'The Blacklist' postmortem: Megan Boone on Liz's chilling motivation and (possibly) outsmarting Red

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in <i>The Blacklist.</i> (Photo: Will Hart/NBC)
Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in The Blacklist. (Photo: Will Hart/NBC)

Warning: This interview for “Ruin” episode of The Blacklist contains spoilers.

The Blacklist felt like it had rebooted itself at the beginning of Season 5, with Red Reddington (James Spader) forced to rebuild his empire while enjoying quality daddy-daughter time with his newly confirmed offspring, Liz Keen (Megan Boone). But then Liz’s husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold), was shockingly killed off in the midseason finale, and with the show’s first episode of 2018, another reboot of sorts is in order.

Liz is still dealing with the physical and emotional fallout of Tom’s death, but it’s a new tunnel-vision-viewing Liz we meet up with in “Ruin.” Her sole goal now: revenge against Tom’s killer. Yahoo Entertainment talked to Boone about the fantastic “cinematic” episode that introduces the audience to a new, scarily capable Liz, about how this is the Liz she’s been waiting to portray for four and a half seasons, and on how no one — not even Daddy Dearest — will stand in Liz’s way for the second half of Season 5.

Congratulations on this intense first episode of the new year. I shouldn’t have enjoyed parts of it as much as I did given how profoundly sad everything is, but…
Oh, you’re welcome to enjoy my sadness.

Not your sadness but the parts where Liz is just completely badass Liz are fun to watch. When we catch back up with her, she’s off by herself in a cabin. We don’t immediately know just how far away from home she’s gone, but she seems to be fragile and sad.
I was just going to say that this entire episode really veers off of our normal Blacklist formula. So it’s a cinematic episode. It’s like a standalone film that’s really centered around Liz’s experience after Tom’s death, so it gives it this really reflective tone that we haven’t seen throughout the series.

What was it like for you filming this episode on the heels of filming the episode in which Tom dies? Ryan has been one of your main onscreen partners throughout the series, and then to have to immediately pivot into this reflective but also action-packed storyline must have been extra challenging.
Saying goodbye to Ryan was more challenging, I have to say. But it was also bittersweet. I mean, it’s not like I’m never going to see him again, but it was really … we’ve never said goodbye to such an essential character on the show, so that was hard. But shooting this episode was actually wonderful for me. This is the kind of work I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s really more in line with the way I feel comfortable as an actor than the entire series [has been]. I feel like for four and a half years, I’ve been really stretching myself to try to get to what the show is. And so this, it felt like I was able to kind of return to myself and do what I really love to do. And so in that sense, it was actually a joy. And, yes, of course it was challenging, but there was something so just absolutely wonderful about it.

What we first see of Liz, what leads us to think she has kind of folded in on herself out of pure sadness, turns out to be an incomplete picture. She is heartbroken, of course, but she’s also rehabbing herself physically and emotionally and sharpening her own very particular set of skills. She is incredibly clever and more than capable of taking on these mobsters who show up at her home. The scene where she reveals to the lead gangster that he’s been chomping on broken glass instead of ice is one of the best Liz scenes ever. And after all she’s been through, she deserved that victory in this situation.
I know! We really earned our hero moment with Liz Keen. She has for a very long time been so overwhelmed by the circumstances of her life, and for good reason. But this was the turn that I think I certainly, as an actor playing her, have been really wanting to see — and I am certain the audience as well … that she’s taking authority over her life, and she’s choosing to outsmart anyone who gets in her way. And so Liz has abandoned her life, she’s living in obscurity, no one in the neighboring town knows very much about her. They know her by this pseudonym, Grace. And then she’s suddenly trapped by this extreme weather event with this threatening group of travelers who stumbled upon her cabin, and she’s forced to fight for her life. And she does it in a way that even surprises the audience, let alone these men who made the mistake of trying to put her in a corner.

Does this episode feel like a reboot for Liz?
It does for me because as much as it was important for the momentum of the show to return to a bit of a Blacklist formula, Liz doesn’t return in the same way. I made sure not to suddenly put the Liz costume back on, and maintain the … go back to the old rhythms. I tried to bring the rhythms from [this episode] into the rest of this back end of Season 5, so we can still feel this very internal, brooding quality throughout the rest of this series.

Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in <i>The Blacklist.</i> (Photo: Scott Gries/NBC)
Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in The Blacklist. (Photo: Scott Gries/NBC)

You said you didn’t put on the old “Liz costume” for the rest of Season 5, and I think we see that’s true at the end of this episode. So how would you describe the new Liz? What are her main qualities going forward?
She is willing to face the extraordinary circumstances of her life. And she’s willing to live in the anger and pain that [those circumstances] caused. And I think for a very long time, we saw our Liz Keen, who was fighting bad and in denial of it, but now she’s looking right down the barrel of it, and she’s activated.

Do you think she feels alone in what she’s going to do, going to try to do? Does she see Red, and Dembe, and the people on the task force, her friends, as allies, or does she really feel this is kind of a lone-wolf situation?
She’s on a very solitary mission, but she’s willing to use anyone in her circle to get where she needs to go if necessary.

There are some big matters I’m assuming are going to play out more throughout the season. Whatever Tom read in that DNA report before he was killed. He had put together a theory, or had figured some things out that he was very eager to tell Liz.
Yeah, definitely. I think in the back half of Season 5, there are going to be revelations around that suitcase in Tom’s desk that really impact Liz’s dynamic with her father, Red. And they’re going to also impact her life moving forward and how she decides to go about it.

Do we know if Liz will continue working with the task force?
We don’t. We don’t know. Everything is really up in the air.

What is clear at the end, when Liz returns home and visits Red, is that more than sad, she is completely driven by and committed to vengeance against Tom’s killer. That is far scarier, and far more powerful, especially after what we’ve seen she is capable of. I would be very afraid if I was someone in Liz’s way right now.
I think that that’s a smart response to have because when we do find Liz after this episode when she’s starting to go down the path of trying to get revenge for Tom’s death, she actually studies the tactics of one of our previous Blacklisters. And there’s sort of an homage to some of the really dark techniques of one of our Blacklisters. That’s for Episode 100 [“Abraham Stern,” which airs Jan. 17]. So she does some very calculated, and I would say actually pretty disgusting, things to people. I actually personally had a hard time shooting those scenes.

But you sound very excited about the new direction for Liz. What was your reaction when you got the script, or when you first talked to the writers about this storyline after Tom’s death?
This came at a very good time because I had reached the point where I was ready to really … I was really ready to push for Liz to go down the logical next chapter of her life, which was to actually face things head on and take some authority over her life. And the writers came to me … actually, I think I came to them saying that’s what I really wanted to see happen, and then they sent me almost immediately the draft that they had been working on for this episode. So it sort of happened congruently and in a very perfect way. I knew that after Tom died, nothing could ever be the same. And this has been something … when you have a series that goes for so long, and your character’s growth and transformation is the one that’s sort of like … Red doesn’t really change, Red is Red. But Liz has gotten on this extreme journey of self-realization. And when you’re on that journey for 100 episodes, it feels like you’re just champing at the bit. [Let’s] get to the next phase.

What’s your 10-second preview of the second half of Season 5?
In the back half of Season 5, we’ll explore how Liz is going to approach the next phase of her life. And we’ll see her lean on some of her genetically inherited darker impulses and behave a little bit like Red, but we’ll also see … you can’t leave Liz behind. So she brings her own unique strategy to the situation.

Well, from what we see in this episode, she’s a very good strategizer.
I know. You might even see her outsmart Red.

The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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