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The Blacklist Fans Think These Actors Could Have Played Raymond Reddington

"The Blacklist" premiered in 2013 to a response compared to the moment Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) met Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) in "The Silence of the Lambs." This iteration saw young and ambitious FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) get her life turned upside down when mysterious and notorious criminal Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader) turns himself in with the demand to work with the agent to dismantle the criminal organizations he has affiliated himself with for decades.

While Spader is one of the main reasons the series has gone for nearly a decade, his character has remained largely a mystery. His background is only revealed in tiny snippets learned primarily from the conversations had by the people being taken down each episode. Spader's demeanor on set did nothing but add to the character's mystique as he is also a mystery to his costars. In a 2021 report by Showbiz CheatSheet, Spader talked about his desire to keep personal and professional separate. "I never wash dirty linen in public, as they say. But OK, so be it, I'll tell you. I never make acquaintances on set. In general, I believe that relationships with on-screen partners should remain on the screen. And that is all," the actor said.

As hard as it is to imagine anyone other than Spader taking on the role, a Reddit thread posited who else could have also pulled it off. Redditor u/EverettDonovan asked who fans think would give Spader a run for his money, including their two choices. Fans certainly had some ideas.

Anthony Hopkins has the class and the sinister nature

Sir Anthony Hopkins was one of the first names that the poster dropped as an alternative to who could have taken the role. Few actors embody many of the same aspects of Red as Hopkins. While "The Blacklist" character is likely a psychopath or a sociopath, it can also be argued that he is a good man deep down. He is a man of class and a man of honor. Hopkins embodies both of those attributes both in real life and on screen.

He is best known for his role as Hannibal Lecter, who is by far one of the most terrifying characters in film history. But the actor said in an interview with Radio Times that the director of "Silence of the Lambs" believed that Lecter is "basically a brilliantly good man, but he's trapped in an insane mind." Hopkins went on to say that was all he needed to know, that he always knew what scared people. That definitely sounds like the recipe for a perfect Red Reddington.

U/Searching4Syzygy seems to agree with the sentiment. "Every time I think of a possible replacement, I try to picture them giving the "One last time" monologue, and it just doesn't have the same effect. (Except Anthony Hopkins. I bet he could do a masterful version.)."

Ian McShane could match the darkness

The second option the original poster offered up is Ian McShane. McShane is known more for his villainous roles than anything else. Other than a completely out-of-character comedic turn in "Hot Rod" and his oddly charming side role in "Hercules" alongside Dwayne Johnson, he is mainly known for his darker villains in "Deadwood," "Ray Donovan," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," and "American Gods."

McShane himself said in an interview with "The Off-Camera Show" that he prefers to play villains over heroes. He recalls when he played Judas instead of Jesus in "Jesus of Nazareth" in 1975. "No villain believes they're a villain," he said. "They believe in real-life they are making the world a better place." When asked how he approaches villains, he reveals that you can't judge the character. "You judge them on their own terms. Where they are coming from." This approach works perfectly for Red. While he seems like a villain on the outside, from his perspective, he is making the world a better place by taking pieces off the board one at a time. There is a heroic aspect to Red's actions, and there is ruthless darkness, one that McShane could bring to every scene.

U/Ill_Tumblr_4_Ya agrees with the nomination of McShane with an enthusiastic comment. "Ian McShane is a spectacular plan B. In fact, the way he portrayed Odin on American Gods was as if Raymond Reddington was a deity."

John Malkovich brings the quirky side

John Malkovich is an actor that has spent a career bringing some of the most dynamic and unique characters to the screen. He brings a style to his portrayals that is nearly impossible to duplicate. A Rolling Stone article explains his uniqueness in an old interview. "He's been the cruel seducer in 'Dangerous Liaisons' (1988; his defining, breakout role), the chameleonic assassin in 'In the Line of Fire' (1993, earning him another Oscar nomination), and the amusing serial killer Cyrus the Virus in Jerry Bruckheimer's 'Con Air' (1997; 'I love your work,' he says to a fellow killer). At other times, he diminishes the sinister and emphasizes the eccentric, as in 'Art School Confidential' (loopy artist), 'The Great Buck Howard' (loopy illusionist), and the Coen brothers' 'Burn After Reading' (loopy loopy)."

