James Spader and His Amazing Body of Work on Television

2013 Summer TCA Tour - Day 4

James Spader’s is back for a second season of the smash thriller The Blacklist. The NBC drama had an excellent first seaosn averaging 15 million viewers and was the sixth most watched show of the 2013-2014 television season. A large part of the show’s success can be attributed to Spader, who has been acting since the late 70’s. Let’s take a look at his television and movie roles over the years. Some of them you’ll remember (Boston Legal) while some you may have forgotten about (Wolf). Whether you remember them or not, Spader was sure to have given an excellent performance.

Team-Mates (1978) as Jimmy

This was Spader’s first role. He was 18 at the time and had just recently started to pursue acting at the Michael Chekhov School in New York City. The film was an independent comedy about a girl who joined the football team. Golden Girls’ Estelle Getty plays a teacher in the film. Though his part was small, Spader knew he had chosen the right career path.

Endless Love (1981) as Keith

Spader’s next role came three years after Team-Mates. It was the romantic drama Endless Love that also starred Brooke Shields, Tom Cruise, and Ian Ziering. Spader played Keith, who is Jade’s (Shields) brother. Jade falls in love with David (Martin Hewitt) after Keith sets the two up. The couple live very different lives but are drawn to one another. Keith tells Jade that David played a part in their father’s death, but in the end she still loves him. The film grossed over $31 million and was the 22nd highest grossing film of 1981.

The Made for TV Movie Years (1983-1985) as Various Characters

After starring in the short livesdtelevision series The Family Tree alongside Anne Archer, Spader began appearing in made for television movies. From 1983 to 1985, the actor starred in four different films. The first one was entitled Cocaine: One Man’s Addiction and was released in February 1983. Spader played Buddy Gant, who was the son of Eddie (Dennis Weaver). Eddie was a real estate salesman, who was sturggling in both his career and marriage. He ends up getting hooked on cocaine to ease his pain, but it only makes matters worse for him and his family.

The next teleivision film that Spader starred in was A Killer in the Family. It aired on ABC on October 30, 1983 and was based on the Tison v. Arizona case of 1978. Gary Tison (Robert Mtichum) is serving two life sentences for murder. He has three sons and the eldest named Donny is played by Spader. Eric Stolz plays one of his younger brothers. The brothers end up concocting a plan to break their father out of prison and with the help of his cellmate they succeed. Spader’s character is shot and killed in the end.

The third made for television movie Spader starred in at this time was called Family Secrets. It also starred Melissa Gilbert and Stefanie Powers and premiered on NBC on May 13, 1984. The movie was about three generations of women who spend a weekend together. Spader played the character Lowell Everall. Gary Sinise also had a small role in the film.

Starcrossed was the fourth television film that Spader starred in during this two year stint. It premiered on January 31, 1985. The sci-fi romance was about an alien female running from an enemy. She tries to find solace on the planet Earth. She encounters Joey (Spader), a mechanic, who vows to help her find her way home and to also protect the people on her home planet. Belinda Bauer played Mary the Alien.

The Movie Years (1985-2003), as Various Characters

It would be nine years after Spader first appeared on television after starring in those series of television movies before he would make another appearance on the small screen. During that hiatus, he would concentrate on his film work. From 1985 – 2003, Spader would go on to star in thirty-three films. He would continue to act in other films while his television career would begin to take off with his memorable role on The Practice in 2003. Some of his films are included here.

Spader played Steff in the movie Pretty in Pink in 1986. Steff was one of Blane’s (Andrew McCarthy) friends that is constantly picking on Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (John Cryer). Blane tries to date Andie and takes her to a party hosted by Steff, where the entire school makes fun of her. Blane asks Andie to prom but Steff convinces him to break it off. Andie still goes to prom and Blane finds out that Steff does not like Andie because she had turned him down previously. In the end, Andie and Blane wind up together.

Three years later, Spader would play Graham Dalton in the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Graham returns to Baton Rouge and stays with his friend John (Peter Gallagher) and his wife Ann (Andie MacDowell). John is having an affair with Ann’s sister Cynthia. Ann finds out that Graham interviews women about their sexual experiences and fantasies on film. Graham announces he makes the videos because he is impotent and the only way he can achieve sexual gratification is to watch the tapes. In the end, it appears that Ann and Graham become a couple. Spader was named Best Actor for his work in the film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Spader would play Tim Gerrity in the 1991 film True Colors. The movie would also star John Cusack as Peter Burton, who is running for Congress. The two met seven years prior while attending law school and became fast friends. Peter has an affair with Tim’s girlfriend, which angers Tim. Peter then gets caught up in a political corruption case that Tim begins investigating. Peter ends up getting caught and after winning the election is arrested. The movie ends a few months later with Peter visiting Tim to tell him he has been offered immunity for his testimony. Tim alerts Peter that he will be forced to testify against him if refuses the plea bargain.

