Emmy spotlight: James Spader (‘The Blacklist’) outdid himself as a man in mourning in season 3

For the better part of a decade James Spader portrayed attorney Alan Shore, first in the final season of David E. Kelley’s drama series “The Practice” (2002 – 2003) and then for all five seasons of its spin-off “Boston Legal” (2004 – 2008). In his return to the small screen in 2013, Spader opted to ditch the hallowed halls of the courthouse to portray Raymond “Red” Reddington, one of the world’s most dangerous white-collar criminals, on NBC’s hit drama series “The Blacklist.” Despite rave reviews, Spader has yet to catch on with Emmy voters. Might his magnetic performance in the show’s third season be the charm?

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The show centers on Red, who turns himself into FBI custody in order to partner with novice agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), with whom he has a deep and unexplained connection, to take down some of the world’s most notorious criminals. The role offers the actor ample opportunities to demonstrate his incredible range: in each episode he is both menacing and comic as he eviscerates his on-screen foes. He also somberly reflects on his many sacrifices and his lost opportunities for a peaceful, familial existence.

Spader’s arc this year provided him with some of his best material to date. After Elizabeth’s shocking death, Red abandons all of his obligations in order to grieve privately. The resulting episode, “Cape May,” proved to be an extreme departure from the usually procedural and ensemble nature of the series; Spader spends the entire episode either alone on screen or opposite a mysterious woman (“Outlander” actress Lotte Verbeek) who seems to be from Red’s past. Spader is brilliant in the episode, conveying Red’s overwhelming grief, searching his conscience and probing his past for solace and redemption. In particular, Spader’s monologue about the effects of suicide on one’s family is both beautiful and heart-wrenching, and it helps solidify the episode as a fantastic Emmy submission.

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Spader is no stranger to the TV awards circuit. His performance as Alan Shore garnered him three Emmy wins for Best Drama Actor (2004 for “The Practice,” 2005 and 2007 for “Boston Legal”), as well as four individual SAG Award nominations (2006-2009) and a Golden Globe bid (2005). For “The Blacklist,” Spader contended at both the 2014 and 2015 Globes but this performance has not yet been acknowledged by SAG or the Emmys.

Despite his Emmy pedigree, it may be difficult for Spader to break into the Drama Actor race this year due to the sheer number of high-profile contenders also vying for a spot. While two of last year’s nominees —  Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”) — are no longer in the running, Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”), Bobby Cannavale (“Vinyl”), Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis (“Billions”), and Aaron Paul (“The Path”) all headline red-hot freshman series.

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