THE BLACKLIST: John Eisendrath Gives Inside Scoop on Season 1 (2013)

"The Blacklist"

“The Blacklist”

Red Reddington.  Just like the name James Spader, some names invoke an aura of mystery.  In this case, the hero of THE BLACKLIST is the world’s most wanted criminal and he has just turned himself in — but he has something different in mind than just sitting in a cell and rotting away for the next 50 years.  He wants to work with the FBI to track down the world’s most diabolical and previously unknown criminals.  What inspires a man to suddenly want to change his career path so dramatically?  Why would a top criminal mastermind want to suddenly align with the good guys?  What’s in it for him?  In a press conference call, executive producer John Eisendrath candidly shared what questions THE BLACKLIST will embrace and which it will seek to tease us with during its first season.

How important is the reason that Red (James Spader) turns himself in? And will we find out this season?
JOHN: I think it is very important. It is one of several I hope sort of big questions hanging out there. Why does he turn himself in? Why does he turn himself now? Why did he pick Elizabeth Keen? I think those are three central questions. And we certainly will give answers for all of those in the first season.  And it is central to the show and he has a reason that we hope that viewers will find worthy of the number four on THE BLACKLIST deciding to up and turn himself in.

Can the show go more than one season? Will there be more story to explore?
JOHN: I think that there is a relationship that will develop between Red and Liz that I think has many years of stories to tell.  I think a first part of it will be learning what the reason that he turned himself in is. But I think once you learn that, any good answer to that question will be one that prompts four or five other questions.  So that hopefully will be worth the viewer’s time to watch.  Just because we give the answer to one of the early questions that we deposit in the pilot does not mean that there won’t be others that come from it. Why?  I think the answer is yes. We will answer some of the questions from the pilot, but those will just spinoff other questions that I hope will push the show and pull viewers forward into subsequent seasons should we be lucky enough to have the subsequent seasons.

What was the inspiration for THE BLACKLIST?
JOHN: There have been many police procedural or crime shows that center around the heroes who are trying to catch the criminals. And the idea was kicked around about centering a show that is about catching bad guys, but put a bad guy at the center of it, and that came about at around the same time that the real world criminal Whitey Bulger was found. He was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives for 20 years and he was found living in Santa Monica in an apartment. So sort of around the same time as the idea of the show was coming up, Whitey Bulger was found. And the idea was: what would happen if a man like Whitey Bulger turned himself in?  He was number two on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. And what would happen if he turned himself in and said, “I am here. I have some rules that I want you to follow, but if you follow them I will give you the names of people that I have worked with during the 20 years that I have been a fugitive.” So there was a real world influence that affected sort of the shaping of the show that was already sort of being thought about, like how can you put someone that you don’t trust in the center of a show about trying to find criminals.  And here was an example in the real world of just such a person. So it was sort of a fortuitous sort of turn of events where the idea for a show sort of generally was being considered. Then here comes a real life story that sort of helped give it some shape.

Is it challenging to get inside the mind of a career criminal like that?
JOHN: It’s interesting. In the pilot, Red says to Liz, “You have to think like a criminal” and I do think that one of the incredibly fun things about working on a show like this is that you are trying to imagine how a criminal would look at things. You’re trying put yourself in the mind of a guy like Red Reddington and how he would look at it and how he would look at it differently than a normal police procedural character might. So there is something incredibly fun about that and very exciting to be able to — well maybe it’s scary how easy it comes to some of us to think like a criminal. It is enjoyable and it’s a very specific character.  That to me is part of the reason the show I hope will be a success is that he is a very unique character. He’s someone that you can love, love to hate, be intrigued by and always leave you guessing.  I think that’s part of the joy of watching a show like this is that there’s a sort of mystery in his character.

