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Daniel London Interview
Q: Drexel is an artist turned mass murder – what's that all about?
A: Well, Drexel considers himself an artist and he's someone who feels like his early efforts were misunderstood and – this is all back story – he had an art show that was just hammered by the critics and I think that sort of wounded him in a deep way, and now he's taken his rage and frustration about that and has kinda scapegoated that feeling inside of him onto what he sees are injustices in the world, and he's taken the extreme position that his art is going to address these injustices in a truly deep and ultimate way, which is by committing murders which he then stages as art. He's sort of making the ultimate social commentary about what he feels is wrong in the world by taking that ultimate action of committing murder.
Q: The episode jumps off with the murder of an Internet founder, and Red recognizes a sort of calling card at the crime scene which leads him to know that it's Drexel. What's that calling card?
A: You know, my understanding of it, and I could be not getting the whole story correct, but my understanding is that Red sees my character advertising having committed this act. My character has posted a photo of the crime scene, of this dead body staged and Red recognizes that, and that's what leads him to me. My identity is a secret, but my murdering alter ego, for this character, I want people to know that I'm responsible and that's why I send these things out there for my fans, and potential viewers to see. There might be another element to it that I'm not remembering, but I don't know that there was any specific piece within the crime scene that tipped off Red, or if it was just the fact that my character put this image out there into the world as a piece of art.
Q: How did this role come to you, and what were your first impressions of Drexel when you read the script?
A: You know, my agent just said that they were interested in me for the part, and asked if I wanted to do it. I love doing extreme things and playing extreme characters, and I certainly know the reputation of the show and loved the idea of working with James Spader, so all of the pieces just fell into place nicely for me. I love my job, so any time I have an opportunity to work on something that's not only a beloved series – a hit series is always appealing, having been on my share of non-hit series – but also the character itself, there's a certain inherent complication within this character. He's clearly villainous, and clearly committing despicable acts, and yet doing so under the pretense of righting societal wrongs, in a vigilante sort of way, and presenting it as art, as a statement. There's a lot of juicy stuff for me to chew on there. That was all appealing.
Q: You mentioned one of the reasons you wanted to do the show was to work with James Spader. Considering Red and Liz are chasing you a good amount of the time, did you get the face time with Spader that you'd hoped?
A: There was a final scene where he tracks me down, and we did have a face off on that, and that was great to see his process and I was really struck with how much he puts into not only his character, obviously, but he's into the whole process of the show. He really, really prepared, took time, and wanted to make sure everything was all right, and I admired that. I think it's pretty easy for someone of his stature and caliber to just phone it in and go through the motions. I've seen that, for sure, and it usually works out fine because everybody knows what they're doing and they're professionals. But he goes above and beyond, he really commits to the scene and is always questioning what will work best. He definitely brought out the best in me, and I think I was appreciative of that.
Q: What did he bring out of you?
A: He just immediately raises the stakes. He brings an intensity with him. He brings a focus. It's clear that this matters to him. He's not just coming in for a day's work and getting ready to punch out. He's there to do good work, and to explore things in a deep way, and that raised my game, it really did. It was inspiring to see as an actor, but also within the scene I was playing off somebody who was giving me a whole lot; who was really bringing some serious intensity. That always makes a performance better, to have that level of commitment. That's certainly any actor's ideal way of working.
And I should add, especially for a guest star on a show where you're coming into a well-oiled machine, and you're the outsider and you have to take the cues from everybody else about how things work, and sometimes on some shows you might find it's, "'Let's get this done as quickly as we can.'" And you go through the motions and say the words. But here it was not that at all. Here it was, "'Let's get to the core of this,'" and in a deep and interesting way. To me, that's the ultimate. That's the ideal way of working and you're finding new things as you go along. You can read the script and prepare and know what you think it's about, but then when someone like James comes in, that throws itself on its head in the best possible way, and you have to be in the moment and sort of thinking on your feet and reacting, and that's exciting. That's what you want. And all too often – and I don't want to be disparaging other shows – it's painting by numbers.
Q: We you a fan of the show before you signed on?
A: I'm a father of two young children, so I don't actually get to watch a whole lot of television. [Laughs.] My wife and I usually tend to catch up on things well after the fact. We just finished watching Breaking Bad. We're very, very late on that I realize, so hopefully down the line we'll get to catch up on The Blacklist. We're so exhausted by the time the kids are in bed that we generally go to sleep ourselves.