Spader starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson in the romantic comedy horror film Wolf, that came out in 1994. Nicholson’s character becomes a werewolf and must fight to keep his job as a publisher. Spader played Stewart Swinton the man who repalces Nicholson’s Will Randall in his position. Spader was nominated for a Saturn Award in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work on the film.

2013 NBC Upfront Presentation Red Carpet Event

Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Frasier (1994), as Steven

Frasier’s second season premiere episode entitled, “Slow Tango in Seattle,” featured Spader and aired on NBC on September 20, 1994. The episode focuses on Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) finding out that one of his past colleagues has used his first sexual experience as the topic of his new book. The acquaintance is played by John O-Hurley, famous for playing Mr. Peterman on Seinfeld from 1995-1998. Spader never appears in the episode, but his voice is featured as a person who calls in to Frasier’s radio show.  

Seinfeld (1997), as Jason”Stanky” Hanky  

Speaking of Seinfeld, Spader would guest star on the episode “The Apology” that aired on December 11, 1997 and was the ninth episode of the final season for the comedy series. George (Jason Alexander) find out that his childhood friend Jason (Spader) is a recovering alcoholic and is working on step 9 of his 12 Step Program. He must forgive everyone he has ever wronged in his life. George becomes upset when he does not receive an apology from Jason for not allowing George to wear a sweater because he was scared George’s large head would stretch it out. George confront Jason at work and demands an apology. In the end, George is escorted to Anger Management classes. Roseanne’s Michael Fishman also has a brief cameo in this episode.

The Pentagon Papers (2003) as Daniel Ellsberg

The last time Spader had starred in a made for television movie has been 18 years prior to him starring in The Pentagon Papers. Spader played Daniel Ellsberg, the man who published the now famous Pentagon Papers. The film documents Ellsberg’s life working at the RAND Corporation and concludes on the day the judge declares a mistrial for his espionage case. The TV movie also stars Alan Arkin, Paul Giamatti, and Claire Forlani.

The Practice (2003-2004) as Alan Shore

One of Spader’s most memorable roles is that of Alan Shore, the unethical friend of Camryn Manheim’s Ellenor Frutt who was hired at the firm Young, Frutt, & Berluti on The Practice. In the final episodes of the series, Shore would be fired from the firm and begin working for Crane, Poole, & Schmidt.  Spader would only appear on the eighth and final season of the legal drama, but would earn an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work on the show.

Boston Legal (2004-2008) as Alan Shore

Alan Shore’s firing on The Practice paved the way for Spader’s character to move to the show’s spin-off series Boston Legal.  Once Shore was fired he began working for Crane, Poole, & Schmidt and continues to be employed there on this series.  The show experienced many casting changes during its five year run with Rhona Mitra, Monica Potter, Julie Bowen, Mark Valley, and Constance Zimmer all appearing on the series at some point. Spader and William Shatner were the only actors that appeared in all 101 episodes.  Though the dramedy went through many casting changes, it was still popular among viewers. The show averaged 10 million viewers and had the richest viewing audience of any show, leading in the 18-49 demographic for people making $100/k or more.  Spader would win the Emmy Award in 2005 and 2007 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Discovery Atlas (2006) as Narrator 

Spader put his voice to good use in 2006 when he narrated on an episode of Discovery Atlas. The actor was selected to be the voice over for the very first episode entitled “China Revealed.” The episode aired on October 1, 2006.  The episode focused on how China has developed quickly in recent years and also showcased several cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing; all of which have experienced rapid development. The episode also featured lives of everyday Chinese people including a Shaolin monk working with his students, an Olympic gymnast hopeful, and a window washer. Other narrators on the series that last for three seasons include Sela Ward, Candice Bergen (Spader’s co-star on Boston Legal), and Andre Braugher.

The Office (2011-2012) as Robert California

After Steve Carrell parted ways from the NBC comedy in 2011, many fans were wondering who would replace him as Branch Manager at the Dunder Mifflin location in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Many thought that Jim (John Krasinski) or Dwight (Rainn Wilson) would be worthy of filling his shoes.  However, it was Robert California (Spader) that won the position. After Spader guest-starred on the season 7 finale of The Office, where he was being interviewed for the position, many thought his wild antics would not make him a worthy candidate.  The original plan was to have Spader just in that one episode but in June 2011, it was confirmed he would be featured during the entire eighth season of the comedy. Spader would not appear in the final season. Ed Helms’ character Andy would take over as manager of the ficitonal paper company. Spader’s performance, along with the rest of the cast, earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination in the category for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.

The Blacklist (2013-Present) as Raymond “Red” Reddington

After his one year stint on The Office, Spader went for a different genre for his next project when he began starring on the crime drama series The Blacklist. Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, a man who has eluded the FBI for decades.  He ends up turning himself in during the pilot episode. He works with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a new FBI profiler, to catch criminals authorities have been unable to locate.  Spader has been praised for his performance in the role and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama and a Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television for his performance.  Due to the huge success of the show, NBC announced that The Blacklist will air in the post-Super Bowl slot in 2015. Season two of the drama, which airs on NBC, began last week.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


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