Lynette Rice
December 20, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

For James Spader, playing a criminal mastermind like Raymond “Red” Reddington on NBC’s runaway hit The Blacklist conjures up images of frolicking around his childhood home. Sound odd? Not when you hear him explain why. “This TV show is a great game of make-believe because you’re really taking a flier on it,” says the 53-year-old actor. “It’s the closest thing you can do as an actor that replicates playing around in your backyard as a kid. Things are very fluent and can really go in any direction.” That’s why Spader — who’ll spend his summer hiatus playing a brilliant robot bent on destroying the world in the Avengers sequel — is having a ball as an unpredictable, fedora-wearing antihero who’s helping the feds capture his nefarious peers. “He’s a very dangerous guy. I like that enigmatic quality where he’s perfectly comfortable in a world that others should never get comfortable in.”

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