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James Spader talks 'The Blacklist' season premiere, loving the strange

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The Blacklist returns Sept. 22 (10 p.m. ET on NBC), and as fans were informed in the teaser below, war is coming. Berlin (Peter Stormare), the Big Bad revealed in the season-one finale to be the reason Red (James Spader) turned himself into the FBI in the first place—because he couldn’t lure him out and fight him alone—will make it very personal very quickly, executive producer Jon Bokencamp says. “I told Peter we wanted the character to be dangerous and strange,” he says. “He’s constantly emailing back and forth with little questions, nuances, line changes, and ideas to make the character more specific, more grounded, and more fun.”

Season two picks up a few months after the season-one finale, and the task force members are living paranoid lives and feeling hunted. When Red gets a lead, they finally have a reason to get back together. Bokencamp is tight-lipped about his recurring guest stars—which will include Mary-Louise Parker, who is introduced in the premiere as a woman with a deep history with Red, and Paul Reubens, who’ll first appear in episode three as a dapper, finicky “muscle” who handles delicate situations in the criminal underworld. But talking with Spader (before that promo was released), EW got a few more insights into Red.

EW: How would you describe Red’s relationship with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) when season two begins?

Spader:They ended season one with a sort of cautious partnership, and I think that’s still the case. But by the same token, the task force has been splintered to a certain degree, and things are in a bit of disarray, and the people have been forced to their corners to try to quantify and qualify exactly what the scope and breadth of this threat is and how best to reckon with it. And Red, of course, is going to take that, to a great degree, into his own hands and then try to take advantage of his relationship with the FBI to facilitate whatever he feels is necessary, which he does.

What are you enjoying most about the Berlin/Red storyline?

Well, Peter Stormare, for one. And also I like that things are not what they seem. I like that about our show in general, and I like it about this storyline in particular…With anything having to do with Reddington’s life, what appears to be is often not, and that is so with the Berlin story as well in that everything that one may believe—including Berlin, or even Reddington, or others, about the past in terms of that story, and then therefore the present, and the future—is not necessarily the truth, and that’s what we’re playing with as season two continues.

Do you get scenes with Peter at the start of the season, or is that something that we’ll have to wait to see?

There’s been some communication of a sort… you’ll understand the humor in that better as you see the episodes.

Jon has said that he’s hoping to build out Red’s team this season, so we’ll see more of the people that he trusts, people he surrounds himself with.

I like to see little glimpses into Reddington’s life and what the day-to-day idiosyncratic aspects of his life are, and that includes the people that he chooses to keep close to him or even just those associates that he keeps at an arm’s length. I think it is a window into who he is, and he tends to surround himself with an eccentric group, and they’re all quite varied in personality and sorts, and I love that. It’s something that we talk about a lot because there’s great opportunity for that with him. He has very inclusive tastes. I think he has a great fondness for the strange, and wonderful, and the eccentric, and he takes great delight in people for not only their expertise, but also how they perform their expertise.

When talking to me about casting the role Paul Reubens ultimately nabbed, Jon said, “It can’t get strange enough for me.” I assume that’s a concept that you and he bonded over when you thought about doing this show?

Yeah. I called him up because he just stole that from me. Somebody sent that article to me as a note saying, “Oh, we’re excited he’s going to be on the show,” and I read that, and I called Jon, and I said, “Hey, Jon, people are going to think that we’re dating each other if we repeat each other’s sentences.” I guess we are, in a sense, but we certainly are attached at the ear and mouth. He and I have a shared proclivity there, and when I called him, he said, “Oh my God, I knew as soon as I read that James is going to call and say, ‘Look, so now we’re starting to echo each other in our interviews.'” But in any case, I think that’s probably what is drawing me to Jon and probably what has drawn Jon to me. I mean, we work very well together in that sense, and those are the things that we both enjoy most about the show.

Jon has said that you found a humor in the character that he didn’t necessarily see originally in the pilot. As you go into season two and stories maybe get more complex or darker, is that humor easier or more difficult to find?

What I saw in the pilot was that he finds irreverence in the strangest of places, and by now, I think his comfort in the most dire of circumstances allows for that. It allows for an irreverence at a time when others might have a hard time seeing that set of circumstances through quite that prism. Reddington has a very sometimes startling comfort level in certain circumstances, and he lives his life at a very different pace from other people, I think. When other people are moving quickly with great stress, he sometimes is moving more slowly. And at other times, when people may be showing reticence, he is swift in his decisions or actions, and I think that’s what allows for surprise with him.

Are there any inspirations you’ve drawn from for the character that we would find surprising?

The character really comes from the imagination of Jon Bokenkamp, and John Eisendrath, and myself, but one’s imagination is influenced by all sorts of things: it can be a book that you read to your child, or it can be an article you read in the newspaper, or it can be a piece of music that you hear, or it could be a place that you’ve been. It could be something that you look at and think, well, what might be my reaction to this situation, and how would Reddington react that might be very different from that? What might be the expected reaction to a situation, and what’s the more unexpected reaction to that situation? I think that is brought to the character in equal measure by all those that influence the shape of the character.