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Megan Boone & Jon Bokenkamp – Back in Blacklist

Megan Boone plays Elizabeth Keen on the hit NBC series "The Blacklist."

Megan Boone plays Elizabeth Keen on the hit NBC series “The Blacklist.”

Megan Boone & Jon Bokenkamp

Back in Blacklist

by Jay S. Jacobs

When we last left Elizabeth Keen and her team several weeks ago her life and her career was in complete chaos.

First of all, she had freed her two-timing double-agent former husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) from a watery prison. Her partner Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is suffering from both a growing drug problem and possible PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Her commanding officer Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) is still recovering from nearly being killed, and has some other mysterious medical condition that he will not discuss.

In the meantime, she still is questioning how much she trusts “Red” Reddington (James Spader), the super-criminal who had chosen to become her confidant – but who has his own agendas that she can not even guess at.

The character of Keen, which has made a star of young actress Megan Boone, has been through the ringer in the past season and a half.

Such is the wild world of The Blacklist, created by film veteran Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives, The Call).

Now the hit series faces undoubtedly its biggest audience – and perhaps it’s biggest challenge – as it returns to the air after a three-month winter hiatus. The comeback episode will be airing right after Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. The Super Bowl annually has one of the highest ratings – if not the highest – on TV annually, giving the already popular series one heck of a lead-in. After that, the series will be moved from its well-established Monday night time slot to Thursdays, taking on ABC’s new smash hit How To Get Away With Murder.

A couple of weeks before the post-Super Bowl return of The Blacklist, we had the opportunity to be one of a few media outlets to take part in a conference call with star Boone and show-runner Bokenkamp to discuss the crazy shifting directions of the return and remainder of the hit show’s second season.

Elizabeth Keen has certainly been showing some darker shades of her character this season. Have you been surprised by the directions that the character has been going this season? Had the producers had this all planned out, or is this something that’s just coming as the scripts are coming along?

Jon Bokenkamp: Megan, do you have thoughts on that? I certainly have an opinion about it but, go ahead.

Megan Boone: Yes, I certainly have had a reaction to it, but it wasn’t surprise. I was delighted and intrigued by the new direction. As well as I sort of anticipated it as it was coming. Especially with Liz being the protagonist in the sense that Red is a catalyst for her change. There was no way that she could stagnate and stay where she was, especially with all that was happening with her. So her evolution was essential to the show’s growth. I was definitely glad to see that start to happen toward the end of season one, and really intensely into season two.

Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, I think that’s right. It’s definitely something that was baked into the cake of the series. In season one, Elizabeth Keen is somebody that we meet who is very new; first day on the job. She has this very sort of idyllic life – the house, the husband, the dog and all of that. By the end of the first season it is all completely ripped away from her. She’s in a place in the second season now, where she’s having to confront the question: who am I? Everything I believed I knew about myself; the whole world that I’ve created around me, is now gone. Looking ahead, now having Red be in her life and influencing the way that she thinks and reacts, has certainly shaped the direction of the character. I think that’s one of the big questions about the second season: how far is she willing to go? How dark is the character willing to go? Can she hold on to a bit of light rather than completely going down the rabbit hole?

James Spader has created such a unique character. Is he fun to work with both as an actor and also from the production side, knowing that you can do so many things with him?

Jon Bokenkamp: James always has great ideas. He’s incredibly intuitive. He has a great sense of the character. He’s an incredible collaborator. Megan you have far more experience on set and in the day-to-day grind of that. I look at him more from a story perspective, but maybe you can speak to that.

Megan Boone: James is definitely the master of the ship over here. This is not his first rodeo, as they say down South where I’m from. (chuckles) That’s just an example, particularly of how different he and I are and why this is working so well. He’s from Boston and I’m from rural Central Florida. His parents were professors and mine dealt in real estate. I mean we come from different sides of the earth – not literally – but figuratively. It’s just interesting to put the two of us together and see what happens. He has had 30 years’ experience in the business, one successful television show. This is essentially my first go at it. It’s been invaluable having him here to help acclimate me to this new environment and this new task at hand. I feel that we’ve been extraordinarily successful beyond my wildest dreams. I definitely think that it’s his wisdom and experience that has helped me to rise to that occasion.

