Hiatus Helper: Megan Boone and EP Jon Bokencamp Tease the Return of The Blacklist
The Blacklist, away from our televisions for far too long, will be making its return to NBC right after the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 1.
In preparation, we sat down for a conference call with series star Megan Boone (Elizabeth Keen) and executive producer, Jon Bokenkamp to discuss a few things, including the addition of guest-star Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy; Hellboy) to Red Reddington’s (James Spader) Blacklist as the newest big bad, Luther Braxton, in a two-episode story arc. We also discussed what it’s really like to work with James Spader, how relative newcomer Boone deals with negative press and an answer to the burning question of whether or not Lizzie really still loves that rat, Tom, (Ryan Eggold). The answer may surprise you.
Tell us about Ron Perlmanâ€™s character, Luther Braxton. Why does he deserve two episodes?
Jon Bokenkamp:Â “Well, Luther Braxton is a thief who goes about stealing things through incredibly complex methods. He disguises his heist in big events. So, there might be a massive snow storm or there might be a political uprising in some corner of the world where heâ€™s looking for something. Heâ€™s constantly moving amid this sort of chaos and creating chaos wherever he goes.
We thought that it was a great big, fun character that would fit really well with the Super Bowl and be a little bit of a different sort of Blacklister in scope and size, and in terms of what heâ€™s after and how important it is to Red.”
Megan Boone:Â “I can speak from being on set with Ron Perlman. He brought that imposing presence and just this incredible voice, this deep, gravelly voice to the character. But then in some ways he really played a serene, calm that seemed almost creepy, as if he were the eye of the storm. It was really interesting to watch him come do his thing on our show.”
What is his entry point into the story?
Jon: “He is a prisoner in a black site prison which supposedly does not exist and heâ€™s laying in wait when the episode opens. Heâ€™s pulled away in an interrogation facility that nobody is supposed to be able to escape from; however things go awry.”
How do you feel about the evolution of Elizabeth Keen?
Megan: “I was delighted and intrigued by the new direction. I anticipated it as it was coming because there was no wayâ€“especially in the sense that Red is a catalyst for her changeâ€“that she could stagnate and stay where she was, especially with all that was happening with her. So her evolution was essential to the showâ€™s growth.”
Jon: “Itâ€™s definitely something that was baked into the cake of the series. In season 1, Elizabeth Keen is somebody that we meet who is very new; first day on the job. She has this very idyllic life: the house and the husband and the dog and all of that.
By the end of the first season itâ€™s completely ripped away from her and sheâ€™s in a place where sheâ€™s having to confront the question of, ‘Who am I? Everything that I believed I knew about myself, the whole world that Iâ€™ve created around me is now gone.’
And so looking ahead, now having Red be in her life and influencing the way that she thinks and reacts, has certainly shaped the direction of the character. And I think thatâ€™s one of the big questions about the second season. How far is she willing to go? How dark is the character willing to go, and can she hold on to a bit of light rather than completely going down the rabbit hole.”
How is working with James Spader, as an actor and from the production side?
Jon: “James always has great ideas. Heâ€™s incredibly intuitive. He has a great sense of the character and heâ€™s an incredible collaborator. Megan, you have far more experience with on-set and in the day-to-day grind. I look at him more from a story perspective but, maybe you can speak to that.”
Megan: “Well James is definitely the master of the ship over here and this is not his first rodeo as they say down South where Iâ€™m from. Thatâ€™s just an example of how different he and I are and why this is working so well. Heâ€™s from Boston and Iâ€™m from rural Central Florida. His parents were professors and mine dealt in real estate. We come from different sides of the earth, not literally, but figuratively, and itâ€™s just sort of interesting to put the two of us together and see what happens.
He has 30 yearsâ€™ experience in the business, one successful television show, and this is essentially my first go at it. So itâ€™s been invaluable having him here to help acclimate me to this new environment and this new task at hand. I feel that weâ€™ve been extraordinarily successful beyond my wildest dreams. And I definitely think that itâ€™s his wisdom and experience that has helped me to rise to that occasion.”
