Edi Gathegi Interview
Q: Tell me a little about who Matias Solomon is to you?
A: Matias Solomon is a very mysterious character, and we've discovered a little bit of information about him that he used to run these Black Ops missions for certain high ranking officials, some of them at the Cabal, and for all intents and purposes, he's something of a mercenary and he's someone who has zero fear, and really enjoys his job. He really enjoys getting his hands dirty.
The character has been brought into the fold with the sole purpose of tracking down and eliminating Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen, so in his quest to fulfill his mission, he has to do dirty things [laughs] and he thoroughly enjoys it, and he's not afraid of taking a life.
Q: Now you've been with the show for almost a dozen episodes.
A: Yes, I came in at the beginning of season three.
Q: Did you know from the outset that you would be recurring for a series of episodes, and is that what drew you to the role?
A: What I'm told by different people is that The Blacklist, what makes it so fresh and exciting is they don't really know where they're going to go from episode to episode or even season to season. They're listening to the stories, and the characters and what's going on in the world and they're going with the flow. So my character, from what I understood, was one of the first times where they knew they could bring on a guest actor and keep him around for at least a half a dozen episodes. They had that game plan. Usually they don't know where a character is going to go, and a lot of times with the bad guys they die in that self-contained episode. But in this case, they plotted Mr. Solomon being around for at least a half a dozen episodes. And I knew that.
I read the first episode that the character appeared in and he felt fun. I felt like I could have a good time playing him, and it was tiny bit of job security. I knew I was going to be busy for at least six episodes, so I was attracted to that. And I binged watched seasons one and two, and I got really into it and I thought James Spader's performance was terrific, and I've been a good friend of Megan Boone's for years, and Harry Lennix as well, and also Mozhan Marnò, so I felt like it would be a great place to spend a little time, go to New York and be on a show that audiences watch.
Q: There are some actors who were playing Blacklisters for episodes at a stretch who didn't know it would eventually be revealed that they were Blacklisters. Did you know that going in?
A: Not necessarily. I felt going in that I would eventually die, because bad guys don't last. But I didn't know how that would manifest. I didn't know if I would be a Blacklister, I never put that much thought into it. I never visualized an episode being called Mr. Solomon. I didn't consider that because I knew I was going to be around for a while and I didn't know it would culminate in that way. But it's flattering to call myself among the Blacklist villains. I mean, it's cool. Bad guys are fun to play, and particularly these bad guys are fun to play, and I get to do it over a multiple episode arc and it's, I don't know, it's cool when the show begins and it has the number of the criminal and the name and you get to learn about him, and moving forward when people binge watch this Mr. Solomon got his time in the sun to be hunted down by the great Raymond Reddington.
Q: How do you develop the nuances of a character over this stretch of time when you really don't know where he's going, or how his story's going to end?
A: That's an interesting question. The most difficult thing is to find the character. You get the script, and you go, ‘What's my way in? How do I play this?' For this job, I showed up and I didn't really know if what I was going to do was going to be effective or not, and had to trust the process and it turned out that the creators liked what I was doing so I kept doing that.
And then something interesting happened where I disappeared for a number of episodes, and I recently went back and I forgot what I did! I forgot my way in with the character. I had played other roles in between and I had to, trial and error, find Mr. Solomon. And I think I found him again, and I don't know how long I'm going to get to play with him, but I'm glad I found him again.
Q: How do you find him? Do you re-watch the previous episodes…
A: No I'm much too busy right now. I'm doing another Sony show in Puerto Rico and it's got me really swamped so I don't have time to watch those episodes, and I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the episodes of The Blacklist. So I showed up, trial and error, and learned my lines. If I felt self-conscious, then I knew I wasn't in him. It wasn't until a couple of scenes into it that I started to let go of the self-consciousness and started to find the character again.
So there wasn't any research, it was remembering what it felt like to be in the world as this guy; wearing the suits, having the fun. And that's how I had to find him again, by connecting to that again.
Q: Did working with the other actors help in that process? Maybe cues or experiences you shared to get you back into it?
A: A lot of times I'm working with new people, and I'm in my own world. I'm singularly focused reporting to some other entity, so there's no consistency with the people I get to interact off of so it's not like they're going to remind me of anything. It's fresh every time which I guess is part of the point, and as an actor I have to remember who I am as the character. It's my job. So that was the challenge. But also what was exciting was reconnecting. If that makes any sense, it's very actor-y talk. I hope I'm not boring you…
Q: No, no, no. I enjoy the process stuff. Which reminds me, you mentioned that you enjoy playing villains. Why?
A: I'm going to answer this question, and then I'm going to re-think it – and that answer still might be the same – but I love playing villains because there's a freedom to it. There's no accountability to it. If you're playing the worst of the worst, you can do and feel or say anything and that's your goal. That's your job. And that's freeing. Whereas the straight guy or the protagonist has the responsibility to be the everyman and to have the audience see the world through your perspective and be able to relate to you, and that means doing less and having them project themselves onto you. It's being a little bit more of a blank slate. That's challenging, and that's great but it's much more fun to be a bad guy. [Laughs.]
Q: You mentioned being friends with some of the cast members – but you didn't really get a whole lot of screen time with them. Or were there some moments, maybe, we didn't get to see on screen?
