by elizabeth thorp
photography by nigel parry | November 17, 2014 | People
Megan Boone, star of the breakout crime drama The Blacklist, talks Pee-wee Herman, family, holiday recipes, and what it feels like to inspire a Twitter hashtag.
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When Megan Boone appeared on the Today show this past September to promote the second season of her hit NBC show, The Blacklist, she told Al Roker that she had a surprise for him. She cued the producers to roll footage of Today’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the year before, wherein Roker introduced a young, still-unknown Boone—who was there to boost her brand-new crime show—and called her “Megan Brooke.” The Today cameras cut back to Boone for the punchline: “Right after that, he pronounced [castmate] Diego Klattenhoff’s name perfectly.”
It’s not a mistake that people will be making again. The Blacklist—in which Boone stars as tough rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keen opposite James Spader’s fedora-wearing criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington—was the breakaway hit of NBC’s 2013 pilot season. The crime drama, set in Washington, DC, is dark and full of unexpected twists, but it also focuses on the unlikely partnership of its heroine and anti-hero. “Our relationship working together was analogous to the two characters working together,” says Spader. “There was this anticipation. I was very curious about her. And I think just the mix of age and experience has been great—the balance of that between the two of us. I am certainly older than she is and have been doing this for a long time. But she is very facile. And I think that mirrors the character. It’s proving to be great fun. We’re becoming friends just like in the show.”
We spoke with the 31-year-old Florida native at The Loews Regency in New York, not too far from where she was filming that day with Spader and new villainous cast member Paul Reubens (otherwise known as Pee-wee Herman). Two hours past call time—thanks to a grueling filming schedule—she arrives. She greets everyone, apologizing for being late, and introduces herself to the cadre of people present for the photo shoot, including the hired guns guarding the jewelry. Boone oozes charm and friendliness. One of the tough guys mouths to me, his eyes widening, “Oh, my God. The Blacklist?”
The Blacklist, wow! You’ve always been a working actress, but do you feel that your recognition boomed overnight with this role? How has life changed for you?
It has in a lot of ways, but to say I’m some overnight success—if that were true, it has been a long night.
I’ve worked really hard, just like most people who aren’t born into the nepotistic side of the industry. I had a hard time finding a toehold in the industry; it’s very impenetrable for the most part. I am not very social in Hollywood—I didn’t go out and schmooze people.
Interesting. I recently interviewed Jeremy Renner, who talked about the parallels between DC and Hollywood—the ambition, the lobbying.
There’s that same kind of hierarchical social atmosphere, and there is definitely always something that someone has that can benefit you, and it’s hard to put it out of your mind when socializing. That’s why I prefer to live in New York rather than Los Angeles. I don’t know that I will ever be able to successfully navigate the political side of my business.
So you like the East Coast?
I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m in the same time zone as my family now, and that’s a very important part of my life, and it has become even more important as life has become more demanding. Being successful is always much more enjoyable when you’re near family.
With such a busy work schedule, are you dating anyone?
I’m a very social creature, and I try to go out on the weekends with friends. I love going to a dinner party where I don’t know everyone, and I get to know people. There are a lot of really interesting and intelligent people in New York City doing amazing things—or at least proclaiming to do them—and I love hearing the stories. As far as my personal life, so much of my time is spent on the show that I feel like that social atmosphere is where my vested interest is right now. Now that I have a handle on it, I’m open.
Life is good?
I’ve found it to be a much more palatable life than the one I was living prior to this. I found it perplexing and daunting. I remember at a certain point I said to a dear friend of mine, “I don’t know how to take what’s good in me and put it into the world anymore.” And now that I have this show… I feel like I have a place where I am needed. What living on the East Coast represents to me is being a person that is of use to something that millions of people around the world are entertained by.
When you first got this script, how much did you know about government work or the FBI?
In the past I’ve played police officers and prosecuting attorneys, and I’ve shadowed police officers and the DA. I was not able to sit in on everything, but I still felt like I had great access. But with the FBI, that doesn’t happen. I don’t get to shadow an FBI agent, so it’s guesswork for me. I can’t follow an agent, but I can at least understand the dynamics of her relationships, the situations that she’s entering into.