Jon: “It is interesting how thereâ€™s a mentor/student relationship, certainly in the script, but as Megan says, James having done this a long time and her being new; I donâ€™t know how much you guys feel that when youâ€™re shooting. But just in terms of the characters and who they are, it does not go without notice that thatâ€™s part of the show.”
Megan:Â “On the surface, certainly our relationship is a mentor/mentee dynamic. But I think that once you get into this, the complexity of the dynamic starts to get much richer. And I think James and I are really starting to just work as peers and work together and influence one another. I would hate to think that I come to work and donâ€™t have an effect on the people around me in any way just because this is my first show. “
You studied acting with Jane Alexander. What was it like to work with her on The Blacklist?
Megan: “I did, and it was just so serendipitous that she ended up on the first season of the show. She was one of the most important teachers of my life. She came to Florida, miraculously, to teach for two years of the four that I was in program there, and she kept me in the game. I would not have survived public arts education; I would have chosen a different field if I hadnâ€™t had someone with real wisdom and talent and gravitas come in and show me that it just gets better, that there is a less clique-oriented mentality, that there are really interesting people out there in the world.
She maintained that connection with me into my adult life. After school she would call me from time to time; email me. She just took an interest, the kind of interest that is important to anyone who ever finds success. There is always someone out there that they owe as a mentor, and sheâ€™s by far one of the most important to me. So, it was good to have her here, to say the least.”
How important is it that The Blacklist will premiere after The Super Bowl?
Jon: “Well itâ€™s a huge opportunity; it’s a lot of potential, new eyeballs watching the show. We see it as a great opportunity, to let people see what the show is. And I also think that the episodeâ€“itâ€™s a two-parterâ€“is a very easy access point. Somebody whoâ€™s never seen the show before will be able to drop in very quickly and get a real sense of what the show is, how it feels, smells, tastes; all of that.
Itâ€™s a huge vote of confidence from the network. And itâ€™s just incredibly flattering, quite frankly.”
Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix)Â got pretty banged up last season, and is considering calling it a day. Is that a possibility?
Jon: “I donâ€™t know that Harold Cooper could give it all up. I would say that there are a lot questions in his storyline. We were introduced in first episode of this season to the idea that Red knew of some sort of diagnosis that [Harry] had been given, so thereâ€™s something brewing there that Cooper has certainly not let anybody in on, and I think thatâ€™s going to come to the surface quite quickly.”
Megan: “That was an exciting thing. We had a really fun episode together. Jon youâ€™ve seen footage on that episode. Wasnâ€™t [Reuben] fantastic?”
Jon: “Yes, sheâ€™s great. I just saw the cut two days ago for the first time, and itâ€™s great. Itâ€™s really going to be a great episode. Gloria is incredible in the show.
With David Strathairn and Janel, they enter the story in a rather cloak and dagger sort of way. David Strathairn plays a character known as the Director who in real lifeâ€“the Director of the National Clandestine Servicesâ€™ identity, as least to the general publicâ€“is not known.
One of the most exciting things about the show is to be able to sort of dream up a character, and you start hearing a voice or thinking about who might be fun to play [that character]. And it always blows my mind the variety and the caliber of actors weâ€™re able to work with. It really makes the job a blast.”
Megan: “Yes, itâ€™s an embarrassment of riches. “
Do the actors change the way you write your characters?
Jon: “Yes, absolutely. I speak to them. Any time thereâ€™s a concern or something feels wrong, Megan will give me a call and say ‘Look, I just donâ€™t…’ Episode 210 that we were just talking about, she called and said ‘I think this isnâ€™t quite right, here.’ And weâ€™re always open to that and weâ€™re always collaborating as much as we can.
John Eisendrath has said, and Iâ€™m starting to think this is true, that at a certain point in the television show, the more you get to know the character and the more you get to know the people playing the character, the line between them becomes a little more blurred as time goes on.
So yes, it absolutely does; the actors themselves certainly do influence the characters.”
Do you have a definitive ending to the series in mind?
Jon: “Well yes, there is certainly an ending in mind. And one that weâ€™re constantly writing to and around. At times it makes it quite difficult, because it restrains us in the stories that weâ€™re telling in some ways. But I think itâ€™s also working that way, whether thatâ€™s the end we arrive at or not. Whether anybody lets us do what I have in mind and what we talk about so often in the writers’ room, it does shape the show and it helps; itâ€™s like building a house. You know what furniture you like. You know what kind of architecture you like and then you feel what doesnâ€™t fit, what doesnâ€™t belong. And by process of elimination it starts feeling like its own special thing. And I think thatâ€™s helped influence the show.
