I’ve been watching James Spader onscreen for 30 years. In the 80s and 90s, he never registered with me as much more than a sleazy guy (like his characters in Pretty in Pink and Less than Zero) and it really wasn’t until Secretary and then Boston Legal that I began to truly admire him as an actor. Man, how I loved him and Shatner in Boston Legal, especially the way in which Spader would humanize a character that was, well … odd. Spader’s character had obsessive compulsive disorder, and particular sexual fetishes, and weird eccentricities, but he made it work (winning two Emmy awards in the process).
Still, despite watching Spader onscreen for so long, I only just realized after reading a Rolling Stone interview with him, that I barely know anything about him in real life.
There were reports earlier this year that he had been difficult to work with on The Blacklist, and this interview in RS basically confirms that, but he’s not difficult to work with in a diva, asshole kind of way. He’s difficult to work with because he’s obsessive compulsive, and because he insists on the show being perfect (or at least, as perfect as it can be). The section in the interview is instructive:
These days, Bokencamp and fellow [Blacklist] executive producer John Eisendrath spend a good chunk of their time ministering to Spader, a tradition that will continue for at least another year, since NBC picked up the show for a second season. Bokencamp knew nothing of his star’s obsessive qualities. “Oh, God, no,” he says. “But we learned very quickly.” Spader says they speak to each other seven days a week. No topic is too small. “I haven’t talked to him today yet,” says Bokencamp, “but last weekend, on his birthday, we were on the phone for two and a half hours, and on Thanksgiving, when I was in Colorado, I was out pacing on the phone for two hours. This stuff keeps him up at night. He can dig his heels in. The conversations can be frustrating.”
The shit hit the fan when Spader got a two-part script in which the secret FBI black site where Reddington meets his handlers is invaded by assassins aiming to kill him. “I called up the writers, and I said, ‘You understand the collateral damage of this, correct?'” Spader says grimly. “‘You understand this is a game-changer. You’re burning down this house! This means there’s a terrible security issue for Reddington. How do I go back there? How do I trust anyone moving forward?'”
The interviewer, Andrew Goldman, spends lunch with Spader, and it becomes clear to both Goldman and the reader that Spader is very much like the characters that he depicts. He’s a strange bird, but it’s because of his obsessive compulsive disorder: “I rely on a certain routine,” Spader says. “It’s very hard for me, you know? It makes you very addictive in behavior, because routine and ritual become entrenched. But in work, it manifests in obsessive attention to detail, and fixation. It serves my work very well: Things don’t slip by. But I’m not very easygoing.”
For instance, the writers on Blacklist had to rewrite entire scenes, schedules had to be changed,and network executives had to be inconvenienced all so that his character “could don a yarmulke and hide out in a synagogue for a few episodes, until he could smoke out his betrayer.”
Spader also doesn’t like to watch people eat, according to his Boston Legal co-star William Shatner, “Our craft-service table was located near the stage entrance, so he had to avoid walking by and watching people licking their fingers or spreading butter on a bagel.” Like his Boston Legal character, Spader also admits to being very experimental sexually from a young age, and according to Maggie Gyllenhaal — his Secretary co-star — he was very much in person as he is in his onscreen performances. This story, for instance, sounds just like something you’d see in a Spader character:
Gyllenhaal never had Spader’s phone number, never knew the first thing about his life off set, but midway through the shoot, Spader took her aside, and said, very slowly, as though there were periods between each word, “I always have an ally on every project I do. And this time, my ally is you.” Not long after, he began his ritual of sending a production assistant to fetch her, though their dressing rooms were in the same trailer and shared a flimsy wall. “Literally, he could have called to me and I would have heard him,” Gyllenhaal says. “But I left my room and walked two feet to his, knocked on his door, and he invited me in and offered me a chocolate. That became a sort of S&M-type ritual between us.”
But in a way, I think, all of these eccentricities makes me admire the guy even more, and understand why people would put up with his difficult on-set behavior: Because he makes things he’s in better, and because he really is a one-of-a-kind actor. You will never mistake a James Spader character for anyone else.
Source: Rolling Stone