Skip to main content

Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) is one TV villain you hate to love on NBC’s The Blacklist. The effortless charm of the FBI’s 4th “Most-Wanted” man is somewhat unsettling yet leaves viewers wanting more. The complex antagonist to Megan Boone’s FBI agent Elizabeth Keen has something in common with Red and it’s not Red’s “easy-going-until-you-cross-him” nature. The TV show’s leading man may not be too far off of Spader’s radar — here’s why.

James Spader has an interesting skill that helped develop ‘Red’ for ‘The Blacklist’

James Spader
James Spader as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington | Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Acting veteran, James Spader, tends to snag roles that amplify his own idiosyncrasies. Whether it’s as lawyer Alan Shore on The Practice and its spinoff, Boston Legal, or The Office‘s Robert California, Spader’s roles seem to be the ones only he could pull off.

As for The Blacklist — which began in 2013 — Spader’s portrayal of a criminal who eluded capture, then turned himself in, lends itself to pages of dialogue. “Red” has a particular way of speaking with a grandiose, colorful vocabulary that would seemingly take forever to memorize. How does Spader do it?

Apparently, Screen Rant said the actor has an “eidetic memory,” otherwise known as a “photographic memory.” This is when someone essentially remembers whatever they see “with clarity and accuracy.”

While this makes sense for Red – remembering a lengthy list of criminals he seeks out for capture alongside the FBI — Spader clams to use it to his advantage when memorizing scripts.

The star alleged on multiple occasions he can read a script once and remember his lines. The only difficulty comes when two similar words are in a similar dialogue text. If Spader really does have this skill, it’s worth questioning why he dropped out of school in 11th grade (when that spectacular memory could’ve served him well).

How Spader’s real-life persona relates to Raymond Reddington

Spader and Red may have more in common than some might think. At first glance, they’re drastically different. However, if you look a little closer at each, they’re actually quite similar.

“I’m obsessive-compulsive,” Spader previously told Rolling Stone. “I have very, very strong obsessive-compulsive issues. I’m very particular.”

He continued: “I rely on a certain routine. It’s very hard for me, you know? It makes you very addictive in behavior because routine and ritual become entrenched. But in work, it manifests in obsessive attention to detail, and fixation. It serves my work very well: Things don’t slip by. But I’m not very easygoing.”

Red may be more “easy-going” on the surface, but at the core, he’s just as ritualistic and obsessive with compulsions — just like Spader.

“I really love him. And when you love someone, that’s part of why you love them. Of course, if you fall out of love, they become beyond annoyances,” former Boston Legal co-star, William Shatner said of Spader’s behaviors.

“Our craft-service table was located near the stage entrance, so he had to avoid walking by and watching people licking their fingers or spreading butter on a bagel,” Shatner added.

Maggie Gyllenhall can attest to Spader’s eccentric ways

Another example came via Maggie Gyllenhaal who starred with Spader in the 2002 film, Secretary.

“He was always Mr. Grey,” she said. “There was no small talk. He just sat down and started staring at me. I was both taken and taken aback.”

She added that she never knew anything about Spader’s real-life off the set — until he pulled her aside one day.

“I always have an ally on every project I do. And this time, my ally is you,” he told her. She recalled how after that, they began a ritual of their own.

“I left my room and walked two feet to his, knocked on his door, and he invited me in and offered me a chocolate. That became a sort of S&M-type ritual between us,” she said.

Those qualities are exactly what make Spader the perfect match for Red. Showrunner, Jon Bokencamp, claimed that he didn’t know of Spader’s obsessive tendencies but that he, along with executive producer, John Eisendrath “learned very quickly” how things would work between them. He added that he speaks with Spader every day, seven days a week.

“Last weekend, on his birthday, we were on the phone for two and a half hours, and on Thanksgiving, when I was in Colorado, I was outpacing on the phone for two hours,” he said. “This stuff keeps him up at night. He can dig his heels in. The conversations can be frustrating.”

The reference of Spader digging his heels in was especially true when The Blacklist star received the two-part script in which the FBI site is raided by assassins.

“I called up the writers, and I said, ‘You understand the collateral damage of this, correct?’” Spader said. “‘You understand this is a game-changer. You’re burning down this house! This means there’s a terrible security issue for Reddington. How do I go back there? How do I trust anyone moving forward?’”

Spader said his obsession with Red and the storylines are necessary.

“Because I have to perform it,” he said. In that same interview, Spader revealed that, though writers had ideas for the show, Spader’s thoughts were intense enough that episodes were rewritten to suit [what Spader thought] would give Red what he needed. In summary, Red is Spader and Spader is Red in the most glorious of ways.

He may have also been an unintentional ‘conman’ prior to acting


Is ‘The Blacklist’ Based On True Events?

Personality similarities are one thing, but it turns out that Spader may have a touch of experience in deception. In the 1970s, Spader had a job as a yoga instructor. The actor had no experience or qualifications.

“It was THE great yoga scam,” Spader told Seth Meyers in an interview. “I was completely unqualified. I had done it because I heard the hours were flexible and there were a lot of girls around.”

He came up with the idea after seeing a brochure in a grocery store.

“My classes were: I dimmed the lights and I would sort of lay down in the front and I would just get people into – I would talk them into, I didn’t even show them, I would talk them into some sort of odd contortion that I interpreted and being yogic,” he said adding he often fell asleep in his classes, too.

Spader may not be a regular Raymond Reddington but he knew enough to fake his way into the job (and that is exactly what Red would’ve done).