Actor Name: David Strathairn
David Strathairn Interview
Q: In these two episodes, we'll see the conclusion of your recurring arc on the series. Did you know it was going to be such a lengthy recurring role when you signed up?
A: Um, actually no. I hadn't gotten any insight as to what they were thinking of doing with that character in terms of long term. I knew that they had a couple of episodes in mind, but it was one of those things that grew organically in their minds. But at the outset I had no idea where it was going to head.
Q: When you said, 'Yes,' to the role then, what was it that made you gravitate to it -- either the material, the show or those involved?
A: A combination of all of the above. It's always nice to get offered some work, especially on a production that has, at that moment in time it had a lot of accolades thrown their way, so I started doing a little research, looking at some of the back season shows, and I was pretty impressed with the production values, and the general overall pace and engagement of the material. Bottom line, it's a good guy-bad guy kind of scenario but it had the feeling of complexity that was kind of attractive, and for sure the cast that had been assembled and the guest artists who had come on board throughout the first season was pretty impressive.
I hadn't actually worked very much in the television, the medium, in terms of a series before, except on an ill-fated series (Syfy's Alphas), and I didn't recognize, well, I take that back -- I recognized a few of the directors, Michael Watkins being one of them, and I had had a great time with him on that series that he'd come in and done a couple of episodes. So all of those pointed to it being a potentially positive experience.
Q: Then when you get the call each time from the producers that they want to bring Peter back into the fold, how do you go about playing him when you're not sure where he's going…
A: [Laughs] When you're not even sure what his last name is, which I didn't find out until way beyond the starting line. Which is kind of curious when he ends up being of Greek decent, that's interesting. Nothing I can do about that. That's their choice. Whether I look like a Greek person or somebody of Greek decent, who knows? But when you, as I found, in my sort of short term, previous with this kind of process, you go with what's on the page, and it's pretty obvious from the material who the good guys and who the bad guys are, and then you just try to bring to the moment, on the day, what everybody feels is happening in the scene, so it's collaborating with the director, who is often a first-timer with the material, too, and then the existing cast who over the season really became an extraordinary ally.
Not only were they really welcoming, but very helpful in elucidating some of the concerns and questions and mysteries that I had about the character – and sometimes they had no answers either. [laughs] They'd been around for two years, but we were still hand-in-hand over the cliff of what the plot was going to be.
Q: Can that be invigorating as an actor, or is it a little frustrating not knowing where you're going to land?
A: It's frustrating in terms of, you end up looking in retrospect at the last episode that you shot because you think, well I didn't lay enough information in either in tone or how I would relate to the other characters to validate where the character is at present and that becomes a little frustrating. The down side of that, quite frankly, I believe is that you tend to play everything close to the hip and makes it, that constraint, for better or for worse, I think it maybe diminishes the amount of complexity and clarity that your character can have if you don't really know what's going to happen and then you see something that's happening and you say, 'Well, I had no idea about that last week.'
You want to build a cohesive arc for your character and in the speed and the urgency and the schedules that they're all under that's not often possible to come available.
Q: Looking back, who do you think Peter Kotsiopulos was when you first began playing him, at least in your mind in terms of back story or how you perceived him in your mind, and who does he become?
A: Good question, good question. The first episode, I felt that this is a very shadowy character, nobody has obviously heard of him before. Maybe they refer to him as 'The Director,' and that's a very ambiguous term. What does he direct? The very first scenes were coming in sort of under the shadow of and under the responsibility of not revealing too much, so I chose to play him quite discreetly and, you know, kind of a recalcitrant, mysterious guy, but somebody who had power. Then I realized that he is, in actuality, was the director of the National Clandestine Services, which is an actual arm of the CIA, it's an undercover arm of the CIA, whose responsibility it is to track shadow ops types of intelligence as it relates to national security. He was high up in the government, but it's a department within the Pentagon within the CIA and it's not all that publicly known.
Q: In following the series, it's my understanding that the director is connected to the Cabal trying to get rid of Elizabeth Keen, but I'm still uncertain about why she was the target?
A: Well it was always touch and go as to how much he knew about Elizabeth and Reddington's relationship, in term of their background going way back into the murky past, whether I knew some but just how much I wasn't sure of. But on the page and sort of the proscenium of the show, he was after Elizabeth Keen because she became in possession of this thing called 'the fulcrum,' which was this device, it was a hard drive whatever; an MP-3 whatever – some technical tidbit, some device – on which existed evidence that could bring down the Cabal, all of those people around the world who are involved in this shadow puppeteer organization, these people who were pulling a lot of strings around the world financially, criminally, politically, unethically to sort of direct the ebb and flow of intelligence around the world, and not only was it an illegal, criminal organization, but were it to be exposed would have brought a lot of people down, and would have put a lot of distrust in the common man's awareness of his government. So she was in possession of this, and as far as he was concerned, she was the one who needed to be taken down.
Q: Speaking of Ms. Lahti, like you said, she's the next wrung in this ladder, and not sure what to make of her yet, whether she is a blacklister or might be a turncoat character…
A: Uh huh.
Q: But you've had several occasions to work with her…
A: And I'd wished we had more. There was an interesting dance the two of them had, because they were both – and I guess I'm giving that away to you – but we're both members of the Cabal and she's some top government official, she's like a Donald Rumsfeld or something, she's right up there in the National Security Agency; she's the director of, or something, and so we had this wonderful dance we had to both play the public persona of being of the law and yet we both knew we were outside of the law, and I wish we'd had more time to explore that kind of dynamic. And she's a lot of fun, she's really great, and I was lucky to have a chance to spend time with her.
Q: This season, I've spoken with all of the guest stars who have brought in to be blacklisters – and they all know they're the blacklister because their name appears as the title of the episode.
Q: Did you always know that at some point The Director's name was going to be on a script?
A: [laughs] No, I knew. It was just a matter of time. He had a huge target on his back, and he was a blacklister. There was an early episode, I think either the first or the second, maybe the first, where Reddington comes into his apartment and has hung Ron Pearlman from the ceiling and the gauntlet is thrown between the two of them, and there was a foregone conclusion that he was going to meet with an ugly end.
Q: Had you and Mr. Spader worked together before this?
A: On Lincoln. He was in Lincoln, and we spent one day together on set and it was a scene with some derricks talking about votes with Daniel Day Lincoln and everybody…[correcting himself] Daniel Day Lewis, also true as Daniel d' Lincoln. [laughs]