Why was James Spader on your “Most Wanted” list, so to speak, for this show?
JOHN:  Now that we’ve seen him in the show, it’s easy after to look back and go, “I can’t believe James Spader has never played a part like this. He’s perfect for it.” It’s hard for me to believe that he’s never played kind of a master criminal before because he has the ability to be mysterious, to be dangerous, to be mischievous in a way that seems perfectly suited to playing someone who you don’t know whether he’s good or bad.  And there’s a certain amount of luck that is always a part of whether a show turns out to be good or bad. The script that Jon Bokenkamp wrote for the pilot was great, but there’s plenty of times where a great script does not turn out to be a great pilot. And there’s a lot of reasons why that happens. In our case I feel like we were incredibly lucky in that James Spader as an actor fit so perfectly with the character that was written, and that does not always happen.  It was incredibly fun to watch; just to see he became this person that was written. So it’s hard for us to sort of take credit for wanting James Spader on THE BLACKLIST. We were smart enough I guess to know that he’d be someone who’d be good to get in it, but I don’t think any John or I would say we knew just how good he was going to be.  He’s amazing in it and it was really fun to watch him just sort of become this person, and that was a joy to see.  He’s so this character and he just understands the character so well and it’s again so specific.  Everything; the way he talks. I’ll give you an example, which is that he always thought that his character should wear a hat and we were all like, “No. No hat. No. No hat. Nobody’s going to want to see a guy with a hat.” And he was like, “I think he wears a hat.” And he was very insistent that his character would wear a hat.  And he was totally right; I love the hat now. We are like, “Oh my God, the hat. It’s fantastic. It’s so him. He has to wear a hat.” And that was an example where he just sort of had such a great feeling for who and how to bring this character to life in ways that we couldn’t imagine that were really enjoyable to see.

How much of a conversation was there about what kind of hat Red would wear?
JOHN:  The thing that I admire about him is that he is both incredibly specific and confident in what he believes this character he’s portraying would do, wouldn’t do, what would he wear, how he would talk. And yet at the same time he’s incredibly interested in making it a dialogue.  He wants to sort of talk through it in a way that is –  as a writer is very winning.  It’s not like, “He’s wearing a hat. Forget it.” The hat’s just literally the most superficial visual example of  one of many examples of things.  The other wardrobe things that he was very insistent on and had a very specific point of view on what the character of Red would want to wear or wouldn’t wear. But it’s also true that it was that way about another I think very important example. Having watched the pilot there are probably three or four examples of humor in the show that didn’t exist before he was like, “You know what; sense of humor’s incredibly important to this world and this character.”  And so there were two or three places where he was like — even in the scene where’s he’s describing THE BLACKLIST, instead of like, “I have something that’s called THE BLACKLIST,” he’s like, “Let’s call it THE BLACKLIST, shall we? That sounds exciting,” or whatever he said.  And it was all him. He was just like, “I don’t want to make it so super-serious; I want to like have fun with it. So there was an attitude, a specificity about what he thinks the guy would wear. Very specific and again not like mandates in any way. He’s incredibly collegial and opinionated.  And it’s kind of really – it’s a combination that I think really helps elevate all of our games.  it really keeps us on our toes, but in the best way it makes for a better show. And I think it definitely made for a better pilot.

From your pilot you introduced Red so well, yet at the same time we still don’t understand his motivation for turning himself in. We’re giving a glimpse of it with a twist at the end, but we’re not exactly sure why he decides to go from the dark side to the good side, even bringing some of his darkness with him?  Is that something that’s going to be explained right away or is that something that’s going to drag out through the series?
JOHN: I like to think of it as teasing out rather than dragging. But, yes, we will tease it out throughout the series that did he turn himself in to for instance get the FBI’s help to take out all these other master criminals so that he has the criminal world all to himself.  I think there will be a period of time where some of our heroes will think, “Well we’re just doing his work for him taking out his enemies, taking out his rivals.” So he can go back into the criminal world having used us to take out a lot of people who were in his way. But for part of the time I think we’ll believe how; did he turn himself in because he was scared? Is there someone out there who scared Ray Reddington so much that he looked for protection from the FBI? And then there’ll be other times where we may feel like he has genuine penance that he’s trying to pay.  And by the way; all of what I just said might be true. They’re not mutually exclusive. And I think part of the fun of the show will be just when you think it’s one thing we may do an episode that makes you think it’s something else. And then we can circle back, but I think that part of the joy of the show will be the guessing game of what is the reason that he turned himself in.  Can we trust him? Is he using us? The moment Liz begins to trust him something might happen that makes her go, “I can’t believe I thought that maybe I could ever trust this guy.”  And the back and forth of that we feel like we can prolong for the foreseeable future.

