The Blacklist is on top of the TV hit list

Megan Boone, star of The Blacklist, tells The National about the show's success, the evolution of her character and how it was working with James Spader.

Megan Boone, left, as Liz Keen and James Spader as Red Reddington. Getty Images
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Since its debut in 2013, The Blacklist has established itself as that rarest of present-day TV beasts – a bona-fide hit for a United States broadcast-TV network.

In an age when cable channels such as HBO and Showtime regularly grab all the plaudits, and streaming services Netflix and Amazon are winning acclaim for original programming, traditional broadcasters in the US have found themselves struggling to keep up.

NBC's The Blacklist, the third season of which is now airing on OSN First, is one of the increasingly rare network successes.

James Spader plays former US Naval Intelligence Officer Raymond “Red” Reddington, who disappeared 20 years ago and built himself a new career as a master criminal, becoming one of FBI’s 10 most-wanted fugitives in the process.

In the first episode, he resurfaces unexpectedly and hands himself in, offering to help the FBI track down and capture dozens of dangerous criminals he has encountered and compiled in his “Blacklist” – on condition that they let him work with rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keene, played by Megan Boone. Their connection forms the show’s central mystery.

Spader’s performance as the eccentric and charismatic Reddington, by turns whimsically amusing and chillingly terrifying, is a highlight of the show – but credit should also go to relative newcomer Boone for holding her own opposite, the Hollywood veteran, in a much less showy role.

It is her first leading TV role, although she also appeared in seven episodes of Law and Order: Los Angeles and in movies, including My Bloody Valentine 3D and Step Up Revolution.

Boone admits the show’s success surprised her – the first season placed sixth in the US TV top 20 rankings, season two was 14th – earning rave reviews from audiences and critics.

"I think that the success of the show internationally has been very surprising," Boone said in an exclusive interview with The National.

“Especially on these [international interviews], it really illuminates that for me, the idea that there are people all over the world watching Elizabeth Keen go through whatever Reddington is putting her through.”

Another surprise for her was the relationships that develop as a regular on a TV show.

“The thing that surprised me the most is the strong bonds that you develop with the people that you’re working with on a regular basis,” she says.

“There’s a familial quality that I’ve never had in the workplace before, because of a lot of the acting profession is moving from one job to the next.

We're fortunate enough on The Blacklist to have a group of people who are not only intelligent and talented, but they are fantastic family members – I can tell you from experience."

The role of father-figure would presumably go to Spader, whose 40-year career has spanned a wide range of roles – from John Hughes's "brat-pack" movie Pretty in Pink and mainstream hits such as Wall Street and Stargate to more challenging, boundary-pushing work in Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, David Cronenburg's Crash and Steven Shainberg's Secretary.

“James has a unique mind and so I can understand why the characters he’s played have been sort of, you know, odd in various ways,” says Boone. “He’s not the everyman, let’s just put it that way. But I think that the reason he has found success is that, you know, in there is a good guy, a good heart and someone who wants to really be a good man.

“He’s a father, he loves his children – in various ways he has some normality in his life. It’s just that his mind works in ways that are extremely unique.”

“Just to give you an example, he’s extremely methodical in his process – and his way of working, with rhythms and language and specific gestures, is very technical. And it’s technical in a way that I would find, as a more impulsive, intuitive actor, overwhelming to try to manage. But it’s what he does and what he does really well.

“So, yes, I would say what you’re seeing on screen that comes across as something that’s odd and dark is very masterfully cultivated by him.”

The Blacklist as a whole is fairly dark by network-TV crime drama standards, as Spader's Red leads his protégé into a succession of uncomfortable situations each week. The show has been compared with Silence of the Lambs, given the mind games between the two leads. Boone, though, is not getting too caught up in comparisons.

“As the series progressed and grew and evolved, it really moved away from that, I think,” she says. “Now we’re in our third season, I wouldn’t draw a comparison between the two stories.

“Elizabeth Keen has also grown. I wouldn’t consider her a rookie anymore. The characters have changed so dramatically, I think we’ve really moved away from that formula.”

• Catch season three of The Blacklist on Saturdays at 11pm on OSN First HD. Season one is available on Netflix

cnewbould@thenational.ae