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James Spader Interview

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James Spader on his new TV show, playing Ultron in Avengers and, erm, crossbows

The creator of The Blacklist – Sky Living’s excellent new crime drama – claimed he cast James Spader in the lead role because, “he’s perfectly suited to play someone where you don’t know if they’re good or bad”. If you’ve seen Sex, Lies And Videotape or Crash you’ll understand what he means. Spader does unreadable oddballs very well. The Blacklist sees him as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington – a former master criminal who mysteriously turns himself in to help the Feds – but we were also extremely keen to speak to him about his role as Ultron, The Avengers’ latest antagonist…

What drew you to the character of Red?

He’s quite enigmatic. He could tell you something and you’d know less afterwards than you did before. I like that [laughs]. His answers to questions just pose more questions. I like dichotomy in a character, and he’s perfectly comfortable with being good or bad. I found that very engaging.

You’ve been in some great TV shows – Boston Legal, The Office, and now The Blacklist – do you buy into talk about the current ‘golden age’ of television?

I can’t speak about that at all. I don’t see anything on television; I don’t have time. David Mamet once wrote that “shooting a film is like running a marathon and shooting an hour-long drama series for television is like running until you die”. So my life has been swallowed by [filming The Blacklist].

Did you have to audition for your role as Ultron in the next Avengers film?

No. A couple of years back, I met with Kevin Feige at Marvel, and told him it’d be fun to do something in one of his pictures, and he agreed, but said they had to wait for the right thing. Then a month ago, he called me and said, “We’ve found the right thing.”

Were you aware of Ultron?

No. And your choice of character is very important in that [comic-book film] world, because you’re stuck with it forever.

So, how did they convince you that Ultron was the right role for you?

Joss Whedon called me and said, “I really want you to do this.” He said this character had a strange sense of humour and some painful issues, but he was able to retain a certain gravitas despite this. So, I suppose I’ll be making a fool of myself while still retaining a certain gravitas. I’ll do my best to pull that off [laughs].

You may get to interact with your old pal Robert Downey Jr, who plays Iron Man. Have you spoken about that?

We haven’t, although I remember that the first time we worked together [in 1985’s Tuff Turf] I helped him with a housing problem.

I love the idea that you bonded with Downey Jr over ‘housing situations’…

Housing is crucial to one’s craft [laughs]. Years ago, I signed on to do a television show, and the lead actress called me to welcome me aboard. I just said, “Thank you, what’s the quickest route to get there?” I always seem to be running late, so the first thing I want to know is the quickest route to get to the f*cking studio.

Are you still in touch with Downey Jr?

No. As actors you’re often apart but we’ll always greet each other like long-lost cousins. I’m looking forward to working with him again. He had a cat that he named Jimmy after me. I don’t know what happened to that cat.

Finally, I read a story about an incident in the Eighties where you were firing a BB gun in a motel. What happened there?

That was with [fellow Eighties star] Eric Stoltz. I made a target on the door of his room, and I was firing this BB gun at it.

Why?

It was those dark hours of the day [laughs]. It’s a bit of a blur. The BB gun had a more effective range than the crossbow I also had with me.

“The crossbow”…

Yes. There were palm trees in the motel courtyard that were a great target. The crossbow was just to have fun with.

Do you still practise crossbow archery?

I don’t. I’m done with that.

The Blacklist starts on 4 October, 9pm on Sky Living HD

(Image: Sky Living)

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