Meet The Blacklister
An exclusive Interview with Jon Bokenkamp, creator of NBC’s hit crime thriller ‘The Blacklist’ and the new spinoff series ‘The Blacklist Redemption’
By Robin Jay
“You can’t just serve up super criminals like Chinese takeout Harold,” said Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, the dry-witted debonair concierge of crime and FBI informant played by the brilliant James Spader on NBC’s The Blacklist.
In the shocking third-season finale, former FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) was discovered alive after a failed attempt to shield her new baby from further collateral damage by associating with Reddington’s crime ring. A mysterious man claiming to be Liz’s real father (despite the series-long hints that Red is her father) targets her, but first she must resolve the mystery of her lost childhood and reconcile her true identity. Betrayed by those closest to him, Reddington’s specific moral code demands justice, all the while battling an army of new and unexpected blacklisters.
If you’re an obsessed fan of The Blacklist like yours truly, you can hardly bear the wait and anticipation in between seasons. Thankfully NBC answered fan pleas by launching a new spinoff series, The Blacklist Redemption, that will air when The Blacklist is in hiatus.
In this thrilling new spinoff, the world’s most elusive criminals from Red’s infamous list come together to form an elite mercenary team as they try to regain their self-worth after a lifetime of inflicting damage on the world. Seeking redemption for their past transgressions, this new group solves problems governments don’t dare touch.
International Opulence sat down with the creator of both series, Jon Bokenkamp, to get the behind-the-scenes dish on both.
International Opulence: I can’t imagine anyone other than James Spader playing the part of Reddington. What direction was he given and how much did he embellish to create his character?
Bokenkamp: It was written very specific for a 50-something-year-old man who’s classy, elegant and refined. James brought a real sense of humor to the role. I know one of the things he did on ‘Boston Legal’ were the great courtroom filibusters – he’d just become hypnotizing. And that became something we would write toward. He can be quiet and captivating. Oftentimes, we’d write a whole scene and then decide he could do it with just a kiss. James said he saw in the script a lot of humor. I didn’t. He definitely brought it out and has an odd sense of humor that I think is in sync with the character. It’s James’ great sense of timing and an eerie weirdness that is fun to write to.
International Opulence: What’s James like in person when he’s not acting? Does he have any similarities to his character in The Blacklist?
Bokenkamp: It’s funny, John has said this before, at a certain point the character becomes the actor and the actor becomes the character. And you start writing toward that actor’s strengths and what they do well, and avoid what they are not so strong at. You see sort of a presence only they can bring to that character. In terms of what James is like, he’s incredibly professional. He’s dedicated to the script, which I think is rare in television. He’s somebody who’s not going out and ad-libbing and winging it. He’s incredibly protective of the character. Raymond has sort of an odd moral compass. He’s a ruthless man, he’s a criminal. But at the same time, he’s an antihero who has a very specific moral code and I think James is very good at calling us out when he thinks Reddington is doing something out of character.
International Opulence: Is there a real ‘Black List’ in the real world?
Bokenkamp: Well, the government has a kill list, that exists. A lot of things we use in The Blacklist are grounded in truth. I’m not a huge conspiracy theorist, but I’m also not terribly naïve. The beginning part of season four was all about how the presidential candidate may have had a conversation with Russia. So is there a real Black List? I have no idea. But I think that there is certainly money and power that have an influence, and I think Reddington’s perspective on the world and his cynicism and his wild delight for life are sort of a nice juxtaposition.
International Opulence: Given the bruhaha in the news media about whether the Russians hacked the election, are you planning to write more Russian plots in future episodes?
Bokenkamp: There are larger conversations that happen behind the scenes. Maybe I like to let my mind go wild.
International Opulence: Do you do any actual collaborating with the FBI?
Bokenkamp: Yes, we work with Brad Garett who’s a former FBI agent. There are certain times where he’ll tell us what’s more realistic.
International Opulence: When you first started the series, did you intend from the onset for the audience to wonder whether Red may be Liz’s long-lost father?
Bokenkamp: I think that was always part of the mystery. It wasn’t ‘was she his daughter’ so much as who is this man, which is the larger question. The Blacklist is very much a chosen one story. “A man walks into the FBI one day and only speaks to Liz and knows things that are mysterious and uncomfortable and the question of ‘why her’ is really a series long question. We had chances to answer it, but I think that’s what makes the character of Red mysterious because just when we think we understand him, we don’t. I personally like the chameleon aspect.
International Opulence: Tell us about the spinoff, The Blacklist Redemption.
Bokenkamp: We had an opportunity to do another show to expand the landscape of The Blacklist and it felt like the Tom Keene character was equally as mysterious. Redemption is more of a spy thriller, a little more fun, more heist and caper; has more things in common with ‘Mission Impossible’ than it does a crime drama like The Blacklist. You’re going to love it!