That said, we always have ideas and things that we think weâ€™re going to land at. Sometimes we get to them sooner. Sometimes we take a different path. Itâ€™s a little like knowing our destination and having looked at a map a couple of times and then throwing out the map and using our gut to get there. So itâ€™s quite a process, but we do have a strong sense of direction; yes.”
What are Elizabeth’s feelings towards Tom?
Megan: “I think that itâ€™s an oversimplification to say that sheâ€™s in love with him, as has been implicated by some of the other characters like Red and Ressler. I think sheâ€™s got really strong feelings for him, but itâ€™s a very complicated dynamic at this point. Once a relationship goes past the line and becomes abusive or sadistic in any way, thereâ€™s just no going back to pure true love. There just isnâ€™t. It already has violence in it. It already has mistrust. So I always felt like it was just an oversimplification to say ‘Oh, she still loves him,’ you know?
What do you think Jon?”
Jon: “Oh youâ€™re madly in love with him. No, look, I work with a bunch of writers who are strange and dark and have very complex lives. And I think that Meganâ€™s right. Itâ€™s probably an oversimplification to say that, yes, sheâ€™s in love with Tom.
I do think that, and I feel this way about the show in general, everything is much more complex than it appears, because I think whether itâ€™s the suburban housewife dropping her kids off at school, or itâ€™s the guy showing up to punch the clock to work at the steel factory, I donâ€™t think any of those people are really quite what they appear to be on the surface.
I think you never say never. And anything can change. So that doesnâ€™t mean thatâ€™s where that relationship is going, but I do think that like any breakup, like any sort of marriage that falls apart, itâ€™s messy. And by the way, this is speaking from somebody whoâ€™s never gone through a divorce, but I think, what Iâ€™ve heard, is it is incredibly complex, sometimes logic does not prevail. And so the best answer I could give to that is that I think itâ€™s incredibly complex, and that I would say that the story of the two of them, whether itâ€™s a love story or not, is not over. Thereâ€™s still a lot of mileage in that, and thereâ€™s still a lot of mileage in that story.”
Megan, you seem to have built great relationships with your co-stars. How did that come about?
Megan: “I work differently with each actor based on who they are as an individual. Thatâ€™s something that I think seeds a relationship on screen. Iâ€™ve also worked really hard to develop skills of listening and presence that really can stoke the fire of a relationship on screen. And I love them. I mean Iâ€™ve grown to really love them all.
I donâ€™t know how [the showrunners] did it but they managed to cast an entire ensemble of actors who are all really wonderful, lovely people. And thank God, because this is such an ambitious production that weâ€™re really in the trenches together.
I think that they also bring their own special something to the screen that adds to that chemistry. And that can only be accredited to the casting of the show which is obviously really superior to a lot of productions. The actors that come on the show are incredible.”
What’s it like to work with those great actors?
Megan: “Working with the pedigree of actors that have come on the show has illuminated how human everyone really is. It took away the mystique that I had around legendary or ‘award-winning’ or whatever title you can put on any actor. Because what youâ€™re really doing when you do that, is you relegate them to a holiday. Like Monday [was] Martin Luther King Day and what weâ€™re learning from Selma now is thatâ€™s really a relegation of who the man really was.
And when I meet these great actors and they come and then I get to know them and now dynamic they are as people, I realize that theyâ€™re even more than Iâ€™d ever anticipated and much less intimidating. So that will serve me really well in the future if I ever act opposite a Meryl Streep or a DeNiro or somebody whose films I basically grew up on.”
Do you read reviews about your work?
Megan: “Iâ€™ve learned to stay away from reading anything about myself, mostly because actually the truth is, is that the media is really harsh on women for the most part. And I found it to be really hurtful. I think that one of the blessings that I have for my work is that Iâ€™m extraordinarily sensitive. But it became an extreme curse once I was on the world stage and I had to learn how to manage that. And the best way to manage it for me was to never read anything on the Internet. Never read anything about the show.”