Jon Bokenkamp: It is interesting how there’s a mentor/student sort of relationship, both clearly in the script but as Megan says, James having done this a long time and her being new, it is interesting. I don’t know how much you guys feel that when you’re shooting, but in terms of the characters and who they are it does not go without notice that that’s part of the show. I mean that’s part of one of the things that makes it…

Megan Boone: Yes, on the surface, certainly out relationship is sort of mentor/mentee dynamic. But once you get into the complexity of it, the dynamic starts to get much richer. I think James and I are really starting to just work as peers and work together and influence one another. I would hate to think that I come to work and don’t have an effect on the people around me in any way, just because this is my first show. I think I do. So it’s become a very important relationship, certainly in my life and I would hope in both of our lives.

Well speaking of mentor/mentee, it says in your bio that coming up you had studied acting with Jane Alexander. What was it like working with her last year as an equal?

Megan Boone: I did! And it was just so serendipitous that she ended up on the first season of the show. She was one of the most important teachers of my life. She came to Florida, miraculously, to teach for two years of the four that I was in program there. She kept me in the game. I would not have survived public arts education. (chuckles) I would have chosen a different field if I hadn’t had someone with real wisdom and talent and gravitas come in and show me that it just gets better. That there is a less clique-oriented mentality. That there are really interesting people out there in the world. She maintains that connection with me into my adult life. After school she would call me from time to time. Email me. She just took an interest, the kind of interest that is important to anyone who ever finds success. There is always someone out there that they owe as a mentor. She’s by far one of the most important to me. So, it was good to have her here, to say the least. (laughs)

What can you say about Ron Perlman’s character, Luther Braxton? Why is he so dangerous that he requires two episodes?

Jon Bokenkamp: (chuckles) Luther Braxton is a thief who goes about stealing things through incredibly complex methods. He disguises his heist in big events. There might be a massive snow storm, or there might be a political uprising in some corner of the world where he’s looking for something. He’s constantly moving amidst this chaos and creating chaos wherever he goes. We thought that it was a great big, fun character that would fit really well with the Super Bowl. Be a little bit of a different sort of blacklister in scope and size. And in terms of what he’s after and how important it is to Red.

Megan Boone: I can speak from being on set with Ron Perlman. He brought that imposing presence and just this incredible voice; this deep, gravelly voice to the character. Then in some ways he really played a serene, calm that seemed almost creepy, as if he were the eye of the storm. It was really interesting to watch him come do his thing on our show.

What is his entry point into the story?

Jon Bokenkamp: What is his entry point? How do I describe his entry point Megan? He is a prisoner in a black site prison which supposedly does not exist. He’s sort of laying in wait when the episode opens. He’s pulled away in an interrogation facility that nobody is supposed to be able to escape from, however things go awry.

What does it mean to you that this show is going to get this showcase after the Super Bowl?

Jon Bokenkamp: Well it’s a huge opportunity. It’s a lot of potential new eyeballs watching the show. I suppose on one hand that can be intimidating. I think we see it as a great opportunity to let people see what the show is. I also think that the episode, it’s a two-parter but it is a very easy access point. Somebody who’s never seen the show before will be able to drop in very quickly and get a real sense of what the show is; how it feels, smells, tastes; all of that. As much as we do have some serialized elements, I think that’s one of the most exciting things about it. But it’s also a huge vote of confidence from the network. It’s incredibly flitting, quite frankly.

Megan Boone: The really fun thing about it happening now is that I think that Jon Bokenkamp and his team of writers have really started to understand what works with the show and have started to have a lot of fun with that. Not just what works with the actors on the show and our dynamics, but also what are the elements of the show that are indispensable. Like what kind of villains do you want to write that really work for the show? What is the format? These things started to really coalesce in season one. As they say, we really grow a beard. Now I think that the fact that we’re getting this opportunity to showcase the show to a larger audience is just really exciting at this time in our creative process.

