Actress gets a Blacklist of her own
Espionage spinoff starring Famke Janssen has familiar dialogue, international feel
When the producers of critically ac- claimed thriller The Blacklist approached Famke Janssen about playing a possible recurring role, she had one stipulation.
“I said the only way I would consider it is if I could play a character who can stand up to Raymond Reddington (James Spader) because you never see that on the show,” the striking Dutch actress says in an interview in Toronto.
“And I guess they figured that there really isn’t room in the show for two such characters, so they maybe that’s why they made this one.”
In The Blacklist, Spader plays the criminal mastermind Reddington with scenery-chewing gusto. He’s hard to equal. Still, Janssen — who has played some familiar characters, including Jean Grey in the X-Men movie series, and assassin Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye — gives him a run for the money.
The Blacklist: Redemption is a spinoff series of the original. And not unlike the NCIS or Chicago Fire series, NBC is hoping to find that the franchise has legs.
In the new series, Janssen, who was introduced as Susan (Scottie) Hargrave in a late third-season Blacklist episode, heads up a covert, for-hire black-ops agency. She works together with Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) to solve issues that skirt the purview of government.
The Blacklist has been a hit, perhaps because it seems to combine the procedural, formulaic element of a typical police show such as NCIS, but also contain the darker, edgy elements of a serialized cable show.
But Janssen insists that in the new show — premiering Feb. 23, on Glob- al — she is not the new Raymond Reddington.
“Those are some big shoes to fill, and I am not going to wear a (signature) raincoat like Red,” she laughs.
“So there is a variation to the original Blacklist. I think we are a little more of an espionage show, and perhaps a bit more international. And things do change when you have a female at the helm.”
Blacklist: Redemption executive producer John Eisendrath told television critics in Los Angeles that the people creating a show set out to choose a different tone and genre from the original series.
“The Blacklist is a cop show in many ways. There are law enforcement stories. This is a spy show . . . the stories we tell are different, and the places we go are different,” Eisendrath said.
There have been few female leads in action-oriented dramas on television or in film. Janssen, 52, has already publicly criticized the producers of X-Men: Apocalypse for ageism and not showing her character as an older Jean Grey, even when other characters such as Magneto and Pro- fessor X were featured.
“The strongest female characters today seem to be on television, and especially for women my age, and we’re all turning to television because there are incredible opportunities,” Janssen says. She also got to sit down with writers to carve out her character more thoroughly before shooting.
When Janssen is first introduced in The Blacklist, she confronts an Indonesian mobster and goes off into a nonsensical rant that is at first reminiscent of Reddington. But in this monologue, she talks about her vulnerabilities, such as her anxiety issues and doing Sudoku puzzles in the middle of the night. While the rambling speech will be familiar to Blacklist fans as a Reddington trademark, it betrays a much more vulnerable character, one that Janssen hopes will make her more relatable.
“It was great to have input. I really wanted to make sure there was a certain amount of vulnerability shown throughout. We all have these very strong women who are very together and very in charge. And to me that’s not interesting,” Janssen says.