The blacklist is about to get a little longer.
Fans of “The Blacklist” got a glimpse at new corners of the covert thriller’s expanded world last season, when Ryan Eggold‘s Tom Keen (or whatever his name actually might be) encountered private mercenary contractor Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen), a formidable, shadowy force in her own right and the woman who may or may not be Tom’s birth mother.
The episode “Alexander Kirk” served as a successful backdoor pilot for the hotly anticipated spinoff series “The Blacklist: Redemption,” which launches on NBC on a still-top-secret date early next year and will unite Tom and Scottie once again as he joins forces with her Grey Matters organization and also delves into the mysteries surrounding his own murky past.
And while much of the direction new series remains as enigmatic as Tom’s origins, Eggold hosted a debriefing session with Moviefone to unveil many of the behind the scenes secrets of the spinoff.
Moviefone: It must be a fun experience for you to see the world of “The Blacklist” get bigger, and to be right at the heart of that expansion. What got you excited about the prospect of doing this?
Ryan Eggold: I will tell you truthfully what excites me about the new show is that we could do a show about espionage, and classically so. I’ve got high hopes for it, and I know [“Blacklist” creator] Jon [Bokenkamp] does as well. And, you know, we want to do a spy show. We want to do a show about Robert Redford in “Three Days of the Condor,” the ’70s flick. We want to do a show that’s Jim Phelps in the ’60s “Mission Impossible” TV show.
We want to do a show that’s like that. We want to do Jason Bourne and those things, but more so than the action, and the fun and all that stuff, which I really want to have because that stuff makes a great show, that classic spy stuff. If we could get into that, then it’s not like we’d be getting into brand-new territory, but we’d getting into a genre that I think hasn’t been really explored so much recently. Or, like the Jack Ryan novels, or just like world. That’d be really fun.
For you, to do that show, and kind of have that distinct identity, what’s the link that still keeps it “The Blacklist”? What’s that element that keeps it firmly in the franchise?
Well, a couple of things. First, the question of Scottie and Tom, whether or not she’s his mother — it comes out at the beginning that she is, and we think that’s the truth, and I think that may end up sticking to be the truth. Of course, it’s “The Blacklist” so it may not be!
But the thing that makes that — “The Blacklist” work, and the thing that this will carry over that I really love is the thematic juxtaposition of discovering one’s humanity and empathy, and connecting with other human beings and wanting relationships, and wanting love and these fundamental human principles, juxtaposed with violence and deception, and corruption and conspiracy, and power and all of that. Those two things meeting together will be, I think, what is the element that crosses over, which is what I like about the show.
For you, did you have to adjust the way you play this guy? Were there any tweaks that you had to make to move Tom into this new context? Or, are you pretty much picking him right up out of the mothership and dropping him into the new one?
I would love to let him evolve. My only goal when we shot this sort of back door pilot was to maybe be a little more specific in my choices and maybe try to flesh out this character a little more than I have, and maybe ask myself what’s left to know about this guy. And what have we not done, and maybe get more specific on who he is.
And then, with the new show, discovering his origins, and why he was orphaned, and if this woman cared or didn’t care, or was protecting him, or wanted him dead, or truly doesn’t know that he’s her son, and she was taken away from him. All those answers to those questions will be so informative — and for me, what I love about the character is just a guy who was abandoned as a kid, who was trained to be really good at one thing, which is manipulation and violence and being a spy, and is now trying to figure out what it is to be a person, as opposed to a tool or a device, or a mechanism, you know? And that’s what I want to get into on the new show.
Do you get to keep any kind of toe in the mothership show? Do they pop you in and out?
I think so, yes. I think there will be a good deal of crossover, certainly to start. And then, ideally, the show will develop its own legs and have its own identity. I mean, this sounds probably somewhat cliché, but we want to do that thing where we can introduce the show in a way that if you’re not a fan of “The Blacklist,” you can watch it, and if you are a fan of “The Blacklist,” it will have more sort of tidbits for you that you’ll recognize and things like that.
How is it building that rapport with your TV maybe-mom, Famke Janssen?
Yeah, I’ve got to tell you, man, it’s awesome. Famke is terrific. She’s very talented. She’s very sexy. She’s very good at this character. She’s got smart ideas and, most importantly, she is very fun to work with, and she is a great collaborator, and she is easy-going in a way, and she very simply wants to make a good show.
And so it’s just a lot of fun, truly, to work with her, because she wants to play with good ideas, and she’s excited about the prospect and about the possibility of making an interesting show. So she’s there for the right reasons, and she’s great.
Is the show sort of built for her to bring her own version of electricity in a way that “The Blacklist” was for James Spader? Does she get to have or be that kind of electric center of every thing that’s happening?