That said, when I mentioned to people I was doing the show so many people were excited about it, were fans of the show. People I know and respect really dig the show. What I know about it seems quite compelling.
Q: You mentioned the well-oiled machine. Talk about your experiences with the crew…
A: I've been based in New York my whole career, and I really love working in New York because the crews are just so good at what they do here. Everybody knows exactly what they're doing and it was a great pleasure working with everyone. I think it's always a good sign when you don't notice people doing their jobs, and that's because they're doing them so well, and that was certainly the case on this. Everything was just executed perfectly. My meeting with the costume designer I enjoyed very much, and she had great ideas but was also open to my take on the character. All around it was great. I love working in New York, and it's filled with really talented people, and for a show that's been running for a while a real comradery does grow between the crew and I think that just helps the process, and it does become like a well-oiled machine and that's definitely what this was. They had a great working vocabulary, and everything just ran really smoothly. And for me that's great because there's no distractions. Sometimes for an actor if there's some hiccups and bumps on the technical side, when our job is to focus, it can make that more challenging, and in this case I just had free reign to focus on what I needed to focus on without worry about any of those other elements.
Q: What went into the decision for the look you were wanting to achieve with Drexel?
A: I like the idea of dressing in art colors, in all black. That was my main thing just as an artist and as someone, like him, who, maybe, his whole identity is wrapped up in classifying himself as an artist that I think it would be important to him to dress the part, coupled with the fact that he's killing people that says to me he would always be dressed in black. The costume designer had several options for the different scenes, and we both agreed that this character would be wearing the same black jeans all the time, the kind of person that just puts on this artists' uniform and leaving it at that.
Q: Having spoken to many of the blacklisters, it's apparent that they really have a lot of fun being the bad guy – and that the blacklisters are being singled out for special profiles shows how much fun audiences are having with them as well. What is it about bad guys that we not just love to hate, but just love?
A: That's an interesting question. I can definitely speak to what appeals to me as an actor, and I think it's the opportunity to really give voice and explore the darker part of oneself. Not that I have any urge to go commit murders – far from it. But to kind of tap into some small darkness that may creep up in me in my everyday life whether it's being frustrated as I'm sitting in traffic or whatever it may be – some simple, mundane thing that calls up anger, frustration – to then to be able to take that and channel into something that's truly, deeply dark and evil is fun and it's sometimes enlightening and it's freeing in some ways. As an actor, that's what I would say.
To the larger question, maybe it's a similar thing for the viewer as well – identifying with someone who's just following those baser instincts, and that darkness. Maybe that's what it is.
Q: So it's just good to be bad – at least on screen?
A: Yeah, you know, like I said before, it feels juicy and rich to be able to go that far with something.
Q: But are there any challenges for you as an actor to tap into that dark, creepy psyche – not judging it –but really connecting with it?
A: Yeah, I mean, I think that's right. There can be a challenge there, and as you're exploring it and thinking of this character, certainly a certain about a judgement necessarily has to take place. But I always like to think it's possible to find one little kernel or nugget that you can kind of latch onto to understand the character in a humane way and to justify the actions. And in the case of this character, Drexel, there was the social commentary aspect of it and the righting of wrongs that he thought were prevalent in society.
Now if I were judging it, and I did think about this, I think he's fooling himself thinking that's why he's really doing this. I think he was, as an outsider looking in – and judging him, for sure – I think he was wanting to make an impact as an artist where he failed before and he was trying to do anything that would get him attention and he was using his frustration and his anger and his rage in extremely unhealthy ways.
Now as an actor playing that part, that's not what I'm drawing on. I'm having that as sort of a background thing that I've thought of. But my primary goal and objective is to, as this character, make this great art that I am at least pretending, to myself, that I believe in and think is worthwhile and the world needs to see. So I think there are different levels of removed-ness that you need to have. When you're first reading the script, you're reading it one way, but as you go deeper and deeper in, you do have to get closer to how the character might justify his behavior, and in this case – and it was written in a way – the possible virtuousness of what he was doing, or at least, as an actor, something to really play and to commit to. It wasn't just for kicks.
Q: Considering his display of his murders were something he considered to be art, were there any of these photographs that you could look at and think, "'Yeah, that's art.'"
A: I feel like I, conceptually, without the murders involved, I could think, "'Yeah, that's an effective commentary; an effective work of art.'" But once you add the murder element to it, it becomes a little harder to look at as having any kind of worth.