“To sustain me over a period of time, I can’t be doing this one thing. I will just lose interest quickly,” Spader explained about his choices in roles. “After reading the pilot of The Blacklist, I knew less than I did when I started reading. It was so enigmatic, I realized, ‘Wow, the landscape is just anywhere.’ It could be anything.” Plus, “I saw the sense of humor [that] could really be married with anything. That dichotomy, I thought, could sustain me.”
Asked later by an audience member how he gets into his Blacklist character, Raymond “Red” Reddington, he shrugged, “I play make-believe.” In one of the night’s many amiable digressions, he recalled finding a black-and-white photo of himself as a child, dressed up as Snoopy.
“I just love make-believe,” he said. “My childhood friends started going off in the afternoons to play sports and I was really disappointed we couldn’t keep playing cops and robbers.” When he arrived in New York City as a 17-year-old high school dropout, he recalled, “I’d walk the streets and tail people. I’d make up stories about what was going on.”
Having established himself with sex, lies & videotape (the indie phenomenon that took up only a couple of minutes at the top of the discussion), Spader said his goal on each succeeding project was to do something completely different. In two cases — Secretary and sex, lies — he said he deliberately moved toward a project that several other actors had passed on.
In his first TV role, on The Practice, which led to Boston Legal, he said creator-showrunner David E. Kelley offered him an unusual out. Normally actors have to commit to several seasons, which protects the network and show team if the show succeeds. “But David came to me and said, ‘If you decide by Episode 2 that you just hate it and can’t do it anymore, just come to me and I’ll let you out,'” Spader said. “That sounded perfect to me.”
When Spader agreed to play the titular robot in Avengers: Age of Ultron, he said, “I had not been intimidated for years on a set.” And that was the point. In collaboration with writer-director Joss Whedon, he settled on the motion-capture method of playing the towering machine. “The process of acting on that film was something I had never encountered,” Spader said. “But it was exciting because I was doing something incredibly challenging at a time in my life when I had just thought I knew what the f*ck I was doing.”
Goldberg cracked, “That gets all of us.”