×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘The Blacklist’s’ James Spader Helps Lure Top Villain Guest Spots

‘The Blacklist” has been full of pleasant surprises for NBC this year. One of the most unexpected aspects of the Sony Pictures TV drama — the freshman success story of the season by any measure — is how much the series has been able to do with guest stars in the villain-of-the-week slot.

The show’s conceit demands a strong presence in each episode for a guest actor. James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington is a master criminal now helping the FBI catch crooks — although to what end is part of a larger storyline that drives the show.

Blacklist” blends the mystery that envelopes its main characters with a specific puzzle for Red and his youthful FBI liaison, Liz, played by Megan Boone, to solve each week. Red’s long career as “the concierge of crime” has seen him tangle with all manner of high-level bad guys and gals, some with exotic aliases such as the Stewmaker, the Alchemist and the Freelancer.

The casting of guest shots has ranged from established names (Alan Alda, Isabella Rossellini, Dianne Wiest, Jane Alexander, Lance Reddick, Andrew Dice Clay) to troupers deemed perfect for the part (Ritchie Coster, Tom Noonan, Ryan O’Nan, Justin Kirk, Hoon Lee, Robert Knepper). NBC has milked the promotional value of having Spader spar with a new nemesis every week via online video and social-media teases.

NBC Entertainment prexy Jennifer Salke credits the skill of exec producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath for keeping the characters compelling and the adrenaline high.

“Once we saw how interesting the bad guys were every week, we saw that it was a way to tell more of Red’s story through the twist of the people he was up against,” Salke says. “Because James’ performance is so great, we’re getting great actors interested in doing a spot and playing against type.”

Dawn Steinberg, exec VP of casting for Sony Pictures TV, stresses that some roles call for a less recognizable face than say a Rossellini or an Alda. “ ‘Blacklist’ is one of those rare network shows that has a little bit of a cable feel to it, and we reflect that in the way we cast it,” Steinberg says, noting that traditional broadcast TV focuses on big names above all else.

With some characters, “you don’t want somebody who is famous enough so that it takes you out of the scene. There are some actors we choose to add authenticity to the story — so that you’ll believe that this is a person Red could have come in contact with years ago in China or Russia or Yugoslavia,” she says.

The chance to work with Spader is a selling point to prospective guest stars. His presence has a way of elevating the work even for guest thesps who don’t have any scenes directly with him, according to Ryan O’Nan, aka the Alchemist.

“He’s always kind of lurking in the background, and you want to make sure you’re up to his level,” says O’Nan, who adds that he had a sense “Blacklist” was going to click, based on what he observed on the Gotham-based set.

“I’ve been on other shows that didn’t feel as well-oiled,” observes the actor, whose character didn’t survive the episode. “It didn’t feel like they were still trying to iron things out. It could have been the fourth season from what I could see.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Judith Light'Transparent' TV show Musical Finale,

    'Transparent' Team Talks 'Transformative Energy' of Trans Community

    As Amazon Prime Video prepares to send off “Transparent” with a musical finale movie on Sept. 27, the cast and creative team behind the show are hoping the impact of a character such as Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) will not be overshadowed by the controversy that the actor who portrayed Maura caused. “I believe that [...]

  • Cherry Jones

    Cherry Jones Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actress Emmy

    Cherry Jones won the 2019 guest drama actress Emmy for her work as the titular character’s mother, Holly Osborne, in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This was Jones’ second consecutive nomination for the role but first win. Interestingly, both noms were for her work in the second season of the dystopian streaming series. After a few [...]

  • Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden

    Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden Girls'-Style Comedy for Netflix

    Jane Lynch and Cyndi Lauper just wanna have fun. The comedian and the 1980s music icon have joined forces to star in a new comedy project that may be heading to Netflix. Lynch let it slip backstage at the Creative Arts Emmys that she and Lauper will co-star in a comedy that she described as [...]

  • Luke Kirby71st Annual Primetime Creative Arts

    Luke Kirby Wins 2019 Guest Comedy Actor Emmy

    Luke Kirby has been crowned the winner of the 2019 guest comedy actor Emmy for his role as the real-life comic Lenny Bruce on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This was Kirby’s first-ever Emmy attention. He was nominated against a slew of “Saturday Night Live” players (Robert De Niro, John Mulaney and Adam [...]

  • Bradley Whitford photographed at the PMC

    Bradley Whitford Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actor Emmy

    Bradley Whitford won the 2019 guest drama actor Emmy for his role of Commander Joseph Lawrence on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Whitford joined the cast of the streaming dystopian series at the end of its second season, in episodes that were released after the close of the 2018 Emmy eligibility window. The Television Academy agreed [...]

  • TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    Amazon’s “Transparent” will have a chapter, or a section of one, in some to-be-written history of television, in part thanks to how brazen and how daring its ideas were for its moment. Some of those were ideas that came to seem simply logical in retrospect: The show was a pathbreaker for trans representation onscreen, casting [...]

  • Jane Lynch NBC Relatively Happy

    Jane Lynch Wins 2019 Guest Comedy Actress Emmy

    Jane Lynch has been crowned the winner of the 2019 guest comedy actress Emmy for her role of comic Sophie Lennon on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This was Lynch’s second consecutive nomination for the role but first win. However, it is her fifth Emmy overall, after winning a short form statue in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content