How would you describe his relationship with Elizabeth Keen? He selected her for a reason which we start to get a glimpse of, but maybe that’s not the real reason. Is that something else that’ll be explained eventually or sooner? We’re just trying to get a handle on what that relationship is.
JOHN:  I think a little bit similarly to my last answer, there will be mystery in it of course. There will be the question of is he someone who has a deep, mysterious reason to care about this woman? Does he have a deep, mysterious reason that leads him to want to manipulate her for an end that we can’t see yet?  Does she possess something that he wants, but can’t access yet or doesn’t feel like he can get hold of until he has gotten closer to her? I think that the question of is he a guardian angel on her shoulder or is he the devil on her other shoulder is again something that we want to tease out over time. And I think it is certainly in the early episodes if you imagine yourself as Elizabeth Keen, you will have almost no other questions on your mind, but, “What is this man doing in my life?” and “Look what has happened to my life since he has shown up.”  And I feel like it’s not a question we’re going to ignore. He’s going to go right at it, but he is going to parse out the answers in his own sweet time.

Will we ever find out Red’s backstory?
JOHN: We will get glimpses of his backstory frequently. I mean he’s going to introduce us to people that he knows, that he’s worked with, that he’s now going to be on THE BLACKLIST and drawing us into the world of THE BLACKLIST he’s going to be showing us glimpses of the life that he led.  As just sort of about the premise of your question, as an example, he turned himself into the FBI. He has been in America part of the time, but I think in terms of the mystery of the show he might say, “It may not have escaped anybody’s notice that I turned myself into the FBI. I have been around the world. You may wonder why I chose not to turn myself into the CIA. Well is it possible that there are people within that community that want me dead?”  The question of the enemies that are out there of Ray Reddington’s, they can be in the world of crime. They can be in the world of government. The enemy within as well as the enemy without. So the very premise of your question, did he turn himself into the FBI, does beg other questions, doesn’t it? Why to them? He’s got people on THE BLACKLIST that are going to take our heroes all over the world, but why not then turn himself into the CIA? Is there a reason for that?  So we are going to get glimpses of his life. Not only in THE BLACKLIST stories we tell, but we can to the pilot or say explicitly in the pilot that he left his wife and daughter. And of course we’re going to revisit that story and find out what happened to his family in the intervening 20 years and what is his relationship if any with them.

Can you talk a little bit about the process of casting James Spader? Like how many people did you look at? How long was it? Was it difficult?
JOHN: I think as I’m sure you’re very familiar with, casting pilots is a very difficult process. Network pilots get green-lit at the same time and so everybody is trying to cast everybody at the same time which is always difficult, and it’s always all done at the same time.  And we had a difficult time. We had a difficult time by our own doing. I mean we were trying to figure out who the character should be. So you look at the universe of actors out there and you know how it is the first couple of weeks you’re like, “Oh I’m sure that Tom Cruise wants to do a TV show this year.” And “Maybe Tom Cruise will do the show” or whatever.  There’s always that impulse and which is crazy and weird and you know it’s the wrong impulse, but it’s impossible not to be drawn into it.  And because you’re thinking, “A huge star is what you need to break out of the pack.” And then when you get past that nonsense and there’s literally only a week left before the show is supposed to start filming and you realize, “Okay let’s get back to the world of reality.” The first section as you go after movie stars and it’s a completely ridiculous exercise that you curse yourself for going through it.  The second phase is that when you’re doing the network TV shows, I’m sure you guys are all aware, they’re like the stepchild off of cable shows now. Actors would much prefer in many cases to do ten episodes a year on a cable show than do 22 episodes on a network show. And I totally get it; it’s a better lifestyle in many ways. You get a lot of, “Oh I’d love to do that show, but if it was on cable,” but it’s not. So “Thank you, but no thank you.” So you get a lot of that.  And then you get back to again sort of the third phase which is the real world and once – and the fact is Spader – and again nobody reads for them. Nobody’s going to come in and actually audition. So you never really get to see anybody. So it’s a little bit of guesswork, right? Nobody comes in. Like Spader he’s never going to come in and audition for the role. So you’re guessing a little bit.  And that’s hard and you’re terrified because you care so much about the show and nobody’s going to read it. And you’re guessing about who’s going to be good. And there is a little guesswork in it. And so all of that is a long way of saying the casting process is almost always incredibly difficult and it was in our case. And like I said earlier, once we arrived at the fact that Spader could be great for the show and was actually — God love him — interested in doing a network show because he clearly could have done a cable show.  But he was interested in doing a network show and we had a conversation with him. We, Jon Bokenkamp and I, talked to him. So we would call him and say, “This is our idea for the season or the pilot. This is our idea for the show.” And we had a long conversation with him. Once we talked to him we realized okay he completely understands who this person is and we were 100% confident that he would be great in it.  And yet as I mentioned earlier, then he just completely exceeded our already high expectations. But I believe he was cast like three days before we were supposed to start filming.  But again, I don’t feel like we are in unique territory there; I think it’s just the way there’s a sort of rhythm to the casting of pilots that is craziness.

