Although it’s no surprise that a show with consummate craftsman James Spader should be a success, NBC’s The Blacklist offers convolutions upon convolutions that make each season a more complex yet watchable affair. With Season Four just getting underway, the dynamic between his character, the insidious master criminal Reddington — who has joined with law enforcement to help them get rid of his enemies — and his handler, profiler/Blacklist consultant Elizabeth Keen gets even more complicated.
That character has been fashioned by actress Megan Boone, a relative newcomer — especially in comparison to Spader’s long history — but she’s really given life to her character who has provided both the contrast and a sort of protege role to Spader’s Red.
When The Blacklist ended its very successful third season last May, it revealed that not only is Liz (Boone) very much alive — she has been in hiding thanks to Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) — but that the man Red (Spader) blamed for her death, Alexander Kirk, was actually her father.
In the series, special agent/computer specialist Aram Mojtabai has provided the intel that helps drive the search for Red’s enemies; over time has had a greater presence as The Blacklist has evolved. Played by handsome Amir Arison, he has established his chops through a variety of guest appearances in such shows as various episodes of Law & Order as a off-Broadway theater. – Brad Balfour
Story by Rory Winston | Photography by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Resident Report : The Ongoing Investigation of Megan Boone
Immediacy, tension and dynamics are the hallmarks that distinguish both well-written crime series and emerging major talents. The Blacklist delivers these two rare commodities with poignancy and precision. In a perilous rollercoaster-ride of a show – where bad-meets-worse in an effort to neutralize the very worst – it is the elusive main characters that maintain the show’s emotional momentum. While James Spader plays the star-coveted role of the likeably nasty Reddington – an enigmatic killer who makes comic relief indistinguishable from terror – it is Megan Boone who is cast in the demanding part of a rookie profiler whose “lion’s heart and feet of clay” impels the audience to identify. Playing the sensitive ‘straight man’ to the quipping and jaded Spader is no easy task even for a veteran thespian; nevertheless, Ms. Boone’s performance proves riveting enough to have drawn comparisons with Jodie Foster’s work in Silence of the Lambs. Evoking gusto and grace in equal measure, she ensures that the credibility of her character is never in doubt.
Having been promised immunity from sensationalistic queries, the ever alert and alluring suspect, Megan Boone (herein referred to simply as ‘MB‘), settles in for a comprehensive cross-examination conducted by the Resident Magazine’s officer in charge, Rory (herein referred to simply as ‘R’).
R: In the first episode of The Blacklist, no one at the FBI knows precisely why Reddington has chosen you, a rookie profiler, as the one person in whom he is willing to confide. Upon being questioned by your superiors as to his possible motivation, you announce: “I’ve been vetted by the agency like everyone else” – implying that the reasons you were chosen remain a mystery to you as much as to everyone else. Is this a bit how you felt as an actress when you first landed the role as a main protagonist in the crime series?
MB: Actually, when it came to getting the part, I was thrilled but not surprised. In fact, the whole experience felt very synchronistic – like a natural progression of sorts… not only because I was very ready for a role of this caliber but because throughout my twenties I had been pushed to play the type of one-dimensional characters that left me yearning for more. Even before seeing The Blacklist script, I had made a conscious decision to alter the course of my career. I was tired of merely fleshing out characters whose sole function was delivering information in plot-driven procedurals. Then, suddenly, there I was reading Jon Bokenkamp’s script; and – well I just knew. It all felt so very alive. The truth is that Liz Keen’s development runs parallel to the course of my own life. The transitions she is undergoing, the types of choices she makes have much in common with my own. To answer your question, being chosen for the role doesn’t feel random at all.
R: If you were asked to be more specific, what similarities do you two share?
MB: Liz is a woman coming into her own, making very adult decisions about what she wants from life and what defines her. She’s realizing that preconceived notions about her desires and ambitions aren’t really working out. There are certain dreams she must let go of, and other work-related commitments she must assertively embrace. The similarities to my own life are uncanny. Liz is realigning her focus and is determined… as am I. So, there’s this whole level of synchronicity and then there are also these smaller miraculous coincidences that are as strange as anything in the fictional plot – such as my college professor Jane Alexander randomly getting cast on the show.
R: Yes I heard about those serendipitous moments in your career. Didn’t something similar happen with your other former professor, Edwin Sherin… I mean he was acting on Law and Order before you came on there. Did he have something to do with you landing that job?
MB: Not at all… in fact, he didn’t know about it until after it happened. And those are precisely the kinds of strange little coincidences that make me feel as if there’s some form of connective tissue in life. I mean, having Jane on the set was validating in a way that is very real albeit ineffable.
R: Edwin Sherin, Jane Alexander, the very brilliant playwright, Mark Medoff – what they all share in common is that all of them were born in1940 and earlier… and all of them were your primary mentors; this, while you yourself grew up with parents who worked in a retirement community. And now, as fate would have it, your mentor in the show – Reddington – is also much older than you. What I’m getting at is this: is finding your own voice by interacting with an older generation a recurring theme in your life?
MB: Recurring theme – absolutely. It’s interesting you shed light on that because I don’t often think about it but it’s definitely there. Even a play that I produced – one that attracted my first representation – was about a younger woman with a much older man. It was Chuck (Charles L) Mee’s Limonade Tous Les Jours. It was a pivotal moment in my life.
I played a French chanteuse named Ya Ya – recently divorced and in an abusive relationship with an older man. Her father died of alcoholism when she was very young. She struggles with attachment issues. And, after a very short relationship with this man, she’s finally able to find a form of independence she never had. He gave her that gift. The cool thing is that by doing that play I was able to find a kind of independence that I myself never had.