I had interviewed Harry Lennix last season, and his character is sort of hobbled by the attack at the end of last season. He’s been musing on hanging it all up. Do you think that a character like Cooper could ever give it all up and let it go? And what’s Harry like to work with?

Jon Bokenkamp: I don’t know that Harold Cooper could give it all up. I would say that there are a lot questions in his storyline. As we move forward, we were introduced in first episode of this season, to the idea that Red knew of some sort of diagnosis that he had been given. So there’s something brewing there that Cooper has certainly not let anybody in on, and I think that’s going to come to the surface quite quickly.

You had mentioned Ron Perlman earlier. I was also reading that David Strathairn, Janel Moloney, and Gloria Reuben will be guest staring in the first couple of return episodes. What are they doing and who are some of the other guests we can expect as the season continues?

Megan Boone: Gloria is working with me. (laughs) That was an exciting thing. We had a really fun episode together. Jon, you’ve seen footage of that, right? Wasn’t she fantastic?

Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, she’s great. I just saw the cut two days ago for the first time, and it’s great. It’s really going to be a great episode. Yes, Gloria is incredible in the show. With David Strathairn and Janel, they enter the story in a rather cloak and dagger sort of way. David Strathairn plays a character known as the Director. In real life, the Director of the National Clandestine Services’ identity – as least to the general public – is not known. That is who he plays and he, I suppose, may raise a couple of questions. But look, with him and most of the cast the thing is always interesting to me is the people, as far as guest stars, one of the most exciting things about the show is to be able to dream up a character and you start kind of hearing a voice or thinking about who might be fun to play. It always blows my mind the variety and the caliber of actors we’re able to work with. It really makes the job a blast. These guys are certainly on exception to that.

Megan Boone: Yes, it’s an embarrassment of riches. I’m not going to say any more. That was it. (laughs)

Do James or Megan or any of the actors change the way you write for their characters?

Jon Bokenkamp: Yes, absolutely. I think one of the things that Megan had mentioned before – in terms of the show starting to find its footing and what it is – is in part to that. I mean, I speak to both of them. Any time there’s a concern or something feels wrong, Megan will give me a call and say look, I just don’t…. Episode 210 that we were just talking about, she called and said look, I think this isn’t quite right here. We’re always open to that. We’re always collaborating as much as we can. John Eisendrath has said, and I’m starting to think this is true, that at a certain point in the television show, the more you get to know the character and the more you get to know the people playing the character, the line between them becomes a little more blurred as time goes on. I do think that whether it’s something that you just know would be natural, as far as the language, or something that’s a real strength in terms of what that performer is able to do, I think you start writing that. They start feeling more comfortable for it. So yes, the actors themselves certainly do influence the characters to an extent. It’s part of the collaboration.

Have you always had ending in mind or has that changed since the first season with the success of the series?

Jon Bokenkamp: Well yes, there is certainly an ending in mind. One that we’re constantly writing to and around. At times it makes it quite difficult, because it restrains us in the stories that we’re telling in some ways. But I think it’s also working that way, whether that’s the end we arrive at or not. Whether anybody lets us do what I have in mind and what we talk about so often in the writer’s room, it does shape the show and it helps. It’s like building a house. You know what furniture you like. You know what kind of architecture you like. Then you kind of feel what doesn’t fit; what doesn’t belong. By process of elimination it starts feeling like its own special thing. I think that’s helped influence the show. That said, we always have ideas and things that we think we’re going to land at. Sometimes we get to them sooner. Sometimes we take a different path. It’s a little like knowing our destination and having looked at a map a couple of times and then throwing out the map and using our gut to get there. So it’s quite a process, but we do have a strong sense of direction; yes.