The actor's description and work could be applied to James Spader and Raymond Reddington. He comes across as a combination of all those characters in "The Blacklist." With the ability to portray all of those characters in his past, portraying one character that encapsulates all of them would be one of the most dynamic of his career. U/PSTGtheFirst agreed with the nomination of John Malkovich by admiring his kooky energy and also that he would be slightly more sinister than Spader. One could say that Malkovich may bring more extreme versions of both the good and the evil versions of Red. 

Christopher Walken is the perfect mix of quirky and sinister

U/odaniel99 makes an unusual suggestion by throwing out Christopher Walken, only 20 years younger. The comment suggests that the actor has both the confidence and the sarcasm to pull it off. Walken is known for playing almost entirely eccentric characters. He eats up the screen in every role he takes on. Early in his career, he realized he was good at playing "troubled souls," as he recalls in a Newsweek interview.

"It could be that very early on in my movie career, I got known for playing troubled souls. It stuck a little bit. I think it makes sense. Movies is a business, and if you do something and it works, then it makes sense that you'd be asked to do something similar repeatedly." He continued to describe what he believes he is good at, "It happens with people who play the leading man. It happens with people who play the leading man's best friend. Then there's the funny character. There's the villain. I think I got stuck with — not stuck, but I got familiar with — troubled people, people who are not so wholesome."

Red Reddington is definitely a troubled soul. Throughout his run in the series, he carries weight, the kind of weight that is expressed in small moments, quick expressions, and short phrases that carry more meaning than the words directly state. The original poster agreed, saying he is excellent at offbeat characters, a mix of unhinged humor and badassery, which sounds a lot like Spader's performance. Walken stacks up with the other rumored actors that were up for the role. 

Martin Sheen has the range to compete

Martin Sheen is an actor that has spent an entire career giving us father figures and parental guidance from the screen. After his breakout performance working with Terrence Malik in "Badlands" and Francis Ford Coppola in "Apocalypse Now," all of his biggest roles had a somewhat familial feel to them. From being the mentor role to Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" to being the father to a nation as President Josiah Bartlet in "The West Wing," his smooth voice and calming demeanor made us all feel safe and protected.

Being a father figure in two roles to his actual real-life sons are two experiences he talks about in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment. He reveals he is eternally grateful to director Oliver Stone for allowing him to play Charlie Sheen's father in "Wall Street" and calls his role in Emilio Estevez's "The Way" the one he is most proud of. He says the role is about "loss and suffering and healing and regaining."

Much of those aspects reflect what "The Blacklist" is about when you break it down to its base level. You get the feeling from the get-go that Reddington sees Elizabeth Keen from a fatherly perspective. While her lineage is a constant mystery throughout the series, there is no doubt that Red has some connection to her. The original poster loved the suggestion of Martin Sheen, saying, "Martin Sheen is an excellent choice. I agree; he can play both impish and intense. I'm struggling to think of many actors who have mastered both."

Frank Grillo was the original Red

According to TV Tropes and u/outofwedlock, Frank Grillo was one of the original actors considered to portray Red. While there isn't a lot of solid information other than a rumor, the grizzled action star has worked with writer-director Joe Carnahan on many projects together, including "Boss Level," "Cop Shop," and the upcoming "The Raid" remake. The story goes that Grillo had to back out of the series due to conflicts with his role in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" as Crossbones, sparking Spader's addition three days before filming. Grillo even admitted that he was looking for a series to do in an interview with Collider. And he dropped Carnahan's name, so it isn't farfetched that Grillo was initially considered.

It can't be argued that the difference in Grillo and Spader's acting styles would have made for an entirely different series. While Grillo is a fine actor and would have brought a level of action and fast-paced sequences, James Spader saw a charm and elegance in the character that proved he was the right choice for the part.

U/Pastaconsarde agreed that the series would have been very different, pointing to Spader's requests when he took on the role. "Frank Grillo is referred to as an action star. He + Carnahan partnered up + have gone on to do 6 movies together. So I wonder what the show would have been w/ Grillo in the lead — a different show, I imagine. Spader's request for the fedora — getting the character into his comfort zone. When you see him in candid shots, it's usually w/ a hat + scarf." Looking back on the near decade of James Spader as Red Reddington, the choice to have Grillo play Crossbones looks better and better as a win-win for all fans of both projects.