Can you talk a little bit about the process of casting James Spader? Like how many people did you look at? How long was it? Was it difficult?
JOHN: I think as I’m sure you’re very familiar with, casting pilots is a very difficult process. Network pilots get green-lit at the same time and so everybody is trying to cast everybody at the same time which is always difficult, and it’s always all done at the same time.  And we had a difficult time. We had a difficult time by our own doing. I mean we were trying to figure out who the character should be. So you look at the universe of actors out there and you know how it is the first couple of weeks you’re like, “Oh I’m sure that Tom Cruise wants to do a TV show this year.” And “Maybe Tom Cruise will do the show” or whatever.  There’s always that impulse and which is crazy and weird and you know it’s the wrong impulse, but it’s impossible not to be drawn into it.  And because you’re thinking, “A huge star is what you need to break out of the pack.” And then when you get past that nonsense and there’s literally only a week left before the show is supposed to start filming and you realize, “Okay let’s get back to the world of reality.” The first section as you go after movie stars and it’s a completely ridiculous exercise that you curse yourself for going through it.  The second phase is that when you’re doing the network TV shows, I’m sure you guys are all aware, they’re like the stepchild off of cable shows now. Actors would much prefer in many cases to do ten episodes a year on a cable show than do 22 episodes on a network show. And I totally get it; it’s a better lifestyle in many ways. You get a lot of, “Oh I’d love to do that show, but if it was on cable,” but it’s not. So “Thank you, but no thank you.” So you get a lot of that.  And then you get back to again sort of the third phase which is the real world and once – and the fact is Spader – and again nobody reads for them. Nobody’s going to come in and actually audition. So you never really get to see anybody. So it’s a little bit of guesswork, right? Nobody comes in. Like Spader he’s never going to come in and audition for the role. So you’re guessing a little bit.  And that’s hard and you’re terrified because you care so much about the show and nobody’s going to read it. And you’re guessing about who’s going to be good. And there is a little guesswork in it. And so all of that is a long way of saying the casting process is almost always incredibly difficult and it was in our case. And like I said earlier, once we arrived at the fact that Spader could be great for the show and was actually — God love him — interested in doing a network show because he clearly could have done a cable show.  But he was interested in doing a network show and we had a conversation with him. We, Jon Bokenkamp and I, talked to him. So we would call him and say, “This is our idea for the season or the pilot. This is our idea for the show.” And we had a long conversation with him. Once we talked to him we realized okay he completely understands who this person is and we were 100% confident that he would be great in it.  And yet as I mentioned earlier, then he just completely exceeded our already high expectations. But I believe he was cast like three days before we were supposed to start filming.  But again, I don’t feel like we are in unique territory there; I think it’s just the way there’s a sort of rhythm to the casting of pilots that is craziness.

