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'Blacklist' Is Inspired by Infamous Boston Crime Figure Whitey Bulger

Junie Sihlangu
Jun 14, 2020
11:30 P.M.

Some “The Blacklist” fans have probably wondered where the show’s creators got the idea of the Raymond “Red” Reddington character. Well, we’ve got the whole scoop.


On “The Blacklist,” actor James Spader, 60, plays the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) 4th most-wanted criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington. The character makes waves in the criminal world when he turns himself in to the FBI.

The deal he makes with the FBI is that he stays out of prison and can still operate his various “businesses” if he gives them the biggest criminals on the “blacklist.” However, there’s one specific condition, that he’ll only speak to and work with newly appointed FBI agent Elizabeth Keen who’s played by Megan Boone.

James Spader at the Tribeca TV Festival on September 12, 2019, in New York City | Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

James Spader at the Tribeca TV Festival on September 12, 2019, in New York City | Photo: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images


What fans don’t know is that Spader’s character was inspired by a real-life story. The producers of the show based it on a criminal known as Whitey Bulger.


Just having fun unpacking the story we’re telling

Bulger was a criminal who dedicated his life to protecting his neighborhood in Boston. He was eventually arrested and went on trial for allegedly killing nineteen people.



Running with the Bugler idea, the producers spiced it up by making the wanted criminal an informant who suddenly spilled everything. John Fox, the show’s executive producer, described the character as such:

"He'd be like the Rosetta Stone of crime."



Spader confessed that he also didn’t know a lot of things about his character. He admitted that it was going to take a while for some questions about Reddington to be answered.

The actor took on the role because of the mysteriousness of it and the fact that it was a role he could play for a long time. The criminal drama is doing so well that it had its 150th episode in April 2020.



NBC also revealed that the show’s been renewed for season 8, and will hopefully return in late September 2020, and run through spring 2021. In the past, the show has always come back in the US either in September or October.



It was supposed to return for production in March 2020, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has stalled things. The 150th episode of “The Blacklist” featured “Today” show co-anchor Al Roker, 63, who happens to be a big fan.



Spader always asked Roker if he wanted to star on the show and he finally took him up on the offer. Jon Bokenkamp, the series creator, revealed how season 8 would be “deep into the mythology.”


He shared how “we’re closer to the end than the beginning.” Bokenkamp explained that for now, they were “just having fun unpacking the story we’re telling.”

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