When we last left The Blacklist there was a bit of a moment there between Tom and Red. Is that too mythology-heavy to visit in the Super Bowl episode because you’re getting a lot of new eyeballs? If so, is that something we’re exploring in the back half of season two?

Jon Bokenkamp: It’s definitely something we’re exploring in the back half of the season. We don’t dive right into it in the Super Bowl episode. The Super Bowl two-parter, I like to think of it was sort of an event movie. It’s large in scope. If it had a movie poster it would be the summer action movie. Because of that, the time frame is very compressed. It all happens almost in real time as you’re watching the episode. So there is no time to drift away and see that story of Tom. However, Tom and Red; the nature of their relationship and what Elizabeth Keen does or does not know – or is in the process of discovering about that relationship – is certainly something that we’re going leaning into in the back half of the season.

Megan, we’re doing a feature for Valentines about everyone’s first TV crush. Who was your very first TV crush that you can remember?

Megan Boone: Oh, gosh. I had a movie crush. I didn’t watch television. I watched cartoons and I watched movies. I was in love with Christian Slater and Patrick Swayze. I don’t know if that counts. I didn’t watch a lot of TV. (laughs)

With how Liz and Tom left things, is Liz still conflicted about what’s going on and what her feelings are with him? She let him go.

Jon Bokenkamp: She did let him go.

Megan Boone: Strangely enough, I think Jon and I might have different opinions on this one.

Jon Bokenkamp: (laughs) Oh, no.

Megan Boone: I want to hear Jon’s.

Jon Bokenkamp: Well you go first.

Megan Boone: I want to hear Jon’s…

Jon Bokenkamp: (haltingly) Well, I’ll do mine. I could…

Megan Boone: I’ll go first so that Jon can get off the hook.

Jon Bokenkamp: Yeah, go ahead.

Megan Boone: I think that it’s an oversimplification to say that she’s in love with him, as has been implicated by some of the other characters like Red and Ressler. I think she’s got really strong feelings for him, but it’s a very complicated dynamic at this point. Once a relationship goes past the line and becomes abusive or sadistic in any way, there’s just no going back to pure, true love. There just isn’t. It already has violence in it. It already has mistrust. So I always felt like it was just an oversimplification to say: oh, she still loves him. What do you think Jon? (laughs)

Jon Bokenkamp: (dramatically) Oh you’re madly in love with him. (pauses)No, look, I work with a bunch of writers who are strange and dark and have very complex lives. Yes, I think Megan’s right. It’s probably an oversimplification to say that she’s in love with Tom. I do think… I feel this way about the show in general, that everything is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Whether it’s the suburban housewife dropping her kids off at school, or it’s the guy showing up to punch the clock to work at the steel factory, I don’t think any of those people are really quite what they appear to be on the surface. I think you never say never. Anything can change.

That doesn’t mean that’s where that relationship is going, but I do think that like any breakup; like any marriage that falls apart, it’s messy. The feelings are really – and by the way, this is speaking from somebody who’s never gone through a divorce – but what I’ve heard is it is incredibly complex. Feelings and emotions sometimes fuel people to do things that is not in their best interest. Sometimes logic does not prevail. So the best answer I could give to that is that it’s incredibly complex. I would say that the story of the two of them, whether it’s a love story or not, is not over. There’s still a lot of mileage in that story.

Megan Boone: See, we didn’t disagree at all. We completely agreed.

Jon Bokenkamp: We didn’t? Did we find a middle ground?

Megan Boone: No, I think we actually completely agree. We haven’t had a really open discussion about this recently, because Tom’s been kind of like on the back burner while we Super Bowl it….

Jon Bokenkamp: That’s right.

Megan Boone: …But that’s what makes me excited about being on this show. That we have writes who believe that about the mom dropping the kid off at the carpool line, that there’s always this very much more layered psyche than you would initially assume to be there. It’s just exciting. Also, the fact that he has a bunch of freaks and weirdoes writing for him is cool. (laughs)

Jon Bokenkamp: (He laughs too.) Well that is certainly true.