I think, very much so, they want her to carve out that space of being the sort of master manipulator and being enigmatic, and being contradictory and all those things that make Red interesting, and that they don’t want to do a carbon-copy of Red, but they want it to be Famke’s version of a sort of power player like that, or whatever you want to call it, and in this case someone behind the scenes sort of pulling the strings, making empires rise and fall, manipulating governments, things like that, and how sort of that Blackwater-type espionage comes into play.
And I think on “The Blacklist,” the dynamic between the two of them will be focused like it is between Red and Liz. But, yeah, man. They want to write a great character for her, and she wants to help create it, and she’s going to kill it!
I imagine going to work on “The Blacklist,” surrounded by great actors, must have been a little bit of a free Master Class, being paid to watch Spader play Red. What are the lessons that you learned that you’d like to apply and translate into your own performances?
You know, one thing I like that James does, that a lot of good actors do, is they don’t feel compelled to speak all the time. I think a lot of more novice actors have to be on the line always, and as soon as your line is done it’s my line, and James — like so many good actors — will sit in silence, or with a look, or with a mood, or with a feeling or a thought and not feel compelled to speak or to say something, or even do anything. And I think that comfortability and that sitting in a moment, that’s something I admire and hopefully would like to steal.
With the espionage aspect, how have you gotten to broaden your skill set, physically? What are the fun things that you’re going to be able to do with your character that you haven’t maybe had room in “the Blacklist”?
Well, one thing is that I’d like to make the — if we’re going to do a show about a spy who is a highly-trained assassin, I’d like to make him as much of that, honestly, as we can. So, I’d like to train a little bit, if I could, and maybe get better at martial arts, the Israeli martial art Krav Maga, which is very interesting, or different fighting styles, and just sort of train a little bit.
And, obviously, I’m not going to be joining the UFC tomorrow, but I would love to — and I’ve learned a great deal doing “The Blacklist” and just rehearsing fight scenes and doing them, but I still consider myself a novice in the world of fight choreography and things. I’m very riveted by it. I mean, it’s fun. When you’re in acting class, or whatever, when you’re a kid, you do a dialogue and this stuff is so something else. It’s so physical and more athletic and it’s really fun. So I’d like to get better. I’d like to train and get better at that.
What was the conversation like when they first broached the idea of taking you to another show? How did they approach you, and what was your immediate reaction to it?
John Bokenkamp took me out to grab a bite. I was in L.A., and he just said, “Hey, man, I want you to know that like there’s an idea that we’re all talking about, and that’s this show kind of based on your character, and it might happen.” And my first thought was, “Man, that could be so fun. There’s so much to explore with this character. We could really do some fun things, but it’ll never happen,” you know?
It’s like, it’s Hollywood, everybody wants to do a million things, and there’s a lot of talk, and I was like “It’ll never happen.” And then a few months later they were like, “Let’s do it,” and I was like, “Wow! OK — great. Let’s do it. I’m in!”
Have you ever had the opportunity to talk to somebody who works in the shadowy world of espionage, anybody that does it as a real vocation? And, if so, how do you find them?
Exactly, how do you find them? I’ve spoken to police officers. I have spoken to FBI, but I’ve never spoken to, like, a real NSA guy, or a CIA guy, or a real-type spy. The closest I came was one of my parents’ neighbors, actually: her husband was a spy, was a real, actual spy. She’s an older woman, and this man — I believe he’s not with us anymore — he was an actual spy during the Cold War. He was in Russia, spying for the United States, and in real life!
And, so, obviously she couldn’t tell people. She didn’t know, but she only knew that he would tell her this was when he’d be back, or he’d have to leave, or yada yada — and that was just to get the peripheral experience from her of being married to this man who would go to Russia during the height of this tension and pretend to be someone else, and gain information. I mean, it was really cool to be near the reality of it, and to speak with actually him or someone like that would be amazing.
What will you miss most about being part of the main “Blacklist” series on a regular basis?
One of the things I will miss most, hands down, is working with Megan [Boone], because the relationship with Tom and Liz is so complicated, and so romantic on some levels, and kind of funny, and sort of tragic in other ways, and I just really enjoy it, and I enjoy working with her, and I enjoy finding new things to bring to that relationship.
I enjoy trying to find the truth in it. Even though it’s in this heightened dramatic world, I like looking for the things that we can all relate to in our personal romantic relationships because they’re all fundamentally the same, those problems and things. It’s just on a heightened more dramatic more elevated scale.
So I will certainly miss that, but you know that relationship I don’t think is going to go away. I think there will be some crossover with Megan on the new thing, and vice versa. So, certainly that, and then just everybody. But I’m not going to be totally jumping ship. I’ll be back before too long.
“The Blacklist: Redemption” premieres in 2017. “The Blacklist” airs Thursdays on NBC.