BLACKLIST’s Megan Boone and Execs Discuss Show’s Evolution, More
Last week, we got to sit in on a conference call with Blacklist Executive Producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath, and star Megan Boone. NBC’s hit crime drama resumes its hot pursuit of bad guys right after Super Bowl XLIX next Sunday, and it promises to come back stronger than ever. How exactly? Well, first of all, they’re returning with Sons of Anarchy alum, Ron Perlman, as super villain of the week Luther Braxton in the post-Super Bowl episode.
But we knew about that for two months now.
So what makes this guy so dangerous that he requires two episodes?
Jon Bokenkamp: Well Luther Braxton (Perlman) is a thief who goes about stealing things through incredibly complex methods. He sort of 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 he’s looking for something. And so he’s constantly moving in these – amid this sort of chaos and creating chaos wherever he goes.
And we thought that it was a great sort of big, fun character that would fit really well with the Super Bowl and be, you know, a little bit of a different of black-lister in scope and size, and in terms of what he’s after and how important it is to Red.
[Bokenkamp goes on to say that the very first scene of the episode is Perlman sitting in a prison that supposedly doesn’t exist, “lying in wait” for things to go awry.]
Megan Boone: 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 – he played a serene, calm that seemed almost creepy, like as if he were the eye of the storm. So it was really interesting to watch him come do his thing on our show.
Elizabeth Keen has certainly been showing some darker shades of her character this season. Have you been surprised by the directions that the characters have been going this season? And did the producers sort of have this all planned out, or is this something that’s just appearing as the scripts are coming along?
Megan Boone: I certainly have had a reaction to it, but it wasn’t a surprise. I was delighted and intrigued by the new direction, as well as sort of anticipated it as it was coming because there was no way, especially with Liz being sort of the protagonist in the sense that Red is a catalyst for her change.
There was no way that she could stagnate and stay where she was, especially with all that was happening with her.
So her evolution was essential to the show’s growth. And I was definitely glad to see that start to happen toward the end of Season 1, and really intensely into Season 2.
Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, I think that’s right. And it’s definitely something that was – you know it’s baked into the cake of the series. You know in Season 1, Elizabeth Keen is somebody that we meet who is, you know, very new; first day on the job.
But she has this very sort of idyllic life — the house and the husband and the dog and all of that. And by the end of the first season it is all, you know, it’s completely ripped away from her and she’s in a place, you know, in the second season now, where she’s sort of having to confront the question of, who am I?
You know everything that I – everything I believed I knew about myself; the whole world that I’ve sort of created around me is now gone.
And so looking ahead, now having Red be in her life and sort of influencing the way that she thinks and reacts, has certainly shaped the direction of the character. And I think that’s one of the big questions about the second season is sort of how far is she willing to go? How dark is the character willing to go, and can she sort of hold on to a bit of light rather than completely going down the rabbit hole.
Speaking of Red, James Spader has created such a unique character. Is he fun to work with both as an actor and also from the production side, knowing that you can do so many things with him?
Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, I mean look, James has – always has great ideas. He’s incredibly intuitive. He has a great sense of the character, you know. And I – you know he’s an incredible collaborator.
Megan Boone: James is definitely the master of the ship over here and he has – this is not his first rodeo as they say down South where I’m from.
That’s just an example, particularly of how different he and I are and why this is working so well. He’s from Boston and I’m from rural Central Florida. His parents were professors and mine dealt in real estate.
I mean we just – we come from different sides of the earth — not literally — but figuratively, and it’s just sort of interesting to put the two of us together and see what happens.
He’s has 30 years’ experience in the business, one successful television show, and I – this is my – essentially my first go at it. So it’s been invaluable having him here to help acclimate me to this new environment and this new task at hand.
And I feel that, you know, we’ve been extraordinarily successful beyond my wildest dreams. And I definitely think that it’s his wisdom and experience that has helped me to rise to that occasion.
Hey, well speaking of…
Jon Bokenkamp: I was just going to add to that. It is interesting how there’s sort of a mentor/student sort of relationship, both in the – you know, certainly in the script but as Megan says, you know, James having done this a long time and her being new, it is interesting how that sort of – I don’t know how much you guys feel that when you’re shooting.
But just in terms of you know, the characters and who they are it does not go without notice that that’s part of the show. I mean that’s part of one of the things that makes it…
Megan Boone: Yes, but on the surface, certainly out relationship is sort of 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 don’t have an effect on the people around me in any way just because this is my first show. And I think I do.
So it’s become a very important relationship. And so certainly in my life – and I would hope in both of our lives.
What does it mean to you guys that Blacklist is getting the coveted time-slot after the Super Bowl?
Jon Bokenkamp: Well it’s a huge opportunity. You know it’s a lot of potential, you know, new eyeballs watching the show. And you know I mean, I suppose on one hand that can be intimidating. I think we see it as a great opportunity you know, to let people see what the show is.
And I think that the episode — you know, it’s a two-parter — it’s a very easy access point. I think somebody who’s never seen the show before will be able to drop in very quickly and get a real sense of, you know, what the show is; how it feels, smells, tastes; all of that.
You know, so as much as we do have some sort of serialized elements, I think that’s one of the most exciting things about it, but it’s also a huge vote of confidence from the network. And it’s just a – it’s incredibly flitting, quite frankly.
Megan Boone: The really fun thing about it happening is that I think that Jon Bokenkamp and his team of writers have really started to understand what is – what works with the show and has started to have a lot of fun with that.