I’m actually talking to Ryan [Eggold, who plays Tom] later, so Jon is there something that you think I should bug him about?

Jon Bokenkamp: Oh, my god. What should you bug him about? Look, I talked to Ryan the other day. And Megan, we should have this kind of catch-up conversation about the character and where it is. It’s hard enough for me to do any kind of press. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for him, because he’s not supposed to say anything. I’m trying to keep that guy in the dark as much as possible, because it’s very difficult to talk about without giving anything away. So I would ask him about his beard. I would ask him about what kind of restaurants he’s been going to. Any down time that he’s had in the couple of episodes that he hasn’t been in, and send him the message to…

Megan Boone: Ask him about his music.

Jon Bokenkamp: …rest up. Oh yes, his music that’s right.

How funny. I was actually going to ask him about his beard.

Jon Bokenkamp: That’s probably the advice I have for you. Thank you.

Megan, chemistry is a word that we use a lot and often over-use, but your relationship on screen with your cast mates is really pretty special. I’m wondering, to what do you attribute that?

Megan Boone: Well, I think that I work differently with each actor, based on who they are as an individual. That’s something that seeds a relationship on screen. I’ve also worked really hard to develop skills of listening and presence that really can stoke the fire of a relationship. I love them. I mean I’ve grown to really love them all. I don’t know how they did it but they managed to cast an entire ensemble of actors who are all actually really wonderful, lovely people.(laughs) Thank god, because this is such an ambitious production that we’re really in the trenches together on this show. You just build a bond, and we have. So I’d say, all those things combined. That’s my responsibility. They also bring their own special something to the screen that adds to that chemistry. That can only be accredited to the casting of the show, which is obviously really superior to a lot of productions. The actors that come on the show are incredible.

You mentioned the embarrassment of riches of this show. You come into this with not as much obviously experience as some of your costars. But on a show…

Megan Boone: I have more experience than most actors in the world, now that I’ve done this show. (laughs hard.) If I could count up all the hours I’ve acted over the last two years, it’s probably more than 99% of working actors have in a lifetime.

Jon Bokenkamp: It is. It’s weird when we go back and look at it. Megan is in damn near every scene. You go through and look at the show, it is pretty impressive.

Yes. And on a show with this pedigree…

Megan Boone: I act more than I used to be awake during the day now.

Can you talk a little bit…

Megan Boone: Anyway, you were going to ask me something.

Yes, on a show with this kind of pedigree, for you to come in and to receive the rave reviews that you’ve been getting since the show started, to the extent that you’re aware of that, what does that mean to you?

Megan Boone: Well… (long pause, then laughs) This makes me strangely uncomfortable to answer. For me working with the pedigree of actors that have come on the show has eliminated how human everyone really is. It took away the mystique that I had around legendary, or award-winning, or whatever title you can put on any actor. What you’re really doing when you do that is you relegate them to a holiday. Like this next Monday is Martin Luther King Day and what we’re learning from Selma and the zeitgeist now is that’s really a relegation of who the man really was. When I meet these great actors and they come and I get to know them and how dynamic they are as people, I realize that they’re even more than I’d ever anticipated. And much less intimidating. So that will serve me really well in the future if I ever act opposite a Meryl Streep, or a [Robert] DeNiro, or somebody whose films I basically grew up on.

As far as the reviews, I’ve learned to stay away from reading anything about myself. Mostly because actually the truth is, is that the media is really harsh on women for the most part. I found it to be really hurtful. I think that one of the blessings that I have for my work is that I’m extraordinarily sensitive. But it became an extreme curse once I was on the world stage and I had to learn how to manage that. The best way to manage it for me was to never read anything on the Internet. Never read anything about the show.

Megan, what originally inspired you to pursue acting?

