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TV Goodness Q&A: The Blacklist EPs John Eisendrath, Jon Bokenkamp and Star Parminder Nagra [INTERVIEW] 

The Blacklist
Photo Credit: NBC Universal

NBC’s The Blacklist is, without question, one of the most intriguing new shows of the 2013-2014 television season. We here at TV Goodness were lucky enough to take part in a telephone conference call with writer/producers John Eisendrath and Jon Bokenkamp, and star Parminder Nagra.

Should we trust Red Reddington in what he tells Elizabeth? What does Parminder like best best about her character? And are there any guest stars we should know about coming up soon? Read on, and we’ll all find out.

What is it about The Blacklist that makes you want to wake up and go to work? Why is this show so special?

JOHN EISENDRATH: Well, wow, that’s a good first question. I think that one of the answers is that it’s got a great character at the center. And writing for Red is an incredibly fun thing to do. We spend a lot of time crafting the stories and the procedural beats and the bread and butter of the show, but nothing makes us laugh more than when we’re trying to figure out what Red would say in any given situation.

JON BOKENKAMP: All of my past experiences have been in feature films where they take six years to go from an idea, or something on the page to an actual movie, and here things happen so quickly. We have an idea, or like John said, something makes us laugh or we have something that surprises us; we put it on paper and very quickly it’s on air. To me a fascinating and really exciting process.

Is there a certain place where you go to be inspired?

JOHN: Well, we do have offices on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. But when we actually have to write, there is a restaurant that Jon and I do slip away to.

JON: The food is absolutely terrible.

JOHN: But they let you sit there all day and all night and they don’t bother you. So we hide out and write.

JON: Our record was 17 hours one day. We were there when they opened at 8:30, 9:00 (AM) and we left at after 2:00 (AM). The staff and the kitchen staff had all come out and they were having their evening meal and cleaning up and we walked out with them. So they know us quite well.

(To Parminder) How do feel about your character, and how you got the part?

Photo Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Photo Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

PARMINDER NAGRA: You’d probably have to ask the two Johns more specifically. I was asked to go and audition and didn’t know too much about the character. Playing a badass character, I have to say I’m enjoying it, probably a bit too much sometimes. Can you just let me run around with it, and I’d be really happy. It’s very empowering; I love it. I really, really do enjoy playing such a strong female character. You don’t get a lot of those parts, especially on TV, for women, that are so strong.

What did you see in Parminder that made her right for this role?

JON: I think Parminder has an ability to be sort of both warm but also formidable. I think the formidable part is what’s sort of unexpected about the character and what is fun to explore. In the second episode she was torturing some poor Blacklister, pulling the femur bone up out of his leg. It’s not the kind of thing that you would expect her to do, and yet she does it quite well.

How do you determine when and how to do your major reveals?

JON: It’s difficult. We’re constantly asking ourselves that question; are we giving away too much; are we burning through story too much. The show is a sort of strange hybrid of serialized and standalone episodes. We have a ‘Case of the Week’ each week. And so, we want to service that and we want to have cool different unusual Blacklisters, but at the same time we want to come back to our central characters and the larger questions that are raised by the show. So we just try to gut check each other in the writers’ room and try to slow down, I guess as much as we can, because the instinct is, to, you know, move quickly.

Elizabeth asked Red if he was her father; he said ‘No’. Should we trust him?

JOHN: Well I guess you have to ask whether he revealed the truth or not, right?

JON: We do have the answers to many of these questions and don’t want to tease too much. And we felt like it was a sort of bold move to do that and to lay out some answers. What we don’t want to do is continually be teasing the audience and not answering the questions that we’re raising. We’re doing that as best we can. Hopefully that’s satisfying. And we’ll continue to hopefully surprise ourselves in how and when we answer those questions.

What has been the most difficult scene to shoot and why?

JON: Well, I think the one that comes to mind for us is the bridge sequence in the pilot where, there’s a car crash and lots of gunfire. The thing that made it the most difficult was simply that we were on a bridge in New York and it was absolutely freezing and we had people in the water and crazy winds blowing. It was just physically a very challenging shoot. And we have some really great moments for her character [Parminder’s Meera Malik] in the upcoming episodes that will, I think, change people’s perspective about her character dramatically.

Parminder, what do you think it is about The Blacklist that’s made it such a fan favorite program?

PARMINDER: I think it’s the mixture between a serialized drama between the procedural and the characters. I think you can often have so many shows that do the serialized part and you never really get to find out about the characters. I think that’s what an audience craves. Certainly what I crave when I watch a show is I want to know who these people are; what makes them tick. The fact that Red Reddington and Liz Keen are such a mystery and people want to know. They want to find out and they’re hanging in week after week to find out who these characters are.

And people care about these characters as well. You want to have something to care about and something to relate to. And of course, you’ve got all the action. It’s thrilling to watch, all the mayhem that occurs, week after week. These amazing bad guys, they’re such interesting characters in themselves; it’s character and story and the action. I think it’s just one great package. And I think people love that. And I love watching that myself.

What has James Spader brought to the show?

JON: I think he’s brought the sort of strange sense of humor that the character has, that the show has, and he tells me he saw that in the original pilot script and I didn’t see it as much. I do think he, Spader himself, has a very strange perspective on the world, and is a funny, a very funny guy. And so, in speaking with him and getting to know him and starting to get to know his voice, sort of allows us to think in terms of what would this guy say, what would he do, what would he think is moral or not moral. And so I do think that that sense of humor and that voice is something that he’s been helpful in sort of filling out.

JOHN: I would just add, morality. We have a lot of conversations, Jon and I, and then with James as well about Red: Where would he draw the line? What is his view about good and evil, right and wrong? And I think he’s very determined that the character, he’s not a psychopath. He’s not someone who has no sense of right and wrong. I think in viewing him with a sense of right and wrong really protects his character from just becoming evil.

Is there a definitive answer to the question of what the relationship is between Red and Liz? Will we find that out this season?

JOHN: Yes and no.

JON: Yes and no. There is absolutely a definitive answer and it is something that will take hopefully many years to answer.

JOHN: As as we’ve done the first ten episodes, we’ll continue this year to give concrete answers to that and other big questions. They may not just be the final answer.

Parminder, how far ahead do you know what’s going to happen and how important is it for you to know the direction of the story?

PARMINDER: I don’t know too far ahead at all. I like being able to pick up the next script like everybody else and open up and see a surprise. It’s thrilling to open up the scripts and go, “Oh, this is where it’s going,” because that’s the part that makes it exciting.

Parminder, what is it about your character that you find the most fascinating?

Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC
Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC

PARMINDER: I feel like there’s this whole side to her because she’s in the CIA; the things that she’s seen or has been through. Clearly there’s this hard side to her. She can get down and dirty if she needs to, and that really appeals to me.

Will the series continue its ‘Case of the Week’ format, or develop the serialization introduced in the mid-season finale?

JOHN: I think the midseason finale is more an exception to the rule, where the personal stories just bubble up to the surface and all come together in a way that are unavoidable and take over the episode. But there’ll be a name on The Blacklist every episode. I think that’s part of the fun of the series. It can provide unique and different kinds of bad guys that the team can go after.

Are there any upcoming guest stars you can confirm?

JON: The only one that we can definitely confirm is Campbell Scott is in two episodes from now.

Is there a finite number on The Blacklist?

JOHN: Well I think the audience gets to decide how many members of the Blacklist there are. They keep watching the show, there’ll be more. It won’t run out until the audience runs out of interest.

The Blacklist airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

Edited for space and content.

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