Not just what works with the actors on the show and our dynamics but also what are the elements of the show that are indispensable. Like what kind of villains do you want to write that really work for the show? What is the format?
And these things started to really coalesce in Season 1. And as they say, we really grow a beard.
And now I think that the fact that we’re getting this opportunity to show – to sort of, you know, showcase the show to a larger audience is just really exciting at this time in our creative process.
Harry Lennix’s character, Cooper, is sort of hobbled by the attack at the end of last season. Since then, he’s mused on the thought of hanging it all up. Do you think Cooper could ever give it all up and let it go?
Jon Bokenkamp: I don’t know that Harold Cooper could give it all up. I would say that, you know, there are a lot questions in his storyline. As we move forward, you know, we were introduced in first episode of this season, to the idea that Red knew of some sort of diagnosis, you know, that he had been given.
And so there’s something brewing there that Cooper has certainly not let anybody in on, and I think that’s going to come to the surface quite quickly.
Do any of the actors, like James Spader or Megan, influence the way their characters are being written?
Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, absolutely. I think that – I think one of the things that Megan had mentioned before, you know, in terms of the show starting to kind of find its footing and what it is, is in part to that.
I mean you know, I speak to them, you know. Any time there’s sort of a concern or something feels wrong, I mean Megan will give me a call and say look, I just don’t – you know Episode 210 that we were just talking about, you know, she called and said look, I think this – you know this isn’t quite right here, you know.
And we’re always open to that and we’re always, you know, collaborating as much as we can. But I also think – you know John Eisendrath has said — he’s not on the call at the moment, he sort of has said, and I’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.
And I do think that, you know, whether it’s something that you just know like would be natural you know, as far as the language you know, or something that’s a real strength in terms of what that performer is able to do, you know I think you start writing that and I think they start feeling more comfortable for it.
So yes, it absolutely does – you know, it does – the actors themselves certainly do influence the characters to an extent. And it’s part of, you know, the collaboration.
Have you always had ending in mind or has that changed since the first season?
Jon Bokenkamp: Well yes, there is certainly an ending in mind. And one that we’re constantly writing to and around. I mean at times it makes it quite difficult because it sort of restrains us in the stories that we’re telling in some ways, you know.
But I think it’s also working that way – whether that’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 writer’s room, it does shape the show and it helps – you know it’s like building a house.
You know what furniture you like. You know what kind of architecture you like and then you kind of feel what doesn’t fit; what doesn’t belong. And by process of elimination it sort of starts feeling like its own special thing. And I think that’s helped influence the show.
That said, you know, we always have ideas and things that we think we’re going to land at. Sometimes we get to them sooner. Sometimes we, you know, take a different path. It’s a little like knowing our destination and having looked at a map a couple of times and then throwing out the map and sort of using our gut to get there. So it’s quite a process, but we do have a strong sense of direction.
When we last left Blacklist, there was a bit of a moment between Tom and Red. Is that too canon-heavy to visit in the Super Bowl episode or is it something that will be explored later, in the back half of Season 2?
Jon Bokenkamp: Well it’s definitely something we’re exploring in the back half of the season. We don’t dive right into it in the Super Bowl episode. The Super Bowl two-parter is – I like to think of it was sort of an event movie.
You know it’s large in scope. And if it had a movie poster it would be the summer action movie. And because of that, the timeframe is very compressed and it all happens almost in real time as you’re watching the episode.
And so there is no time to drift away and see that story of Tom. However, Tom and Red; the nature of their relationship and what Elizabeth Keen does or does not know or is in the process of discovering about that relationship, is certainly something that we’re going leaning into in the back half of the season there.
With Liz and Tom how they left things, is Liz still conflicted about what’s going on and what her feelings are with him, or did she let him go?
Jon Bokenkamp: She did let him go.
Megan Boone: Strangely enough I think Jon and I might have different opinions on this one.
I think that it’s an oversimplification to say that she’s in love with him, as has been implicated by some of the other characters like Red and Ressler.
I think she’s – I think she’s got really strong feelings for him, but it’s a very complicated dynamic at this point.
It has – I think once a relationship goes past the line and becomes abusive or sadistic in any way, there’s just no going back to pure true love. There just isn’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 Bokenkamp: [Sarcastically] Oh you’re madly in love with him. No, I think – I think that – look I work with a bunch of writers who are strange and dark and have very complex lives. And I think that – yes, it might – it is – I think Megan’s right. I think it’s probably an oversimplification to say that yes, she’s in love with Tom.
I do think that – I feel this way about the show in general, that I think everything is much more complex than it appears on the show because I think whether it’s the suburban housewife dropping her kids off at school, or it’s the guy showing up to punch the clock to work at the steel factory, I don’t think any of those people are really quite what they appear to be on the surface.
And I think that – I think you never say never. And I think anything can change. So that doesn’t mean that’s where that relationship is going, but I do think that like any breakup; like any sort of marriage that falls apart, it’s messy and the feelings I think are really — and by the way, this is speaking from somebody who’s never gone through a divorce — but I think, what I’ve heard, is it is incredibly complex you know.
And that feelings and emotions sometimes people who do things that is not, you know, in their best interest. And sometimes logic does not prevail. And so I think the best answer I could give to that is that I think it’s incredibly complex, and that I would say that the story of the two of them, whether it’s a love story or not, is not over.
And that there’s still a lot of mileage in that – and there’s still a lot of mileage in that story I think.