‘The Office’: The Deal Producer Struck With James Spader to Give Fans More Robert California

The Blacklist brought James Spader back to TV in a devious role that seems as if it were written from the pages of Spader’s mind. Likewise, the actor played a lawyer in two hit TV dramas in the past, but there’s another part in which NBC wanted the actor. The Office became Spader’s jumping-off point for his [now] seven-year stint in The Blacklist. However, the role of just one episode. Here’s a look into what it took for producers to snag Spader for an entire season in The Office.

‘The Blacklist’ star James Spader ‘loses interest’ in projects

The Office
Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer, James Spader as Robert California | Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

If you’ve ever wondered why James Spader’s resume is a bit sporadic — both before and after playing Robert California in The Office — you’re not alone. The Blacklist actor admitted in multiple interviews that his taste is specific and any given project may not have that special something he’s looking for.

“To sustain me over a period of time, I can’t be doing this one thing. I will just lose interest quickly,” Spader said at the Tribeca TV Festival via Deadline.

“After reading the pilot of The Blacklist, I knew less than I did when I started reading. It was so enigmatic, I realized, ‘Wow, the landscape is just anywhere.’ It could be anything. I saw the sense of humor [that] could really be married with anything. That dichotomy, I thought, could sustain me.”

As for how Spader gets into the head of any of his roles, he admitted he “loves make-believe.”

“My childhood friends started going off in the afternoons to play sports and I was really disappointed we couldn’t keep playing cops and robbers. By the time he moved to New York City as a teen, he’d never lost that spark. “I’d walk the streets and tail people. I’d make up stories about what was going on,” he said.

One of those “stories” could be where the background information (or lack thereof) of The Office‘s Robert California originated. But how did producers get Spader to commit to a whole season?

Inside the deal between Spader and ‘The Office’ producers

The reason Spader committed to more a 15-episode arc in The Office may surprise some. It had little to do with the show or the role. In fact, it had something to do with Spader’s other project.

“I had a ball doing that one episode… and two things happened,” Spader said. “I was offered Lincoln — a film everybody was doing for very little money, and yet the commitment was going to be eight months in advance,” he explained.

“And I had just finished doing a play in New York and need to make some money” — a job that actually paid my bills, and lo and behold they aired The Office seven-season finale and people responded to the finale, and the producers called and said ‘we’d love to have you back in any capacity you’re willing’,” he said, agreeing to take the job.

He continued: “As long as you let me out in the fall, for this film…And that, probably more than anything, dictated the trajectory of the character on the show…So in a sense, I never felt like I was more than a visitor there. I was fine with that.”

It’s mind-bending to think an actor with Spader’s credits and talent took The Office gig for the paycheck. Regardless, it’s a role that The Office fans still refer to today.

Spader joined ‘The Blacklist’ for similar reasons


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The same year, Spader became the leading man on NBC’s The Blacklist — a crime drama that follows an FBI “Most-Wanted” criminal who turns himself in as an informant.

The actor elaborated on why he takes certain roles saying, “it can’t just be a comedy and that’s it, and it can’t just be a drama and that’s it, it can’t just be action. It’s gotta be a mix of all those things.”

When he read for The Blacklist, he recalled the same feelings he’d had when reading for The Practice and Boston Legal. It captured his attention and held it, which, as he said, is a feat.

“First of all, by the end of the pilot, I knew less than I knew before I started reading it. I had way more questions at the end than I had at the beginning,” he said adding that [the character] Raymond Reddington’s sense of humor also intrigued him.

“No matter what the set of circumstances might be, that he might encounter, I could see that he could see the irreverence in whatever it was,” he said. “And I thought that dichotomy can sustain me. If it holds my interest, it might hold an audiences’.”

Still, that isn’t the only reason Spader took the role. There were bigger things at play.

“I was living in Los Angeles, and I needed to move to New York, and the show was set in New York,” he said. It’s that simple. Catch The Blacklist when season 8 premieres, eventually, and The Office in syndicated re-runs to get your Spader fix.