Megan Boone: I was like a moth to the flame really. I don’t now that it was any one thing. As a child I just naturally developed these characters that became these imaginary friends. I would live in imaginary circumstances for hours at a time in my room. Then that grew to wanting to perform them in front of people and not just be alone. So I would get my cousins together and we would put on plays on my back porch. It was fortunately kind of sloped like a stage and had an area for an audience, so that worked well for me. Then it became civic theater and educational theater. Then I went to college and it just snowballed. It was sort of an inherent thing.

What’s the most fun or challenging part about playing Elizabeth Keen?

Megan Boone: I think it’s how different she is from myself. I’m a real pacifist. I could show you guys a picture – in fact I’ll post it today on my Twitter – of me initially holding a gun, right before I was cast for the role. It’s pretty funny.(chuckles) I’ve had to develop a part of myself that was not even there. People say: Oh, you’re such a tough girl. You’re so badass or whatever. However they label her. It’s like: no, I’m not at all. (laughs) That’s the most fun for me, having to step up and adopt that kind of personality.

Since you film in New York , have you had any crazy fan experiences while filming?

Megan Boone: Harry Lennix ran into Bill Clinton on The Seth Myers Show yesterday, and he campaigned for a long time for Clinton in ’08, so he is friendly with him. So Bill took the time to say that he watches the show. He doesn’t miss an episode….

Jon Bokenkamp: What?!

Megan Boone: … And he said great things about the writing.

Jon Bokenkamp: Come on! Wow.

Megan Boone: But he said specifically that girl, I love what she’s doing on the show. That was funny. Harry sent me that email late last night. I said okay, its fine that was shooting out in the snow all week. No big deal. (laughs)

Jon Bokenkamp: When Harry says that with his voice, it sounds even that much more cool so, I can’t imagine.

Megan Boone: I know. (laughs again) Pretty cool, huh, Jon?

There was a moment early in the season where Elizabeth had to admit to herself that she really relies on Red now to be there for her. What kind of development are we going to see in this still ambiguous father-daughter relationship between the two?

Megan Boone: I think that’s a Jon question.

Jon Bokenkamp: Well yes, I mean I think it’s – how do I answer that? I think that is the tightrope that Liz is walking. Red clearly has an agenda of his own. He almost always does. There are clearly things he’s withholding from her. We don’t know if that’s for good or bad reasons. I think the extent to which she trusts him; the extent to which she becomes like him is the territory that we’re in right now. That’s I think the larger question and the thing that Liz is probably struggling with. What is the best way to handle this situation? What is the best way to confront this person or solve this crime? Is it the buy-the-book way which she was taught at Quantico, or is there another side of the coin that perhaps is just as good, if not better? So I think the dynamic there is the reflection of him in herself she might see. Whether that’s good or bad I think is, again, a very messy sort of complex journey that’s she’s on.

Things become heightened I think, in the back half of the season. Certainly with the Super Bowl episode, the dynamic of what’s happening just plot wise within the series, ratchets up. That also is going to put everything under a bit more of a microscope. But I do think the fine line that Liz is walking and the guidance that Red is trying to give her – and whether that’s good or bad advice that he’s giving – is sort of the crux of where we are right now.

Will we get any more kind of reveal about their past together this season? I know we got quite a bit of that last season, but are we going to see more before the end?

Jon Bokenkamp: We do, yes. We certainly do even in this two-parter coming up. We dip back into the past and we answer some questions about how they’re connected. It’s interesting to me how I hear a lot that we’re spinning a lot of plates on the show and there are a lot of unanswered questions. But we sometimes answer big ones. It feels like because it’s an answer, it raises more questions. That’s the nature of the beast.

Like with Tom knowing Red. We learned at the end of our fall cliffhanger that Tom and Red know each other. There’s some sort of relationship that Liz doesn’t know about which to me I think is a huge answer. That is confirmation of something that we’ve been wondering about – or maybe not wondering about. But it certainly is a big, new clue. It’s interesting to me how that yet raises another question. So yes, we will absolutely be getting some concrete answers about their relationship. Perhaps not the entire picture, but absolutely more clarification and more coloring on the relationship.

Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 31, 2015.

Photos ©2014 – 2015. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.

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