For a character originally meant to be killed off in the pilot of The Blacklist and then again slated for death at the end of season one, Tom Keen (played by Ryan Eggold) may be the luckiest character in TV history. Now, after surviving four seasons and proving himself as an essential part of The Blacklist, Keen’s story is being spun off onto The Blacklist: Redemption, which premieres Thursday, Feb. 23 on NBC.
Of course, neither Keen nor The Blacklist: Redemption, which also stars Famke Janssen and was first introduced with a backdoor pilot in a May 2016 episode of The Blacklist, would be anywhere without Eggold. “Working with Ryan and seeing what he did [with Tom],” creator of both shows Jon Bokenkamp tells ET, is what made the actor an asset to the show and what led them to consider Keen for the spin-off. “The way Ryan played the character became something that was fun to write to.”
Over the course of four seasons on the crime thriller, the 32-year-old actor has seen Keen transform from covert operative and husband masquerading as an elementary school teacher into a father with unexpected skills who discovers the truth about his own parents, who in turn play a major part of Redemption. “I love the character that we’ve created and I think there’s so much to explore,” Eggold says during a break from filming an upcoming episode that included scenes with Terry O’Quinn, who plays Keen’s father, Howard Hargrave. (Janssen plays Susan "Scottie" Hargrave, Keen’s mother.) “This is a guy who’s a spy and assassin and orphan, but also someone who’s discovering his ability to love for the first time and developing his first genuine relationship.”
When Eggold first heard about Redemption, he was admittedly skeptical. Believing it would never happen (“because everybody in show business always has fun ideas that don’t go anywhere”), he was delightfully surprised when it became a reality. “I was like, ‘Alright. Let’s do this!’” he says, pointing to the fact that Redemption will allow him to explore new layers of his character and create a greater mythology for both shows. The change is also something he craves as an actor. “I need to have the ground shift beneath my feet.”
To say the ground has shifted may be downplaying Eggold’s new adventure, which includes its own challenges as Redemption finds its voice -- an espionage thriller that’s part Mission: Impossible and part Ocean’s 11. While Bokenkamp says the two shows will share the same DNA, they will exist in unique worlds. And given that The Blacklist has changed a lot from its initial pitch to the pilot to where it is now, it’s no surprise Redemption is going through its own evolution. “You’re like a toddler stumbling through it, trying to figure it out,” Eggold says, adding that at times it can be terrifying not knowing if they’ll have enough time to hone it. “My hope is that we have the opportunity to grow these legs and really start running.”
That urgency for the show to land with audiences comes from Eggold’s own investment in Redemption’s success. While not a producer or writer, he does feel a greater part of the storytelling process, contributing his own ideas whether or not they’re heard. He credits his own time behind the camera -- directing two new films including Literally Right Before Aaron starring Cobie Smulders -- with helping him know his place in the overall production of the series. “It reinforces that you’re not the most important thing on set,” he says. And Bokenkamp appreciates Eggold’s patience when it comes to putting it all together: “[Ryan] understands the time constraints under which we’re making both shows. These are very big shows that are shot over short amounts of time.”
But that’s not to say all the parts aren’t there. In addition to the Blacklist brand, Eggold’s character and his expanded onscreen family, the show will also deal with realities such as cyber warfare, Russia and immigration issues, adding a layer of resonance in the current political climate. While not politicized (“we don’t pick sides”), Eggold is excited to see Redemption dip its toe into the real world. “Everyone’s politically aware,” he says. “I think it makes the show more fun to watch.”
“What’s going to be fun about the show is watching Tom go out into the world and become somebody else completely,” Bokenkamp says, adding that it all comes down to Eggold. “Played by the wrong person, Tom could have been entirely unsympathetic and somebody we would have needed to kill off after 17 episodes…There’s an emotional context to Ryan’s work that will be missed on The Blacklist.”