”The Blacklist’: Diego Klattenhoff Says Working With 1 Star Is Like Getting ‘Punched in the Face’

Diego Klattenhoff isn’t a familiar Hollywood name. But, his presence in The Blacklist is a necessary one. As FBI Agent Donald Ressler, Klattenhoff helps capture some of the world’s most elusive criminals. Seven seasons in, Klattenhoff is still basking in the show’s success. However, there’s one star’s work he equates to “being punched in the face.”

Diego Klattenhoff on landing a role in ‘The Blacklist’

The Blacklist
Diego Klattenhoff as Donald Ressler | Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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Before landing the role of Ressler in NBC’s crime drama, The Blacklist, Diego Klattenhoff, was finishing Homeland. The actor explained to Assignment X he knew well ahead of time his Homeland stint was coming to an end.

“We looked and my manager, best manager in the business, Frances Okwu, tracked down this script for The Blacklist that everybody was talking about,” he said.

“I finally got my grubby little hands on it and it was terrific and I called them back and said, ‘We’ve got to get on this show’. My agents and everybody else did all the legwork and it just came like this: I met them on Tuesday, I tested on Thursday, and we shot the following Saturday.”

Klattenhoff later told Collider he was skeptical. Going from an award-winning show on cable to a pilot for a primetime network was a leap. It paid off.

“It’s very hard to judge sometimes. It’s such a crapshoot. You have to get the casting right. You have to get the people behind it,” he said. “Your director might not be the right director for the project. And then, it has to test and those people in that room, wherever they are, have to turn those buttons the right way at the right time.”

His feelings for The Blacklist seem to have strengthened over seven seasons. However, that doesn’t mean he knows where the story, or Donald Ressler’s motivations and backstory, are headed.

The ‘Blacklist’ star noted the parallels with ‘Homeland’

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For 25 episodes between 2011-2013, Klattenhoff held the role of Mike Faber in Homeland. Coincidentally — and just as he described — The Blacklist began during the pilot season in 2013. This is likely why, as he tells it, there are so many parallels between the two shows.

“The parallels between this and Homeland are eerie, in the sense of knowing exactly where you are when you read it. When I was reading Homeland, I was at my sister’s apartment in Toronto shooting an episode of Falling Skies, and my people got me the script,” he told Collider.

“The same thing for The Blacklist. I was sitting at the kitchen table in L.A. and I couldn’t get up to get a glass of water. I was just in it,” he said.

Klattenhoff explained that, though he has a general idea of where some parts of the show are headed, he’s mostly in the dark like the rest of us.

“I don’t want to find out, after the first season, that my character was real interesting in the beginning, but then I’m shot. There’s a lot of potential for everyone involved,” he said.

The Blacklist star added that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes than fans realize. One of which has something to do with a particular co-star.

Here’s who gives Klattenhoff something to contend with

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Like much of the cast, Klattenhoff recognizes many won’t necessarily remember his name in the list of Blacklist credits. They will, however, remember that of James Spader.

Co-creator, John Fox, told Assignment X they didn’t have anyone specific in mind before they cast Spader.

“James is somebody that we loved and that we thought about very early on, but at the time, we were told he wasn’t available,” he said. “Then, late in the process, we heard he was available and we pounced on it because James embodies everything we had ever imagined for the character.”

Spader’s co-stars concur. Klattenhoff referred to Spader as “a worthy opponent to tangle with,” and “a beast,” for good reason.

“You want to go in there and load up and do everything you can and then walk in the room and it all goes out the window and it’s like what Mike Tyson says — everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face, and that’s kind of what it’s like when you’re working with Spader,” he said.

” You can prepare, you can do all that stuff, and you just have to deal with what’s in front of you right then. It’s terrific.”

Co-star, Harry Lennix, had similar sentiments, telling the same outlet he’d never worked with Spader before.

“I tell you, watching him work was a real inspiration because he comes always prepared, he’s very detailed in his work, and it’s just a thrill to watch him work and to go toe to toe with him,” he said.

The Blacklist returns to NBC for season 8, eventually.