The Blacklist spent the last eight years steadily dominating NBC’s ratings. The crime show is not your average murder of the week mystery. Instead, it builds off the classic dynamic of what happens when the criminals and the FBI work less adversarially and more as allied foes. To reach this, the makers had to nail the casting, but the means to do so wasn’t relatively as easy.
‘The Blacklist’ hits television
According to IMDb, The Blacklist tells the story of Boone’s Elizabeth Keen, an FBI Profiler whose life is taken over by Spader’s Raymond Reddington. Reddington turns himself into the Bureau with zero explanation and insists that he will only speak to Boone. This kicked off a Silence of the Lambs dynamic that helped guide the entire show.
Reddington is a well-spoken man that feeds right into Spader’s persona seen in recent hits like The Office or Age of Ultron. Yes, he is a criminal who has done unspeakable things and ran from them for years, but he also has a certain charm and personable way about him. He works with the FBI to hunt down criminals that were entirely unknown as of the first episode.
Keen, a family woman who wants to be out in the open, starts the show by going to the Black Site, where Reddington turned himself in. Since then, the show has grappled with why he chose Keen, what his endgame is, and how the dynamic would ultimately play out by the end. According to Reddington and Keen themselves, James Spader and Megan Boone, however, the casting process was equally unpredictable and jarring.
Megan Boone gets the call
According to ScreenRant, Boone was one of the first pieces to fall into place. She wasn’t an A-list star, nor was she on the B or C-list, either. However, she wowed the casting directors to the point where they began to build the rest of the surrounding cast. She spoke about this process with Daily Actor in 2013.
“The audition process actually drew me closer and closer and closer to the piece. By the time they decided to cast me, I was already really sort of in this world. It was an amazing collaboration because I felt so involved and then read with Diego Klattenhoff and Ryan Eggold, and then they brought in James Spader. It just kept getting better and better,” she told the site.
Klattenhoff and Eggold were vital to her ultimate role, but without the right Reddington, nothing else would work. Luckily for Boone and the series as a whole, an old industry veteran took the job on the fly and helped create the series it is today. When Deadline reported Boone’s casting in March 2013, they did not yet know of the A-Lister who would help propel the series to success, and with Boone on the way out, that decision could keep them alive.
James Spader beats the buzzer
According to CinemaBlend, Reddington was based on Whitey Bulger, the infamous Boston crime lord known as much for his ability to skate around the legal process as he was the crimes themselves. For such a massive character to exist, they needed someone as magnetic as humanly possible.
The role was reportedly offered to everyone from Pierce Brosnan to Bryan Cranston, Richard Gere, and Kiefer Sutherland. Then, three days before filming, they got their actor. While Boone was first to be cast, Spader was the very last.
Spader has been around for decades, but The Blacklist allowed him to showcase his skills in new, exciting ways. While the Reddington on paper was already there, the makers molded it around Spader’s distinctive voice and quirks. Then, according to creator Jon Bokenkamp’s interview with Variety, the rest fell into place.
“Once James stepped into the character during the pilot, adjustments were made to fit a voice that he had in mind,” Bokenkamp told the publication.
The show is Spader’s, and while Bokenkamp and Boone are heading out the door, his skill and ability to work on a whim have made the show the massive success it’s been for eight years. They may not have come aboard under the same circumstances, but Boone and Spader helped create a modern classic still going strong today.