At the end of last season, I felt empathy for Liz Keen, all alone in her empty house in Arlington after allegedly killing her hot husband.
Yes, but I think in that loneliness she gained an independence she never had before. Hopefully the pendulum will swing for her, and she’ll learn to trust people again and be less autonomous in her decision-making, more trusting of the people in her task force, like Ressler and Aram.
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There’s some good fighting between you and your crazy fake husband, but he’s a cute fake husband to have.
He’s one of my closest friends. I love Ryan [Eggold] so much. But his transition from the bookish teacher to the spy was brilliant. It was interesting how the female population actually liked him more when he was a jerk.
I’m sensing a little sexual tension between Liz and Ressler.
I think it’s just a bond, like a partner bond.
Or because you’ve almost died with each other 20 times over?
The producing director of our show is a military man, so he really brings a lot of insight on how soldiers bond during times like that. He helps us understand that brotherhood and play it out in little ways throughout the scenes.
The Blacklist shoots in New York instead of DC, but have you been to Washington?
We went to DC one day during the pilot to shoot the scene where Ressler finally corners Zamani, and Zamani jumps off the rooftop. I think they were able to get an exterior of the Washington Monument, but they found it so hard to get the historical architecture because everything had zoning restrictions. It was really hard to film there, unfortunately, so we shoot in New York.
Can you give us any hints or insight about this season? I’m sure you know there are message boards and superfans rewatching and dissecting every part of the show.
I know! Well, there’s a big secret that’s going to be revealed about Elizabeth Keen; she has a source for information and that source is going to be revealed. Also, you will see we’re going to have everything disbanded by the end of the season. I think we’re going to lose the structure of the tactical unit being a unit, but I say that with hesitance. Not because it’s too big of a spoiler, but because it’s subject to change; our writers are so responsive to social media.
How does the process work? I noticed last season that current events were woven in and references added to the dialogue to make it very timely.
I really think that social media has changed the medium of television in a huge way. We are in the golden age of television. The interesting thing about network TV is that we are developing and shooting episodes at a much faster rate [than cable or streaming], so that means our air date and our wrap date are very close. When we get a response from our fans, we’re able to almost instantly respond to that within our story. Within a couple of episodes, fans will see something play out that they wished for, or something that they noticed will be somehow woven into the story.
That’s very cool. I’m going to tweet that you should weave Capitol File into your story line.
[Laughing] It’s very cool! Because Cheers certainly wasn’t experiencing that.
Were you even alive when Cheers was on?
I binge-watched Cheers. I had a big crush on Ted Danson last year.
Well, really, who doesn’t?
But I mean like, Cheers’s Ted Danson—no offense to current Ted.
Do you watch The Blacklist in real-time on Monday nights?
I get a feed the week before of a cut that I watch. Mondays are a little late for me, actually, because—not to sound like a dullard—I have to work really early in the mornings.
So you’re not staying up until eleven at night?
No, but everyone else should!
Let’s talk about James Spader—such an icon. What did you think when you first signed on and learned he was your costar?
He wasn’t signed on when I first signed up!
I didn’t know who Red was going to be for a while, and then he signed on. I was already in New York ready to shoot. They said, “We think we might get James Spader.” And I thought, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And then I got the text from [director] Joe Carnahan, “Babe, Spader’s in. It’s about to get weird.”
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And it has gotten weird! Was his character written with the hat, or is that his own flair? I feel like he brought that himself…
You know, I think he fought for it because they have this rule in network TV for some reason: no hats and no short hair on women. They definitely fought him on that, but he was like, “Nope, I’m doing it!”
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Pee-wee Herman.
I know! I love Paul. We’re friends now! We e-mail, and we talked on the phone for 20 minutes the other day.
And we’re getting lunch the next time I’m in LA.
I’m weirdly and completely jealous.
It’s so weird, right?
What a difference a year makes.
I feel so lucky this year because Elizabeth Keen is a very strong, fierce woman, and people on social media respond very positively to that, and they are giving me all this love. There’s even a hashtag #loveformegan. It’s really sweet.
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