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James Spader and the Creators of ‘The Blacklist’ Explain Why Their NBC Drama Really Isn’t Like ‘Silence of the Lambs’

James Spader and the Creators of 'The Blacklist' Explain Why Their NBC Drama Really Isn't Like 'Silence of the Lambs'

Despite having a premise that initially recalls “Silence of the Lambs,” a comparison that the producers are very aware of, NBC drama “The Blacklist” has proven to be one of the network’s buzziest new series. (The network obviously already has “Hannibal,” which is returning for a second season.) James Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, one of the FBI’s most wanted, who turns himself in and offers to help them bring down other criminals and terrorists, but only in partnership with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Spader, Boone and fellow cast members Ryan Eggold, Diego Klattenhoff (who will still recur on “Homeland”) and Harry Lennix showed up at the TCA press tour today alongside show producers Jon Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath and John Fox. Joe Carnahan (“The Grey”), who directed the pilot, wasn’t present.

“I think there’s a big difference between the characters on our show and the characters of Hannibal and Clarice,” Eisendrath said of the “Silence of the Lambs” issue. “Red is not a psychopath,” he continued, saying that the question is more “what is his journey like — is it a journey of redemption or a story of revenge?” And for Elizabeth, “this is much more of a journey of discovery — she’s going to learn about who she is,” which will “take her down a path very distinct from Clarice Starling.”

Unlike Clarice and Hannibal, on “The Blacklist” “the basis of their relationship is very real,” added Spader, pointed out that, while Elizabeth wasn’t aware of it, Red knows a lot about her childhood, and the mystery of what their connection is “becomes a driving force as the basis of their relationship.” He sees the comparison as “based on imagery more than anything else — he’s in this box, shackled,” when a female rookie comes in. His character, he pointed out, doesn’t stay in custody: “He has to work as an asset, he’s got to move freely in public and so on.”

Creator Bokencamp does allow that the inspiration for the series has more general roots in film. Both he and Fox come from a feature background and “love great movie bad guys” like Keyser Söze. The idea was to explore “what would happen if one of these guys started to talk.” “He would be the Rosetta Stone of crime,” Fox added, “unlocking every crime for the feds.”

Overall, Eisendrath asserted, what sets “The Blacklist” apart from related series like “Alias” is that it’s more grounded in “our universe” — it was important that “the relationships are real and that the depiction of law enforcement is as real as it can be.” Bokencamp summed up the series as a “strange hybrid” in terms of character drama and case-of-the-week. “Each week we’re going to dip into a different world of crime. There’s an opportunity to have fun with the various people who are involved in crime in ways we have not seen before.” But in the end, he said, “the reason you come back to the show are the people and the secrets that they have, what’s happening at home.”

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