A: Well, I guess Megan and James, they come together. They're a package, and they're pretty much in all of the scenes together, so I didn't get to work with them a lot but I did have a couple of scenes with them. But that didn't happen until I'd been on the show for a number of episodes. But it was quick working with James because he's a pro. He's such a master of the craft and it was cool to see him work in person, and I jokingly tell the writers, "Delay the scenes with Solomon with Red." Because everybody knows, once you go up against Red, you're done. I don't want to meet James until the season finale. [Laughs.] And then I met him. I guess it was around episode five or somewhere around there, and I survived. I said, "Thank God! I met James and I survived." [Laughs]
I don't think I've ever had a scene with Mozhan. I don't think I've had a scene with Harry. But that would be nice if something like that could happen.
Q: That's right. There's still a chance, because you don't die in "Mr. Solomon: Conclusion."
A: I'm not dead. Naw man! Oh no, oh no, oh no. I come back. I think it's such a great mislead because there are two episodes, and one is labeled "Mr. Solomon: Conclusion," and at the end of the conclusion, he's still not dead. That's cool. Audiences won't see that coming, because they expect me to die. Because he's that bad.
Q: So you met James, and didn't die -- how'd you manage that? And when are you coming back?
A: I'm going back in about three weeks. And I don't know, they kept saying that they wanted a fresh energy, something really different, and I guess I try to do that, and I don't know. I think it's because I'm having so much fun, and I think that they are having fun with me having fun, so why kill something that's fun? Is it working? Then let it work. If it ain't broke don't fix it, I guess. [Laughs.]
Q: But you're having fun, then have to leave and do other work, then come back and find the fun – I mean, as an actor having to juggle this, is that part of the fun?
A: You know, it's one of those things where you'll rest when you're dead. As an actor you spend a lot of time waiting for work, and sitting around, and at least for me at this stage in my life if the work comes and it's something I'm attracted to I'm not going to let fatigue or anything like that stop me from attacking it head on.
The good news is, or at least it's prepared me for this kind of life, I went to graduate school (at New York University) for acting, and we were always juggling multiple things. We had a scene due on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday we had a different scene, on a Thursday a different scene, so we were constantly working on projects and that kind of workload totally prepared me for this stage in my life where I have that again but in a professional sense, I'm actually working in the industry with multiple projects where I'll be acting at 7 p.m., then get on a 9 o'clock flight at night arriving in a different city at 2 .m. to get up for a 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. call. That's non-stop.
So my schedule is crazy and I'm so tired that I'm not tired anymore. [Laughs.] But it's really a moment, and you've got to take these moments and nothing lasts forever. So right now I'm riding a wave of the busy working actor.
Q: Let's circle back a bit, because I wanted to talk a little more about who you got back into this character. You mentioned putting on the suit and being in the work brought you back to what you'd done before. Because this guy is seriously cool. Were you intentionally going for that with Mr. Solomon from the outset?
A: First and foremost, and I've played a lot of bad guys and I've played different types of bad guys, and this was going to be a guy who wore suits and train in the military and CIA operative and he's got extensive combat experience, and yet he's refined and working for the Cabal, so there was an elegance to him, and a bad-to-the-bone-ness about him. So what I wanted to do was take him away from all the ideas of what a bad guy is. Immediately I wanted to be a guy who did bad things but enjoyed it.
I didn't want to want to be mustache-twirling, duh, duh, duh… I didn't want to be any of that. I wanted to be grounded in a realness and a truthfulness that comes across as cool because I don't think Mr. Solomon looks at himself like a bad guy. He looks at himself like a guy who does jobs, and he likes them. And make no mistake, he's probably one of the missing links on the planet but he has a job to do, he's passionate about it and he really enjoy it. He has no moral compass.
Yeah, he's super smart, he likes nice things and he's charismatic. But he's the kind of guy that doesn't have any boundaries, at least there's no mental boundaries. He's gotten a lot out of life, and I don't think he feels limited by anything. He goes for what he wants. And he thinks he probably can get it.
Q: So is he so smart and so slick that we may never see him get his due? That he could actually outsmart Reddington?
A: It's funny because I think it's a trend to shock the audience these days and kill important characters, and I think that ship has sailed. So I think the audience is really expecting me to die. I think it's kind of clever that they're playing against expectation in that sense; here's this guy who has the biggest target on his head and we're going to keep him around. That's going to shock the audience. So I don't know how long he's going to last, but he's lasted and there's not really, at least it hasn't been expressed to me, any end date for Solomon. I hope it's never. [Laughs.] But we'll see.
I mean, I like the show. Network television is hard to nail down, because cable is so competitive and there's so many great stories being told and told in interesting cinematic ways, and cable is really the new renaissance. Network television is struggling to keep up with how great cable is, but The Blacklist does a really good job as a network show. Both Directors of Photography are fantastic. One of the camera operators, he shoots these frames that are cinematic, and the talent – the caliber of actors that they bring on – and the scripts are so smart, and it moves at a network pace – there's a lot of cuts and everything – but it's really, really well done.
I respect the hell out of that show. The crew is some of the hardest working crew, they're like a well-oiled machine, and when you're on a Blacklist set, you feel like you're in Hollywood, like you're part of something big and that's because you are.