Since you were talking about casting I was wondering if you can talk about what was the magic ingredient that led you to cast Harry Lennix and Megan Boone in their roles? They fleshed out their roles so well and they bring an interesting element to the show. I was kind of curious about that.
JOHN: We did look pretty far and wide for the character of Liz and  again casting is so subjective. But when Megan came in, and she did audition — I said a lot of other people don’t and their offer only — but she came in and auditioned. And it was one of those auditions where right away we were like, “There is something specific about her.”  I think, for me anyway, what it was in her audition was that I felt like there was a darkness that she could access. And it’s funny because it wasn’t something we put in a breakdown. It wasn’t really something that was obvious in the script, but it was something that Jon and I have talked about, about her character having like a darkness to her and  part of the first season will be it’s almost a little like Darth Vader and Luke tempted by the dark side.  There’s a little of that and the idea that she isn’t just goody two-shoes.  She actually has something lurking under there. So it was sort of when she did the audition and it was clear that she had the ability to access that, it was really affecting. We really thought, “Yes, that is it.” And from the first time she auditioned we felt like she was the one that we wanted and again to cast someone who’s unknown as a sort of centerpiece of your show you’ve got to do some lobbying to make sure everybody’s okay with that and comfortable with that. And we really felt comfortable from the beginning that she was the right person from the first time we saw her. You asked about Harry, right? I think the thing we liked about him, there were a couple of things. First of all in some ways certainly in the pilot, his role can sort of seem like it’s thankless.  Because it’s just there’s not that much to work with because so much of it is sort of introductory material for him to sort of let the other people launch into their stories.  And one of the things that I loved about him is that the way he plays it is sort of incredibly likeable and warm and inviting, and yet as a very high-ranking spymaster kind of character. It’s just it’s what I loved is that he’s like the guy like the spider wooing the person into the web.  When he says to Liz, “Don’t profile yourself. Just tell me about you,” he’s very smiling, sweet and affable, but he’s really a dangerous character who is capable of being very cunning.  You don’t get to that job unless you’re capable of that. So we wanted someone who could play against the reality of what someone has to be like. Not against reality, but play against the underlying fact that someone does not get to be high up in the world of counter-intelligence without being a very tough customer. And so he sort of played against it and I think in many ways that’s more dangerous; a more dangerous way to play it because you are disarming people while you’re watching them the whole time. So I did love that about his portrayal. And I also like the idea that I feel like there’s, as we sort of hint at in the pilot, there’s a history between him and Spader’s character.  I do feel like the two of them I like the way they play off each other. There’s like I said a sort of at least a seeming openness about the way Harry plays his role, the role of Cooper, and Spader’s Reddington is so tight.  And I think it’s a really great sort of opposite way of portraying those characters in such opposite ways, but yet they have something that is going to be explosive in their past that will reveal something about each of them. And that’s like they’re good sort of antagonists in that way.

Is it going to be one crime per episode or is it going to be serialized so that we have to follow the whole season to really know what’s going on?
JOHN: In the beginning and for the foreseeable future there will be someone on THE BLACKLIST that Red offers up and that we take down. So that there is an episodic nature to those stories. Obviously like in any great show – any show that isn’t just a show like CSI or LAW & ORDER.  The character stories are serialized. So the story about Liz and her husband, the bigger mythological questions, why pick Liz? Why did Red turn himself in? There will be tent pole moments throughout the first year that address those questions. But on an episode to episode basis we will have someone on THE BLACKLIST that we go after and take down. There will be some of the larger tent pole questions asked in each episode, but not every one in every episode.

To find out Red is really up to and what lengths he will go to in order to get what he wants while perhaps manipulating the FBI for his own master plan, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of THE BLACKLIST on Monday nights, starting September 23rd at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.

Where to find this article:

http://www.thetvaddict.com/2013/09/20/fall-tv-preview-the-blacklist-ep-john-eisendrath-gives-inside-scoop-on-falls-most-notorious-new-show/

"The Blacklist"

“The Blacklist”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s