might be, that he might encounter, I could see that he could see the irreverence in whatever it was," he said. "And I thought that dichotomy can sustain me. If it holds my interest, it might hold an audiences'."
To Spader, The Blacklist was so many different things: "It's sort of a thriller but it's not. It's also funny at times, but then at other times it's really quite intense," he said. "And it's a character-driven piece, but then it's also sort of a procedural to a certain degree. It's a serialized, but also the episodes stand alone to a certain degree. So when I read all of that, I thought 'Fantastic, That really fits the bill for that.'"
And then there was one last thing. "Also, I was living in Los Angeles, and I needed to move to New York, and the show was set in New York," Spader said. So that was that. Five years later, and Spader has been proven right many times over. The show is going into its seventh season. The Blacklist is sustainable.
The Blacklist Season 7 premieres Friday, Oct. 4 at 8/7c on NBC. Previous seasons are available to stream on Netflix.