Megan, what inspired you to pursue acting?
Megan: “I was like a moth to the flame really. I donâ€™t know what it was; I donâ€™t know that it was any one thing. As a child I just naturally developed these characters that became these imaginary friends. And I would live in imaginary circumstances for hours at a time in my room. And then that grew to wanting to perform them in front of people and not just be alone. So I would get my cousins together and we would put on plays on my back porch. And it was fortunately sloped like a stage and had an area for an audience, so that worked well for me. And then it became civic theater and educational theater. And then I went to college and it just snowballed.”
What’s the most fun or challenging part of your role?
Megan: “I think itâ€™s how different she is from myself. Iâ€™m a real pacifist. I could show you guys a picture, in fact Iâ€™ll post it today on my Twitter, of me initially holding a gun, right before I was cast for the role. Itâ€™s pretty funny. Iâ€™ve had to develop a part of myself that was not even there. People say, ‘Oh, youâ€™re such a tough girl. Youâ€™re so badass,’ or whatever, however they label her. And itâ€™s like, ‘No, Iâ€™m not at all.’ So thatâ€™s the most fun for me, is having to step up and adopt that kind of personality.”
What’s your favorite fan experience so far?
Megan: “Harry Lennix ran into Bill Clinton on the Seth Myers Show, and he campaigned for a long time for Clinton in â€™08, so he is friendly with him. Bill took the time to say that he watches the show; he doesnâ€™t miss an episode. And he said great things…”
Megan: “…about the writing.”
Jon: “Come on.”
Megan: “But he said – yes, he said specifically, ‘That girl; I love what sheâ€™s doing on the show,’ and that was funny. Harry sent me that email last night, late last night.”
Jon: “When Harry says that with his voice, it sounds even that much more cool, so, I canâ€™t imagine.”
Megan: “I know. Pretty cool, huh, Jon?”
What developments are we going to see in Elizabeth and Redâ€™s relationship?
Jon: “I think that is the tightrope that Liz is walking. Red clearly has an agenda of his own; he almost always does. And there are clearly things heâ€™s withholding from her. We donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s for good or bad reasons, and I think the extent to which she trusts him, the extent to which she becomes like him is the territory that weâ€™re in right now.
And thatâ€™s the larger question and the thing that Liz is probably struggling with: What is the best way to handle this situation? What is the best way to confront this person or solve this crime? Is it the by-the-book way which she was taught at Quantico, or is there another side of the coin that perhaps is just as good, if not better?
I think the dynamic there is the reflection in herself, the reflection of him in herself, she might see. And whether thatâ€™s good or bad, I think is, again, a very messy sort of complex journey thatâ€™s sheâ€™s on.
Things become heightened in the back half of the season. And certainly with the Super Bowl episode, the dynamic of whatâ€™s happening just plot-wise within the series ratchets up. And so that also is going to put everything under a bit more of a microscope.
But I do think the fine line that Liz is walking and the guidance that Red is trying to give her, and whether thatâ€™s good or bad advice that heâ€™s giving, is the crux of where we are right now.”
Will we get more information on how Red and Liz are connected?
Jon: “We do, yes. We certainly do even in this two-parter coming up. We dip back into the past and we answer some questions about how theyâ€™re connected.
It’s interesting to me how I hear that weâ€™re spinning a lot of plates on the show and there are a lot of unanswered questions. But you know we sometimes answer big ones. And it feels like, because itâ€™s an answer, it raises more questions. I think thatâ€™s the nature of the beast.
Like with Tom knowing Red; we learned at the end of our Fall cliffhanger that Tom and Red know each other and that thereâ€™s some sort of relationship that Liz doesnâ€™t know about, which to me is a huge answer. That is confirmation of something that weâ€™ve been wondering about. But it certainly is a big, new clue, and itâ€™s interesting to me how that yet raises another question.
So yes, we will absolutely be getting some concrete answers about their relationship. Perhaps not the entire picture, but absolutely a more clarification and more coloring on the relationship.”
Edited for space and content.
The Blacklist returns right after the Super Bowl, Sunday, Feb 1. Part two airs Feb. 5 in its new, permanent timeslot: Thursday at 9/8c.
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