Despite being the star of the new hit series "The Blacklist," it is obvious that James Spader checked his vanity at the door in deciding on the look for the character, shaving his head down to a stubble, which is not the best look for his round face, but is definitely functional for playing master criminal Raymond "Red" Reddington.
"When I got to New York to shoot the pilot, I had very long hair, and I knew that they were going to shoot a surveillance photo of Reddington to have on the wall there when he surrenders himself," Spader says. "I thought it would be just a great moment when he surrenders himself, he takes his hat off, and the juxtaposition of the shot of him with long hair and then like this."
It is clear that getting into character is more important for Spader than self-importance, which may be why he has three Emmy Awards to his name for his previous work on "Boston Legal." He puts a lot of thought into his characters, so it was also his decision that Red would wear a fedora as a byproduct of his lifestyle.
"We didn't want him to look as if he's from any specific style of fashion of any given year or from any given place because he's someone who would compile his wardrobe from around the world," Spaders says. "People dress differently in different parts of the world. He has been on the move for a couple of decades now, if not longer. And he travels lightly but he has to wear clothing that's practical. He has to be someone who's dressed to go straight from the jungle to, you know, a banker's office and be able to be comfortable and appropriately dressed for both."
In this interview with the Boston-born actor, he talks about his new hit NBC series:
Did you decide what the look of this particular character would be? We're used to seeing you often with a lot of hair and so forth. Did you decide you wanted the guy to look a certain way like this?
I thought that it would be nice just because actors are burdened with everything else that they've done before in any role that they're playing, and I thought it would be nice to take off my hat and it's an entirely different person and a very different look to go with that. But working backwards from there, the way his life has been for the last 20 years, he moves very swiftly through his life. He's moving from place to place very quickly. I thought he should have a haircut, that he can do himself if he cares to, or he can go to some barber shop in a little town in Cambodia and they can cut his hair in ten minutes. I just thought it was streamlined, and his clothes are like that, too, in that he looks well dressed, but traveling clothes. He wears clothes that he can go from a bank to a cave and he's dressed accordingly. And he's also in a lot of different climates over the last 20 years, so I thought it would be appropriate that he dress and look as if he's able to move through the world easily and comfortably.
Going off of that, a sort of superficial comparison, because the gender roles that people are going to make is to "Silence of the Lambs," obviously. Is that sort of the comparison that you want to embrace or steer away from?
The basis of their relationship is very real. It's clear, even from the pilot, there is a past between the two of them that she is not aware of, but he has an intimate knowledge of her past and her childhood and relatives of hers and so on. The relationship between [the characters] ‑‑ in the film you refer to is obsession, and it's not based on any sort of reality at all.
I think that as the story starts to unfold -- and that becomes a driving force -- is what the basis of their relationship really is. I think that issue is so invoked in a viewer's mind based on imagery more than anything else. In the pilot, obviously, you know, he's in this box. He's shackled to the thing. A girl comes in. She's a rookie and so on and so forth, but the imagery is so powerful and so strong in terms of that, and I think that's probably where the correlation comes from more than anything.
But as soon as Reddington hits the streets, at a certain point, he has to work as an asset, and therefore, as an asset, he's got to move freely in public and so on. So I think that the relationship that you're talking about, that imagery will end fairly soon, you know.
What was one thing that appealed to you about the show?
It can go in any direction and, I think, its trajectory of storyline is limitless. Anybody could be on "The Blacklist." It is not apparent now, but this is based on what is driving him. It seems to be many things. The pursuit of that and the discovery of that can sustain for a period.
Does he have co-conspirators?
He definitely has a network.
Could Liz be his daughter?
Could be. You want something that people will talk about at work.
Do you think Red came in to get the FBI to help him get rid of some of his competition, or because there is someone out there he is afraid of and the FBI can help keep him alive?
Ultimately, it is probably a combination of all of those things and none of those things. Those are pretty simple ideas and I think it should be more complicated than that.