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‘The Blacklist’ Star on Season 5 Aftermath of Tom’s Death and a ‘Darker’ Liz

Viewers have now had a few weeks to digest the game-changing twist that went down in the midseason finale of NBC’s “The Blacklist,” when Ian Garvey (Jonny Coyne) attacked Tom (Ryan Eggold) and Liz (Megan Boone) in their house, resulting in Tom’s death and Liz falling into nearly a year-long coma.

When the series returns with the standalone episode “Ruin” in January, a few more months have passed and Liz seems to have finally physically recovered. Yet, she remains emotionally unstable as she deals with the fallout of her husband’s death.

To get a sense of what’s to come and how these major life events have changed Liz, Variety caught up with Boone to get her take on life without Tom. Here, the actress breaks down a very different episode of the series, previews some important changes ahead, and teases the show’s upcoming 100th episode with guest star Nathan Lane.

What was your initial reaction to learning about Tom’s death and what was it like to play out those final scenes with Ryan?

Ryan and I had become really close over the last four seasons so I was definitely sad to see him go. But it made for a really nice few weeks of work where I got to spend quality time with him and appreciate him in the way we don’t do in the hustle of the day-to-day. We had fun saying goodbye. I made him a cake saying, “’The Blacklist’ lost its cool” with a picture of him on it and we just tried to make it a special time.

The show returns nearly a year following that death, what kind of emotional state is Liz in?

Liz has abandoned her life completely. She lives in obscurity now. The people who do know her don’t know much about her and she goes by a pseudonym. In the [return] episode she’s just suddenly trapped by this extreme weather event with this threatening group of travelers who stumble upon her cabin, and she’s forced to fight for her life.

Tonally how does the episode differ from a usual “Blacklist” episode?

This episode is very cinematic. It’s a standalone episode that centers around Liz after Tom’s death, which gives it a very reflective tone and it definitely goes off formula for the show.

You’re in nearly every scene of “Ruin,” what was it like doing that extra heavy lifting?

This is a very time-intensive episode but this kind of work is the kind of stuff I’ve always wanted to do my whole life. I liked the quiet quality of the scene-work and the very internal nature of the character. Every line has subtext in some way. Through most of the episode there’s not a gun in sight, so it’s very different than the work I’ve been doing for the last four years. In some ways it was actually a lot easier for me to do work like this, because it just feels more in line with who I am. But because I’ve been stretching myself so much over the last four seasons to do work that feels like it’s a bit more of a stretch for me, I also felt that this work was more enriched by that experience.

How much of this new, darker Liz carries forward into the back half of the season?

I really tried to make it a point not to just spring back into action in the next episode as if nothing happened; I wanted to carry a feeling of “Ruin,” throughout the rest of the season. So you’re going to see Liz approach the next phase of her life exploring questions like will she lean on this genetically darker impulse that she has and behave like Red, or forge her own path? Ultimately it’s a mixture of both but I didn’t change a thing about her from this episode except her place in the world. She goes back to the task force eventually and back to Red but I tried to carry her experience and have it resonate throughout the rest of the season.

How will Tom’s death affect Liz and Red’s [James Spader] relationship?

Ultimately Red really understands Elizabeth, maybe even more and more now that he sees her grappling with some of the same challenges that he has also had in his past. They’re bonded, especially now that she knows he’s her father.

How do things alter between Liz and the rest of the team?

Liz is much less accountable for the task force. She’s asked Red to continue his work with the task force in her absence because she doesn’t want to see the good work of the task force stop just because she’s on her own quest right now, but that means a real distance.

Do audiences see what they went through during this year or does the show stick to present day for the most part now?

We do go into flashbacks, but I can’t say any specifics about them because they’re pretty important story points.

Famke Janssen returns for this episode, what was it like to have her back on set?

I really enjoyed working with Famke, she’s a lovely woman. She comes in because we show the viewers how Liz got to this secluded place through flashbacks, so that’s where we see her come into Liz’s world. She reprises her role as Tom’s mother, Scottie Hargrave.

Executive producers John Eisendrath and Jon Bokencamp mentioned Liz takes up some of that espionage mantel Tom has held in the past, what has that been like to play?

I definitely felt a shift. It’s one I’ve really wanted to see, where Liz is totally capable. She is beyond capable actually. She asserts herself really effectively in extreme circumstances. The arc of a character, especially on a show that extends to its 100th episode, needs time to evolve, especially when Liz Keen is the character on a journey like she is here and is changing in her life throughout the show. There were times where I was impatient to see this happen but it’s so exciting to see her really take charge in the same way that some of the men in her life have done in past.

What can you preview about the upcoming 100th episode — are there any throwbacks you can tease?

We were really fortunate to get Nathan Lane as our guest star and his role was tailored for him; he played it so well. It was nice for me personally because he was the first actor I ever saw in a play. When I was young my grandparents took me to see “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and he made me fall in love with theater. So this was serendipitous for me personally. But as far as the audience goes they probably want to know he plays Abraham Stern, who is this cunning manipulator who has devoted his life to recovering this fortune that he feels is his birthright. Meanwhile, Liz is still on this quest to find Tom’s killers, so she’s being led down this really dark path and studying the methods of one of the Blacklist’s most dangerous blacklisters. In the way Liz decides to take care of her business there’s an homage to one of the more popular blacklisters, as we’re sort of reprising those methods. I think fans will like it.

“The Blacklist” returns Wednesday, Jan. 3 on NBC.

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