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The Blacklist: James Spader on that shocking Liz Keen twist — exclusive

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Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Thursday’s episode of The Blacklist. Read at your own risk!

We warned you The Blacklist nuptials wouldn’t have a happy ending.

In Tom (Ryan Eggold) and Liz’s (Megan Boone) haste to escape Mr. Solomon and the group that was trying to abduct her at the wedding, the duo got into a car accident that compromised her baby. Forced to continue running, Liz was treated at a makeshift facility inside a nightclub, which certainly couldn’t handle the severity of her injuries after she gave birth.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it to an actual hospital in time and Red (James Spader) had to watch Liz flatline in the ambulance. (You can read the full recap here.) To get the scoop on what’s ahead after the tragic turn of events, EW sat down with Spader for an exclusive chat on the set of the NBC series. (Plus: Scroll down for an exclusive first look at the funeral.)

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is Elizabeth Keen really dead?

JAMES SPADER: I think it’s most prudent not only as just myself and what I know or don’t know for that, but also in terms of the character of Reddington: Elizabeth Keen is dead.

When did you first hear this is what the writers were going to do?

Oh, boy. That was so long ago. Jon Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath, and myself are usually talking before a season ends. We’re talking about where this next season will at least start and sort of a roadmap for where it might go. The timing and source of great ideas cannot be predicted and therefore during the course of the season, even if you have a path that you’re on — on this show because there’s such freedom in terms of direction that one wants to take or change of direction, or a switchback or something like that — there’s a certain amount of fluidity in terms of where we might go, which was very advantageous for us in this past season.

It was very apparent quite early on in the start of filming for the season, even though she was not able to make an announcement and was honoring the requisite grace period of a first trimester of not speaking of it or sharing it, it was apparent to most of us that Megan was pregnant. It was apparent to me within the first month or so of shooting and yet I don’t think she really acknowledged it until considerably later than that. As soon as that became apparent, it was certainly going to dictate what the second half of the season was going to be and actually open up some great, some really wonderful storylines to work with it. So, this is a long and convoluted way of getting at the fact that I don’t remember exactly when it came up that Elizabeth Keen was going to die.

 

Do you recall your reaction though?

For me, it was a matter of timing. The whole second half of the season was a matter of timing. It was trying to stay ahead of an audience, but also stay ahead of a pregnancy where we acknowledged the pregnancy on the show prior to the point where it is quite blatant. And then, when we do acknowledge Elizabeth Keen’s pregnancy, that the pregnancy not get away from us. In other words, that all of a sudden we acknowledge the fact that she’s pregnant and a week later she’s quite pregnant. I think we just made it.

 

There was the timing of that, but then also how then that would play into the timing of the real crises. I pretty quickly move from an idea to possibilities for execution. If there’s one advantage, I think, with working in television for even a short amount of time is trying to gain a faculty for processing a storyline or an idea and how to then best implement that and execute that as swiftly as possible. I truly don’t remember what my reaction really was, but I’m sure that my reaction was very quickly about timing and how we best execute it and lay it out, and have it serve her in terms of her life. But then also how it serves the show.

 

How will Red react in the wake of this? Does he want vengeance?

He’s faced with a very complicated set of circumstances. Here’s a character who, to live his life for the past 20 years, he has found comfort in fate and I think it empowers him and gives him confidence when entering any set of circumstances, no matter how dire; that there will be an end and he is prepared for that with a certain amount of comfort or at least comfortable with the fact that it could happen at any time. He’s certainly not as unprepared for [death], which I think actually informed the first half of the season a lot as well. During the fugitive period in the first half of this third season, he found himself in a unique set of circumstances for himself where suddenly he was responsible for somebody’s life, that he had not come to terms with the fact of the end of their life and how their life might play out.

 

He’d certainly come to terms with it for himself. He’d spent a lot of time, a lot of his life on the run and only being beholden to himself and responsible for himself, and therefore perfectly comfortable with the fact that if something were to come to a fiery end that he was prepared for that. But he finds himself, in the first half of the season, all of a sudden with somebody and therefore responsible for them, that he is completely unprepared for them to come to an end. That then plays out in the second half of the season in that there’s some very confounding questions that he’s faced with that to a great degree, I think, questions of purpose, questions of looking to the past about choices and decisions that he’s made in the past, and what the consequences of those choices and decisions have turned out to be, and how much investment he has in a future.

 

Does he regret not being more forthcoming with Liz about who he really is to her?

You know, it’s funny. I think he’s faced with the same thing that a lot of people are faced with in that set of circumstances: With the death of somebody, who one cares about a great deal, is the particulars of the immediate and the particulars of the sort of broader landscape. Looking at the immediate, in terms of the specifics of what happened and how did that happen, and the responsibility he feels for that. It’s impossible to not try and reckon with that, but then also, as I said the sort of broader landscape of who he is and what he is, and what direction to take and is there a way forward? Not just what is the way forward, but is there a way forward? If that’s an unknown, then the only known is to look into the past and to immerse yourself in that and try and reckon with that. If you find great difficulty in trying to reckon with the future or even the present, I think it’s intuitive to start that process by reckoning with the past.

 

What can you say of Halcyon, this new company that Mr. Solomon is working for, and what role it will play as the apparent big bad at the end of the season?

I think Reddington has always had a sense that this is the immediate adversary or obstacle, but there’s always a sense of a greater presence out there, you know what I mean? He has certainly said that to Elizabeth Keen again and again. It’s been a mantra of his is that this is for right this moment and sometimes the obstacle of the moment is so overwhelming that one must concentrate on that. But by the same token, one can’t lose sight of really what that obstacle represents, which is often something larger or something even beyond that, and even Halcyon is really representative of something that’s beyond that as well.

 

With Liz gone, what does Red’s dynamic look like with the team?

That’s in question. And for the moment, it’s almost reflexive for him to live his life just one foot in front of the other and to take his life on a daily basis. And I don’t mean not looking forward or looking ahead, he’s always looking ahead, but I mean immediately — immediately upon her death I think he’s lost.

Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The Blacklist airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.