I’d been struggling for 3 years, wondering about what I really wanted to do. And the play helped me clear away everyone else’s notions of what I should be wanting, and allowed me to focus on what I needed – which was: play the roles I want to play, pick roles based on where I’m at – and the transitions I’m going through – in my life, and make a list of what’s most important to me. It was then I realized: I don’t need an agent, a producer or a director to decide what I should do… I can decide perfectly well on my own.
R: And your recent role was mostly your own initiative?
MB: Blacklist? Yeah. Anything that’s ever been successful in my life has been something I had chosen myself and something on which I wouldn’t compromise. By contrast, the things I wish I hadn’t done were always a result of sacrificing what I really desired in order to placate those who thought they knew best for me. For years after starting to work professionally, I went for really low-hanging fruit because that’s what my manager had tried to convinced me of. That’s often what happens to actors.
MB: Well, more often than not, actors get convinced by those making money off of them to keep on doing what’s easiest for the agents to market.
R: In a sense your career choices are reminiscent of auteur director’s like Soderbergh who did ‘money films’ in order to foot the bills of the Indie projects he really liked, until finally the twain did meet and he got to do artistic films on a big budget. I mean you did Bloody Valentine 3D and then you did Adele Romanski’s indie film; and then you did Step Up Revolution and now, finally, The Blacklist, which – for an actress – has the best of both worlds: real acting opportunities coupled with a broad audience.
MB: You’re right. The reason I did the independents was for myself. First, I thought that I could find what I needed through regular industry auditions. But what often happened was that the roles I sought were precisely those that had many famous actresses available for the part. So, I was left being offered kind of empty roles. But, yes, they did fund my life and enabled me to pursue more ambitious works that gave me the opportunity to test my range. In a sense, I benefitted from both kinds of works because nowadays I can step on any kind of set – regardless how big or small – and really feel at home. Those 5 to 6 years of diverse experiences have paid off. No matter who you are, it’s always very daunting the first time you are on a big movie set. But I feel quite comfortable with any set of circumstances. I’m able to assert myself no matter what the situation.
Likewise, I learned a lot from indie films like Leave Me Like You Found Me. We had only 5000 dollars from pre-production through post, we had a skeleton crew of 9 people with 2 actors including myself, we had two tents, two weeks of shooting in the sequoias, and then we traveled to Europe with the film. The sense of camaraderie was just indescribable.
R: Was the acting methodology in Leave Me unique in terms of improvised moments and alib dialog?
MB: Adele (the director) and I were actually roommates while her fiancé James Laxton was the cinematographer… So we workshopped the script together – sat around, drank beers, talked, made revisions, and then when we got to the woods we had the freedom to shoot things that we mutually decided upon – the scenic footage became like a bridge between the interactions.
R: Are you the type of actor that loses herself in the moment or is everything very mapped out in your mind in advance? How do you work best?
MB: Every role requires something very different of the actor. First, I take a genuine interest in the story and let my imagination build the character. The story itself is my best friend – I always go back to it when in doubt. The character is ultimately behavior within the context of the plot ‘ how someone does what they do’. Liz Keen, for example: she’s very sentimental, she’s drawn to family ties because she feels orphaned, she has that ‘lion’s heart and feet made of clay’ – those metaphoric things stimulate me as well. I’m constantly looking to key into something that will make the personality come alive. By the time you’re doing the scene, it’s very simple. All the preparations has already been done, you know the story and then all you have to do is be in the situation – who you’re talking to, how you feel about the person, who you are, the environment you’re in, what came before, where you’re headed… you’re job is simply to get there. The process is both uniquely tailored to each character and also very universal. You go back to your ABC’s. You play the scales. You remind yourself: oh yeah, this is simple. So no matter how vulnerable or scared you may get, you keep the process in mind.
R: Although the main writer is Jon Bokenkamp, like most TV series, the Blacklist has different episodes written by different writers. Do you ever come across scenes where you feel like “Hey, the writer may have nailed the plot but ‘my Liz’ would never say something like that?” And what do you do then?
MB: The process of making a TV show is different from film in that as the main protagonist you have a certain amount of freedom with the script. I can call Bokenkamp about an issue and we reach a consensus. So I never feel stuck. Elizabeth may be the emotional center of the show but it’s also about the case of the week. Stuff may be going on in her home life but she still has to be pretty pragmatic at work. Of course, I try to weave her underlying personal tensions into the unfolding of the bigger events – but not to the point that it becomes distracting. It’s a balancing act – that’s the art.
R: And where do you see your own art going next? – Theater? Film? What kind of roles are you looking forward to doing?
MB: I’m fully immersed in what I’m doing now – entrenched, as it were. I never really think of roles I want to play in the future. I have this inner tuning fork that simply goes off when I read something that I know is right. If I miraculously have the time to take a new project, I’m sure it’ll probably happen the very same way… it’ll show up unannounced, I’ll read it and it’ll just grab me from the get-go.
R: Okay. Last question. Pretend you are actually a qualified profiler like the character you play on the show. Now I ask you: Megan Boone, profile yourself.
MB: (while emitting her contagiously buoyant laugh) Oh my gosh… I don’t know if I can be that honest. I think, perhaps, I’ll just let people come to their own conclusions about me. Let them decide.
CLOSING COMMENTS & CONCLUSIONS:
It is the opinion of this cross-examiner (and the Magazine for which he works) that Megan Boone is like the best of actors, an evolving being capable of incorporating elements from her own life into her craft while simultaneously developing as a person through the roles she plays. Both instinctive and pensive, she is easily capable of captivating all those who are willing to follow her development.